Black love, provide the adequate electric for what is lapsed and lenient in us now. Rouse us from blur, Call us. Call adequately the postponed corner brother. And call our man in the pin-stripe suiting and restore him to his abler logic; to his people. Call to the shattered sister and repair her in her difficult hour, narrow her fever.
The premiere episode of Insecure, created and starring Issa Rae, almost immediately troubled me. As someone who is naturally attracted to what Issa Rae personifies (beauty, intelligence, determination, endless creative talent) I was both troubled and offended by the depiction of the black men in her world; as lazy, unambitious slackers who are woefully unprepared for any type employment. As emotionally immature but sexually aggressive misogynists who casually brush off even the thought of a committed relationship. And as interracially dating culture traitors who rush to cherish and uphold any and every other race of women other than our own. Three of the four check points of the black male stereotype were all checked off within the first 20 minutes (leaving only some variation of the street thug) which I found repugnant and, coming from the mind and vision of a black woman, hurtful.
Both black men and women have struggled to contrast our true lives, and our true selves, with what we see of us depicted within mainstream media. This extends from the daily news cycle of young black men and women broken, bloodied, and murdered on the street, victims of yet another encounter with law enforcement; to the nightly prime-time depictions of black women as ratchet, chaos coveting drama queens and black men as irresponsible, violence prone Trap Kings. And the notion of black love—TRUE black love—is almost nonexistent. Television would rather further the myth that black women are better off chasing the White Knight In Liberal Shining Armor (Scandal) and that the black man will shed himself of the black woman at the first opportunity to chase whatever skinny, melanin-devoid flavor of the week is in style (Power). So when one of our own, who has fought long and hard for the opportunity to represent Black women as they truly are (professional, attuned to the complexities of black identity, and simply awesome) chooses to display black men in the EXACT same manner in which we have been fighting for a century to overcome, it is disheartening.
This is not the same mindset I had after viewing the first episode of Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Glover, the genius writer/musician/actor who has made a career out of smashing racial archetypes and burning them to ash, was met with enthusiastic praise by myself, my close personal friends, and the world at large. Atlanta, about three young men looking to come up in the city’s bursting music scene, was both beautiful and gritty, simple and complicated. I loved every single minute of it. I loved seeing black men, who, on their face were composites of the worst stereotypes of black masculinity, turn out to be three dimensional and alight with purpose. I was also appreciative of the characterization of the main female character, Vanessa, who is both independent, resilient and loving and patient at the same time. Comparing Atlanta to Insecure was no competition. Atlanta was superior in every way, and while I continued to support and marvel at the dynamic of the brilliance of Glover, I would simply discard Issa Rae and Insecure, damning it to the garbage bin of socially irresponsible and mental pollution that threatens to permeate the fabric of black consciousness.
And then my conscious told me I was a hypocrite.
Atlanta’s main character, Earnest “Earn” Marks, is a college dropout, working a dead end, commission based, sales job at the Atlanta Airport. He is essentially homeless, his own parents have cut him off for his laziness, and he is perfectly content to languish in his own poverty. He lays his head down at night under the roof of his child’s mother, and cannot be counted on for even half of the rent. He is the same personification of black mediocrity that literally makes me sick to my stomach. Insecure’s male lead, Lawrence, is unemployed, relying on his girlfriend for house and board, and has been in the same state of pathetic existence for as long as Earn (3-4 years). They both represent the black male at almost rock bottom (prison would be the only worse predicament) and they both have a lot of maturing to do. The only difference between the two is that Earn is afforded the opportunity to use his intellect and cunning to take initiative and slowly begin the path towards redemption by the episode’s end, whereas Lawrence does not. And therein lies the difference.
Rewriting the Black American story starts from destroying the seals of stereotype that have shackled us. It is less about proving to the mainstream that we are multi-layered and astute, and more about verifying ourselves as worthy scribes of our own reality. My initial reaction to Insecure, was to deny Issa Rae the opportunity to craft a complete narrative. I was so hung up on the negativity of a black man who could not, that I refused to accept the possibility that he could be reconstructed as a black man who COULD. As I watched the second episode, I saw seeds for the eventuality of this notion. Lawrence is a man in need of direction, and like Earn, he will find it. Perhaps not in the first crop of episodes, but again, the narrative doesn’t revolve around him, he is a secondary character, so patience is a virtue. He is, like Earn, good hearted and well intentioned, and like Donald Glover, it is my belief, that with my eyes unclouded by skepticism and my heart scrubbed clean of short-sighted indignation, Issa Rae will provide Lawerence the same opportunity.
Both Atlanta and Insecure are indicative of a new movement in black representation. Along with Black-ish and Survivor’s Remorse, they convey a sense of realism in locale, style, dialogue, and most importantly, message. I take great interest in the messages that our young black creatives are attempting to put out alongside the entertainment. And the most important message in mainstream portrayals, is that of black love and reconciliation between our men and women. All four of these shows tackle the intricacy of the topic in their own unique method, and as a black man who cherishes the black female perspective, it is my responsibility to seek the best potential of the message, not to attack its genesis.