What Students Can Learn from the HBO Series “Insecure”

portrait of Sydney Clark
by Sydney Clark
Published on December 17, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Paige J. Gardner, Ph.D.

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What Students Can Learn from the HBO Series “Insecure”

HBO's "Insecure," a show created and produced by Issa Rae, follows a young Black woman's journey through adulthood. The series has received critical acclaim since its premiere in 2016 for showcasing the harsh and hilarious realities of young adult life and centering an authentic Black experience.

As "Insecure" airs the last episodes of its fifth and final season, students can reflect on the series's legacy and how the show's narratives apply to the world around them.

Microaggressions Are Racist, Not Inconsequential

"Insecure" showcases modern Black life, and one of the realities of modern Black life is racism. Over the course of five seasons, the series explores how each of its characters deals with it, mainly through their interactions at work. Best friends Issa Dee (Issa Rae) and Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji), the main characters of "Insecure," face racism frequently at their jobs — Molly through disempowerment at her predominantly white law firm, and Issa at her nonprofit organization filled with white saviors.

As the show indicates, and as students should understand, microaggressions are a form of racism. Both women experience them in different ways. Molly's experiences at her law firm are more stereotypical representations of microaggressive behaviors. While she is more than capable in her capacity as a lawyer, for example, she doesn't receive the advancement opportunities that she has rightfully earned.

Her law partners pit her against the only other Black person in the firm, who is a man. In this dynamic, she experiences the intersectionality of microaggressions directed toward her as a Black person and as a woman.

Issa, on the other hand, experiences microaggressions that may not register to many viewers as racist. In the first few seasons of "Insecure," she works at a nonprofit organization called, We Got Y'all — an ironic reference to the white savior complex that powers the organization, which was founded by a white woman. Issa's workplace tokenizes her, and she is used as cover for the non-BIPOC leadership of the organization.

Microaggressions are just as common on campuses across the country as they are on "Insecure." Countless BIPOC students are discounted as incapable in their intellectual capacity. Others are used to insinuate diversity in predominantly white universities' (PWIs) recruitment brochures and prospective student events. By allowing and participating in these microaggressive behaviors, institutions are continuing practices that perpetuate racism.

The Pressure to Succeed Should Not Limit Passions

BIPOC folks sometimes feel the pressure to be "successful" on behalf of their race or culture. Older generations often hold traditional success in high regard, and they push their children to choose certain occupations that denote achievement. Earning the title of doctor, lawyer, or engineer is the priority.

The pressure from elders is meant in earnest. Ultimately, their goal is to "better" BIPOC communities, and students often feel forced to take up these roles to positively influence others or fulfill their families' dreams. Those who don't follow this path may feel as though they are betraying the sacrifices made for them to advance in life.

"Insecure" tackles this experience by portraying Issa's feelings of inadequacy. Her friends work in traditionally respected fields, while she struggles in a nonprofit position that leaves her unsatisfied. However, her distaste for her circumstances ultimately pushes her to pursue her passion for uplifting her neighborhood. The final season of "Insecure" begins with Issa as a thriving community organizer who has found purpose in her work.

BIPOC students shouldn't pressure themselves to enter professional fields that will please others. Instead, they should pursue their passions — this can lead to their ultimate satisfaction and still allow them to uplift their communities.

Forced Assimilation and Gentrification Are Destructive

The first season of "Insecure" has a distinct focus on gentrification. Issa, a Los Angeles native, lives in Inglewood, a historically Black neighborhood. The show makes it clear that Inglewood is becoming gentrified, with shots of new and trendy storefronts popping up on every corner. After noticing this, Issa speaks with a white coworker in the midst of moving apartments, who refers to the neighborhood as "I-Wood."

Forced assimilation of historically BIPOC neighborhoods is happening rapidly across the country. When developers flip houses in an area or build expensive condos, new people — typically yuppies — move in, pricing natives out. The combination of corrupt landlords and the yuppie presence raises the median rent of a neighborhood, leading to housing displacement for low-income residents. Forced to flee because of the rising rent, BIPOC communities have no choice but to leave their homes and historic neighborhoods behind.

Developers and lack of rent control are not the only culprits of gentrification and forced assimilation. Universities are, too. Institutions like the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, contribute to the gentrification of their areas via housing policies and norms. Students, primarily affluent and not local, prioritize housing around campus and are willing to pay any price for an apartment. Universities enable gentrification and forced assimilation by failing to address and provide for the communities they and their students put at risk.

Black People and Experiences Are Relatable

"Insecure" is a show specifically about Black people and their realities, but it also depicts the general experience of living in modern society. The HBO series's representation of and singular focus on Blackness are essential. However, the plot is that of a coming-of-age story.

Unfortunately, white viewers often avoid "Black shows." But Blackness should not be categorized into obscurity. "Insecure" is at once a testament to the importance of representation and a demonstration that many human experiences are universal. The experience of being a Black person is unique, yet Black people deal with many of the same systemic issues that non-Black people do.

The show is ultimately a depiction of young adults learning to navigate their way through life. It's about the value of friendship and building bonds that last a lifetime. "Insecure" tackles toxic relationships and their catastrophic effect on a person's life and psyche. Through the acts of letting go and being vulnerable, the characters grow emotionally. The show also explores the value of pursuing your passion and depicts the frightening realities of surviving in the adult world. These are plotlines anyone can relate to.

Overall, "Insecure" exemplifies how looking through the lens of Blackness can shed light on many other experiences. All BIPOC identities are intersectional and multifaceted. Examining life from these unique perspectives reveals the foundation of an inequitable society.

Conclusion

The show's five-season run taught viewers many lessons, all of which home in on the realities of living under systemic oppression. As students make their way through college and life, they can turn to plot points from the show to increase their understanding of the world. "Insecure" offers important viewpoints through which they can examine themselves and others.


Feature Image: Vivien Killilea / Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

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