I never thought watching Issa fuck up her entire apartment would feel so satisfying.
The final moments of “Hella Disrespectful” were the visual and emotional equivalent of watching someone light a dumpster fire before stalking away. That probably wasn’t the intended purpose. The scene was probably meant to illustrate the harm and hurt being disrespected can cause. It was also probably meant to fold into some larger conversation about the ways we are conditioned or even allowed to respond to disrespect. But the episode contained so much disrespect that I found myself internalizing it instead of thinking about its narrative function, desperate for anyone to acknowledge how wholeheartedly messed up disrespecting someone is.
In this political and social economy, it felt so nice to watch someone fuck shit up after being torn down.
Ghanaian inspirational writer and author Lailah Gifty Akita once said, “You can choose to disrespect me but I will not give you permission to hurt my spirit.” It’s a noble and sentimental statement, fitting for the purpose of her work. Akita spends her life figuring out ways to turn negatives into positives.
Unfortunately, in the real world, owning our response to being disrespected is not as easy as opening or closing a door. Learning how to elevate or devalue the importance of someone’s actions or words is a skill built over time, and mastering it is no guarantee. Most of us spend our lives letting disrespect hurt us, especially when it comes from people we once respected and believe once respected us.
By no means do I have a definitive handle on all the ways people respond when they’ve been disrespected, but I’ve borne witness to enough to argue that responses tend to fall into three categories: 1) You turn bitterness to kindness—be the bigger person, swallow your pride and handle the situation like an adult; 2) You simply accommodate the slight, biting your tongue and moving on; 3a) You confront the situation head on, regardless of how said situation might escalate; or 3b) You confront the situation head on, knowing full well you’re about to put back on someone what they just put on you.
I’d argue that most people are not conditioned to respond by way of option number three. Most of us are taught to respond by being the bigger person or simply moving on, something Akita’s words lend themselves to. The problem is, while disrespect may not always be a thoughtful act like Issa’s “it’s no big deal we’re helping other kids” argument, it’s not a thoughtless one. Molly’s place at the birthday table, Lawrence bringing a new chick to the gathering, or Daniel’s “now we’re even” mindset are examples of this. Something being a little less thoughtful and a little more thoughtless doesn’t make it harmless, doesn’t negate that it’s still an attack on how people feel they deserve to be treated as human beings.
Despite what we may want to think, turning the other cheek or responding to unkindness with kindness doesn’t always make us feel better and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that person who disrespected us won’t do it again in the future.
Molly is not Dro’s first rodeo. This is not the first or last time Lawrence will be a hypocrite. Nor is it Daniel’s only time being petty. And though it should be, human history tells us that it probably won’t be the last time Issa turns her cheek for just long enough that people like the young boy she met on the bus will lose out. What happened in “Hella Disrespectful” was hella disrespectful, and that shouldn’t go ignored because we don’t want to taint our spirit. It was tainted the moment we were disrespected, so let us be angry about it.
But also, let us be emotionally brazen and brave. It feels like after an excruciating half hour, that is maybe the biggest takeaway from the dumpster fire that was that birthday party. Let us let other people know how we feel, even if it doesn’t feel like the most adult thing to do at the time.
Frieda’s season-long cold-shoulder, Molly’s text to Dro, Issa’s outbursts at Lawrence or even him turning it back on her: However knee-jerk these reactions may seem, they’re not easy decisions at all. Being really, unapologetically honest has serious stakes. Acknowledging your breaking point and demanding that others acknowledge it—like Frieda with Issa, both taking on a principal to help Latino kids, or Molly reminding Dro that if you’re in an open relationship, you aren’t something to be hidden—takes guts.
Just, whatever we do—text message, phone call, leaving a party, or fucking up our apartment—let us acknowledge that we’ve been disrespected. Let us acknowledge we deserve better. Let us set something on fire before we stalk away.
Read our episodic coverage of Insecure here.
Abbey White is a Brooklyn-based, Cleveland raised freelance entertainment and identities writer whose work has appeared in Vox, USA TODAY, Paste, The Mary Sue, and Black Girl Nerds, among other publications.