In only two episodes, Insecure has proven itself as a funny, sincere show with an eye for relatable modern issues. With “Racist As Fuck,” Insecure proves it can also tackle racism in a nuanced way that doesn’t distract from the show’s central plot points. Molly and Issa both make huge choices in their personal relationships while balancing realistic instances of workplace racism. “Racist As Fuck” might not present the most outward examples of racism, but it does look at the everyday racist microaggressions black women face in their attempts to lead successful careers. On top of that, the episode gives us a better understanding of Issa’s relationship and history with Lawrence. While this could’ve felt like an overstuffed episode, Dayna Lynne North’s script blends these experiences into a successful narrative that explores the expectations and limits of black female agency.

Issa’s insecurities around her relationship and job have been clear from the pilot. “Racist As Fuck” gives us the best idea of where those doubts stem from. She’s not just treated like the token black coworker in her office, her coworkers openly doubt her judgement and ability. They don’t even have the decency to address her directly because they’re afraid she’ll react like some stereotype of an angry black woman. Even Rita, the one coworker who supports Issa, brings extra trash to the beach, just in case things don’t go well. When the trip is underway, they still whisper about having time to go to the Tolerance Museum instead of following Issa’s plan. To be fair, the show makes it clear Issa isn’t perfect. She’s not motivated to “plan the fuck out of Beach Day” until she finds out about her coworkers “secret white emails.” She doesn’t work hard on the project because she’s passionate about the kids; she just wants to prove her coworkers wrong and point out that they make mistakes too.

“We are not home right now. We are in mixed company,” Issa says as she begs the students to switch up their attitudes. Yes, the kids are complaining like kids usually do, but the doubts already surrounding Issa amplify these complaints. The kids Issa works with can’t simply be annoyed, impatient kids around coworkers who ask questions like, “why don’t more of them swim?”––at all times they’re performative representatives of their race and Issa’s plea asks them to understand that. This is the one of many instances in the episode where people of color are asked to “switch up” their behavior. The other moment happens at Molly’s office.

Molly is immediately excited to see Rashida, a new black intern, in the office. As someone who has experienced being the lone black person in a corporate setting, Molly’s excitement and outreach to Rashida felt incredibly real. You want to connect and support each other, but at the same time you need to recognize your agency as individuals. That careful balance is on display here as Rashida goes from telling Molly she can call her “Dada” to pushing back against Molly’s advice that she adapt to the office better. It’s easy to understand where both women are coming from. Molly is right––black women have an easier time when they straighten their hair and adapt to a volume and spoken vernacular approved of by white America. Yet, Rashida is younger and while she has completed an impressive number of things, she hasn’t had to make the sacrifices necessary to compete at this level of her career. She’s right when she says she shouldn’t have to switch it up, but it’s only a matter of time before she’s tokenized for being a “real” black woman in the office or she’s asked to change.

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These issues of “mixed company” are addressed in contrast to a scene where Molly and Issa go to a party. While I’m not familiar with sororities or frats (they were banned from my small liberal arts school), Molly’s greeting with her friend makes it seem as though this is a Black Greek Letter Organization reunion. Either way, there are only people of color present and, for the first time, we really see Molly and Issa interact loudly and openly with people other than each other. Natasha Rothwell shines as Kelli, the loud friend who’s always down for a free drink ticket. Amanda Seales counters her as Tiffany, the bougie, semi-hotep-like friend who supports traditional gender roles and throws shade with the best of them as she “compliments” Issa for her ability to “just not care.” They speak openly about the difficulties of dating L.A. dudes and educated black men. Rothwell’s Kelli is a particular delight. She’s open about her sexuality, she’s loud, she’s joyful––characteristics you hardly ever get to see of large, beautiful black women on TV.

With this scene, Insecure is reveling in its ability to present blackness without the gaze of whiteness. It makes a clear point on the double consciousness of black folks and asks where we can truly be ourselves. It asks us to be aware of the fact that Kelli is allowed to act freely at a black party, but most likely would not behave this way if white people were present. It’s a dynamic layer of analysis that few shows centered around the black experience get an opportunity to examine. Issa’s forced smile as a coworker who doubted her attempts to claim credit is just that––a forced smile with Issa’s bathroom rap bubbling underneath. “Racist As Fuck” is a complex, near-perfect episode on the topic of code switching and that only makes up about 15% of what this episode covers.

We finally see Issa make some firm decisions when it comes to Lawrence. She decides she’s all in and accepts that she’s also to blame for the issues they’ve been having. To his credit, Lawrence does seem to be getting his life together. He takes a low level job offer and makes Issa dinner. Even though he flirts with his favorite bank teller, I don’t question his dedication to their relationship since it’s so clear he’s just getting validation and support from her that Issa doesn’t provide. Maybe Issa really is “all in” when it comes to their relationship, but even the fresh start promised by throwing out their “bouch” doesn’t seem believable.

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At the very least, it all seems way more promising than Molly’s romantic prospects after she ends things with Jared. Molly has been the voice of reason when it comes to Issa, so it’s nice to see her display some negative qualities. When she’s accepted into The League (an exclusive dating app similar to Raya), she immediately jumps at the chance to meet richer, college-educated men. Even though she said she didn’t have a problem with Jared’s job or lack of a degree, she clearly took issue with her friends’ pause when they realized Jared didn’t go to college. It’s still hard to tell whether wealth and education are actually important to Molly. While it makes sense that she’d want to date someone on her level, she seemed comfortable around Jared. In the end, it may turn out that her desire to date a more professional man is just an extension of the code-switching, acceptability politics she’s gotten used to performing.

Stray observations

  • Molly’s break-up call with Jared was so harsh, but dead on. Who hasn’t used the “I just want us to be real friends” out?
  • The opening sequence of Issa and Lawrence’s awkward nighttime routine perfectly captured the state of their relationship.
  • White Josh from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was Molly’s coworker! I hope he pops up again.
  • “I have all the secs you need. Nevermind, I heard it.” - Rita
  • The staff counselors running out of sunscreen lotion on the beach was my favorite bit. “I didn’t think they’d even need it!” - Yes, black people use sunscreen lotion.
  • “I’mma call bell hooks on you.”
    “Call her.”
  • I love Issa and Molly constantly calling each other out and following it up with “You right, nevermind, you can do no wrong.”
  • The best song this episode had to be the use of Erykah Badu’s “I Been Goin Thru It All - Happy 4/20 Remix” I would like this to play every time I walk into a date looking as good as Molly did in that dress:

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