A few of weeks ago, a friend and I attended a lecture that aimed to unpack gender transformation in various sectors in South Africa. It was a panel of four women: an academic, a chartered accountant, a business woman and an investor — all formidable and intelligent in their own fields. They spoke to us about the challenges of working in male-dominated spheres.
Astounded, inspired and slightly (more) jaded, we left discussing everything we had learned and realised during the lecture. “I know that I understand representation and its importance, but it honestly overwhelms me every time I’m in a space like that,” my friend said to me. “We need more of this.”
I realised then how right she was. We need more of this.
Black womxn will always have my heart. In all that I attend, read, watch and consume, black womxn will always get my attention. I’m an avid consumer of images and art: whether it’s movies, websites or books, I gobble all of it, and if it’s a black womxn who created it, I am in. So when it comes to anything new that’s been created by a black womxn, I’m a fan even before I’ve had the chance to see what it is.
In terms of black representation, I believe that my generation was raised in the golden age of television. In the 1990s, we were fortunate enough to have that 7pm slot on SABC 1 when we’d look forward to American sitcoms — Sister, Sister, One on One, My Wife and Kids and Moesha were favourites. Locally, we also had Backstage, City Ses’la, SOS, Isidingo and, although Jam Alley wasn’t a scripted show, V-Mash and Pushie Pushie (“baaaaaby!”) gave us Carefree Black Girl goals before it was the buzzword it is today.
We got to see ourselves on screen, in our multiple manifestations – the studious black girl, the cool black girl, the self-love goals black girl, the artsy black girl, the career-focused black girl, the black girl who craved love, the one who was all about her friends – that black girl representation.
And now we’ve also got a glimpse into the awkward and insecure black girl through Issa Rae’s hit shows.
Issa Rae is famed for the work she did in creating the web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl back in 2011. I was incredibly late to the party and only really found out about her when there were talks of her having her own show. Interested, I borrowed her book from a friend and prepared to be as excited as she was about all “the slay” that Issa was unleashing on us.
The disappointment? Wow. Whether it was the high expectations I had after so many told me how much they’d enjoyed and connected with her web-series or, honestly, the fact that I always stepped into the work of a black womxn expecting to be blown away, I did not feel as strong about Issa’s work as many around me.
I scoured the internet for information on her, watched more of the web series and, although I didn’t think it was my sort of humour, I got my chuckles and moved on. I had seen how much people, how much black womxn especially had raved about her writing, her acting and her way of capturing “the eccentricities of being an introverted black girl trying to make friends, date and ultimately stand out”. But again, I was sorely disappointed.
When news of Insecure dropped I remained hopeful and began watching the series excitedly. I still wasn’t a fan.
Throughout the first season and now in the second, I was still left underwhelmed and at times angry. There were moments when I hated Issa Dee. I hated the decisions she was making for herself. I hated that she didn’t seem to be developing and growing from negative experiences. I understood that some people remained in their own toxic cycles, but in multiple conversations with friends, we all just wanted better for her.
I hated that the story remained stagnant. I hated that the most growth I saw in these characters since the first season was the final episode of the second season. I wasn’t even half old enough to watch, enjoy and completely understand the significance of how many black girls and women were on TV in the 1990s — honestly, the most I remember is that I had huge crushes on most of the women I’d see. Hi Lynn (*blushes*). But what I remember quite vividly is that even in their messiness, while navigating their lives, there was always growth.
Black women deserve to be written complexly, just like everyone else. And I wanted to see that in Insecure. Even with this, I still believed and advocated completely for her work. Not just because black womxn are everything and I will always stan, but because I knew that in her creations there were plenty of girls who saw themselves in her awkwardness, in her insecurity and who were filled with warmth at seeing themselves represented.
Black womxn on television don’t have to be on either side of the Pissed-Off-All-The-Time to Sickeningly-Extraordinary-With-All-Their-Shit-Together scale to prosper.
We need women who deal with the shit that life brings them, women who mess up (more often than I think is even healthy, honestly), those who are awkward and just dealing with everything thrown at them, even on the most average day, and those who still deal with the complexities of (my least favourite phrase) the “work-life balance”.
In an interview with cosmopolitan.com, Issa Rae remarked: “It’s important to show the mundaneness, because it shows [black people] as human — we don’t get to have those moments of celebrating ourselves. We have a very specific struggle even in the mundane, like with micro-aggressions. But that doesn’t mean the world stops. We still keep moving.”
We do still keep moving. We’re filled with and driven by joy, as well as anger and pain. We need to see more of us who push through the anger and pain to get to the ecstasy. I’m with those of us who want Issa to do better. Because we want better for her, for us and for all the black girls who are watching. Why? Because we need more of this.