Insecure Leaves Us with “Hella Questions,” Such As: Do Black People Get a Pass on Racism?

(Episode 2.02)

TV Features Insecure
Insecure Leaves Us with “Hella Questions,” Such As: Do Black People Get a Pass on Racism?

Last week’s episode of Insecure confirmed much of the direction of Season Two, but the second episode leaves us with far more questions than answers. Questions like:

So Issa (Issa Rae)’s random-ass brother is just going to pop up at the end of the last episode, give some exciting potential queer character-ish vibes, and disappear back into the thin air that spawned him?

Is Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) best friend Chad (Neil Brown, Jr.) funny, or just annoying AF? I never realized there was such a thin line, and as often as I find myself laughing at him, I have the most satisfying fantasies of him getting hit by a semi truck driven by a Black woman.

Will #TeamIssa give Lawrence credit for being honest with Tasha (Dominique Perry)? Issa definitely doesn’t deserve all the blame for the downfall of their relationship, but Lawrence is a much more complicated character than many of the folks who hate him make him out to be.

“If your ‘shoulds’ didn’t come to fruition, would you be open to your life looking a different way?” (A deep-ass question from Molly’s therapist. I felt like I just got a shrink session by proxy after watching this scene.)

Did Molly just lie to Issa about what Lawrence said to her off-screen regarding whether or not he wanted her back?

Do Black people get a pass on racism?

The last comes as Issa and her co-worker, Frieda (Lisa Joyce), are forced to ask the vice principal at a school that has partnered with their nonprofit We Got Y’all for more support with a program they’re running. Vice Principal Charles Gaines (A. Russell Andrews) happily obliges, but makes sure to insinuate that the reason the program has failed is because the teacher involved is Latinx.

Later, Gaines, who is Black, cracks a joke about “building a wall,” and in another scene chastises students for speaking Spanish in the halls. Frieda, who’s white, is visibly perturbed by Gaines’ comments, and pulls Issa to the side after noticing she does not seem equally offended. “Would it still be OK he said these things if he was… white?” Frieda asks.

One of my favorite things about Insecure is the genius of its portrayal of We Got Y’all, a representation of liberal white racism in the form of nonprofit saviorism. Employees at the organization, including Frieda herself, constantly make comments just as offensive as—but far more dangerous than (because no one holds them accountable)—Vice Principal Gaines’, often without even knowing it.

Last season, when Issa organized a work event with community kids at a beach, her colleagues traded “secret white emails” with Frieda expressing doubts about Issa’s capabilities, but once they got to the beach, Issa was the only one who brought enough sunscreen for the kids. (“I didn’t think they’d even need any,” one white co-worker says.)

These everyday experiences with white racism are just a part of life for Issa and most Black people in non-Black workspaces. We must learn to pick and choose our battles with racism, otherwise we’d be waging war at every moment. For Issa, Gaines’ anti-Latinx sentiments are just another opportunity to weigh the consequences of ending a program that’s just starting to benefit kids who’ve been disadvantaged because of racist systems against the consequences of ignoring them, and the latter doesn’t seem exponentially worse in the bigger picture.

For Frieda, and well-intentioned white people in general, there is no understanding of the bigger picture. Frieda has no concept that racist environments could be all-encompassing and require constant maneuvering, nor what it means to be so bogged down within them that you must repeatedly choose which violence to take on. In her mind, there is no larger system harming those kids even more than Gaines might.

We like to think of race in a vacuum, as if individuals exist without their history. This is why we can draw false equivalences between the actions of white people and the actions of Black people, as if white people and Black people are not informed by and reacting to mammothly different experiences.

Without question, Gaines’ biases toward Spanish-speaking Latinx are harmful to children, especially considering the vast numbers of Afro-Latinx who must be overlooked for his prejudices to make sense. But there is also a legacy of anti-Blackness in Latinx communities that is likely informing Gaines’ comments, and informing them in a much different way than they would inform a white person’s comments. Frieda can’t see that perspectives come from different places because, to her, there is only one perspective, and it is white.

There are hella good questions to ask concerning Black people internalizing racist views, but “Would it still be OK for a Black person to say racist things if he was white?” is not one of them. It has always been OK for white people to hate other racial groups. In fact, it gets you elected president. Meanwhile, we’re still trying to get to a point where it’s OK for Black people’s lives to matter.

Hari Ziyad is an artist, writer and the editor-in-chief of the literary and media publication RaceBaitR. They are also Deputy Editor for Black Youth Project, an Assistant Editor for Vinyl Poetry & Prose, and writer for AFROPUNK. You can find them on Twitter @hariziyad.

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