HBO has a new hit series called “Insecure” from star Issa Rae (of Awkward Black Girl fame) and Larry Wilmore (former host of The Nightly Show and co-creator of Black-ish on ABC). The show follows the lives of 20 something black women as they try to maneuver through their careers, friendships, society, and relationships. Central to this story is the relationship between Issa and her boyfriend Lawrence. To summarize, Issa and Lawrence’s relationship has been on the rocks since Lawrence fell on hard times and Issa had to financially support the household. Lawrence has been working to pull things together but not hard enough in the eyes of Issa causing tension. This boils over resulting in Issa cheating on Lawrence while he remained faithful, and then Lawrence moving out without telling Issa and getting it on with a bank teller that had been after him for some time. So now that we are all caught up, let’s move on to the larger issues pointed out by this series.
The popularity of Insecure and Awkward Black Girl before that are that they relate to young women (in particular, young black women) in a realistic way. They can relate to the relationship struggles, the challenges at work and the difficulty in fitting into a society where you are a double minority and must fight hard on all fronts. This is before you heap onto them all the baggage heaped upon them by the simple statistics facing them on a daily basis. Black women have the highest U.S. obesity rates of any group, highest birth out of wedlock rates, lowest marriage rates, fastest growing HIV/AIDS population, fastest growing prison population, lowest desirability rating in the dating market (along with Asian men). This constant drumbeat of negative information is the leftover vestiges of generations of the past that young black women must deal with the minute they hit puberty. And the most insidious of these presumptions is that black women must settle.
The common knowledge and pervasive social norms are that it is expected that Black Women will must settle or die alone. There is no fairytale or Prince Charming story for black women. Your only option will be a broke, deadbeat, with illegitimate kids that you’re supposed to take care of who hopefully doesn’t cheat too often and holds domestic violence within a reasonable range (and doesn’t leave bruises). Black women are actively chastised for searching for men of economic means who are able to provide a stable life for them (gold-diggers). They are chastised for exploring dating and relationship options instead of settling for the first man that shows them any attention (“these h*** ain’t loyal”). They are even criticized for showing interest in a man (clingy, thirsty).
For these reasons and many more, the relationship between black women and black men is toxic at this current juncture. This toxicity has resulted in distrust, resentment, and anger. And this is the juncture of Issa and Lawrence’s relationship. Let us begin with Issa. To dissuade the social stigma that comes from a woman leaving a man without means, Issa attempted to “Hold it down” while Lawrence got things together. This is a value which is not taught in other cultures. In Chinese, Jewish, African or even traditional American culture a man that cannot provide should not be in a relationship. You get yourself together on your own time and when you are ready to protect and provide and lead then you find yourself a mate. A woman is not expected to “hold it down” or anything else, if he cannot provide (particularly if you are not married) you move on. Thus, this additional pressure strained the other parts of their relationship. A woman does not look at a man as a man if he does not provide. Point blank period. They can still like you and love you, but they will not treat you as a man if they see you as an appendage, accessory or baggage.
Thus, Issa’s attempts to maintain the relationship through the hard times was valorous, but against nature and logic. She only did so because she thought it was the right thing to do, but the right thing to do was to take that pressure off Lawrence by dissolving the relationship and allowing Lawrence to grow and stabilize in his own time.
Turning to Lawrence. My father told me when I was 7 “Don’t ever let a woman take care of you. Always be able to do for yourself. If she takes care of you, she thinks that she owns you.” This is the situation that Lawrence found himself in. He was trying to get things together but was going so far out of his way to prove his worth to Issa outside of his ability to financially provide that it stagnated his ability to get his self together. Lawrence also in his own way wanted desperately to break the societal stereotype of the deadbeat black man who will not work or provide. He did not want to become that same broke, cheating, no good dude that black men are often made out to be. Thus, he also went against nature and logic to fill a role which he was not cut out for to maintain their relationship. He wanted to be the perfect “Good Guy”.
In truth, these two should have broken up long ago and mentally they did. They were not helping either party by staying together and if they had done so they would have been able to save a lot of hurt feeling in the future. Issa should not have cheated and Lawrence should have left. The failure was inevitable.
But to this point about options for Black Women, part of the reason that Issa did not leave was that she saw the good in Lawrence and the love that he held for her and wanted to make it work I believe partially because Black women are constantly told that they do not have other options and just to be happy that you have someone at all. That is not the case and you’re not doing anyone any favors by staying with someone that you are not happy with.
And for Lawrence he falls into the well-littered graveyard of dashed dreams of a “Good guy”. I’ve been a good guy at times in life. I would hold an umbrella and walk girls to class, stay up late in the computer lab and help write term papers. I was the guy that would change your tire in the rain or even pet sit your bird while you were out of town. Where did that get me? The bird chewed a hole in my curtains, I was changing a tire for the girl to go to some other dude’s house, I never talked to the girl after finals and I ended up soaking wet from walking the girl in the rain and she was just delivering books to the guy that she liked in the other dorm. Yeah, being that good guy is going to get you burnt almost every time.
It is better just to be yourself, flaws and all. No guy is going to be the perfect guy. It is important for black men to accept that and move on. Be the best that you can be and strive to be better every day but the pursuit of perfection produces perversions. Stop trying to be the “good guy” and just be you. They say that “nothing that you do not have to fight for is worth having” but that is malarkey. You don’t have to fight for the love of your parents or family or children, you don’t have to fight for the friendship of your best friends. Rather those things just come naturally. I have found that if you must fight someone to love you, they never end up loving you. They just end up settling for you.
So, for all the guys out there on #TeamLawrence or the #LawrenceHive just know he is not the poster child for the good guy done wrong, but rather the emblem of what happens when you try to fight for something that isn’t there. Despite all of the weight and pressure placed on black relationships they can work, but we have no duty to force them too to satisfy society or anyone else. Follow your heart, mind and gut. And when it’s over, let it be over.
Attorney Robert Patillo host of “People, Passion and Politics” Sunday 1 – 4 pm on News and Talk 1380 WAOK.