HBO’s Insecure is first and foremost a romantic comedy. It’s about a twenty-something, her relationships, her friends, and their relationships. And while Issa Rae — the show’s creator, producer, and lead actress — has centered the Black experience in the show, mainly in the form of pop culture references and jokes, it isn’t a series that I would consider overtly political. And I’m okay with that. But last night, Issa was confronted with a dilemma at work that begs the question: Is she woke or nah? I think the answer is no. I’m ok with that, too.
As we know, Issa works for a non-profit called We Got Yall. It’s spearheaded by Joanne (Catherine Curtin), a white woman, and aims to provide after-school and other supplementary support to public-school students. This season, Issa and Frieda (Lisa Joyce) have been assigned to East 41st Street High School. It’s overcrowded and has a 70% Latino population. The two women are faced with a moral dilemma when the school's Black vice principal, Mr. Gaines (A. Russell Andrews), exhibits a clear bias against his Latino students. Frieda — who comically does the most in her performance of the “white ally” and is deeply offended by Mr. Gaines — wants to include his discrimination in her and Issa’s report to Joanne. Issa — who fought to keep We Got Yall invested in East 41st — doesn’t want to bring any bad news to her boss, even though she also finds the vice principal to be problematic.
That Issa is willing to be complacent in this situation almost seems shocking in a television landscape that has always used racial issues to politicise people of colour. Even our silliest characters of colour, like Rainbow on black-ish, rise to the occasion and fight for what’s right when faced with injustices. I can think of few reasons why Issa wouldn’t want to rock the boat, though. While radical protests and acts of resistance are often sensationalised in the media, they aren’t always practical for everyone. Black women are not always rewarded for speaking up at work. Sometimes it can mean putting our own jobs at risk. Or we become tasked with educating/solving the issue altogether. If we can appreciate Issa for representing the experiences of everyday Black girls, we have to respect her decision to keep her head down at work.
And even in the context of Issa’s fictional non-profit, I can see the possible negative outcomes of snitching. Her co-workers are experts at racial insensitivity and would almost surely handle the situation incorrectly. And if they decide to pull out of the school, is it fair that the students who could benefit from We Got Yall at East 41st have to lose out? Sometimes the means do not justify the ends.
For what it’s worth, though, I think that Issa is being completely self-serving in her decision not to disclose this information to her superior. She wants a win at work and doesn’t want to lose momentum. However, I know better than to use this as the sole indicator of whether or not her woke card deserves to be stamped.