What ‘Insecure’ Means to the Culture Now That It’s Ending

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Issa Rae. Image: Merie Wallace/HBO

With the series finale and accompanying documentary cementing the end of an era, the lasting significance of Insecure is concrete now more than ever, unlike our Sunday night line-up. (There are absolutely some spoilers in here so don't say we didn't warn you.)

This past Sunday, the penultimate episode of Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure aired and frankly, I, along with most of Black Twitter, have no clue on how to act or feel.

Insecure has meant a lot of things for many people and even more so to Black culture. Over five seasons, the phenomenon has tackled the struggles of finding one’s purpose to reckoning with the ups and downs of love and friendships. Issa Dee (played by Rae) and her homegirls elucidated the intricacies and complexities of Black womanhood through interacting with varying definitions of Blackness. It was messy AF, hella cringe at times—but oh so Black. Most importantly, Insecure was ours. It belonged to us in a way that a lot of mainstream TV shows have not—properly incorporating our vernacular and cultural norms in a tasteful yet authentic way that was true to form, Insecure has earned its spot in the category of great Black sisterhood pieces like Girlfriends, Living Single, and Waiting to Exhale. Each half-hour episode breathed new life into the promise of what stepping into peak #BlackGirlMagic could be at a time when many of us needed it the most. Instead of turning to white girl-centric coming-of-age stories, we turned to the lives of Issa, Molly, Kelli, and Tiffany, respectively played by Yvonne Orji, Natasha Rothwell, and EBONY’s Black Thought contributor Amanda Seales.

If you’re really about that life and have been along for the ride since day one, then you’ll recall that seeing Issa Rae transition from the Awkward Black Girl age on YouTube to the television screen was euphoric and honestly extremely cathartic. Building up a solid following through various web series on the channel “Issa Rae Presents,” she was no stranger to executing content that highlighted Black folks of differing backgrounds in comedic but relatable fashion. So when news broke that she would be transitioning her creative genius to television, HBO at that, it was no question that she was gonna shake things up for real. 

Everyone knows where they were and what they were doing in life as each season played out. When the series began in 2016, I was a freshman in college, dreaming of finding myself within the ranks of dope and powerful Black women someday but often unsure of my own potential.  Since that time, I’ve found that it’s become a symbol of hope and aspiration for what the future of being a Black woman could behold for me. It showed me that there was no mega manual to being on my grown Black woman sh*t and that while it’s a singular journey, it doesn’t have to equate to being a lonely one. As I can now connect the growth of my close circle to that of the journey Issa and her friends have been on over five seasons, I am able to realize the inextricable tie that seeing Black folks represented in this way has had on my development and those around me. Whether resonating with micro-aggressions felt at a “We Got Y’all” type of job, feeling the disappointment of a relationship gone awry or deciphering the sting of childhood wounds, each season was a balm for chaotic moments on the rollercoaster of life and it provided solace to know that I was not the only one experiencing it.

The bond lovers of Insecure have had with one another is not a game. Because of this, the community that the show has created with its viewers has allowed it to solidify its place as a modern-day Black cult classic before our eyes. What other TV show has successfully and intentionally recreated moments of Black joy in real life? From recapping each of Issa’s very questionable decisions with friends, live-tweeting about still being Team Lawrence in 2021 with strangers, attending Insecure Fest, or putting our partners (or even parents) onto the show as first-time watchers, you can go almost anywhere and see the very real manifestations of the show’s resolve to magnify Black excellence. In 2018, I even ran through the streets of Harlem and waited in line for hours with my cousin on a Twitter-based scavenger hunt that lead to a screener of the opening episode of season three. (Note: let it be known that I don’t just run through anybody’s streets but I did for Issa and the expectation of a masterfully done season which did not disappoint.) The influence of the show on our culture is undeniable and will continue to permeate throughout our community for decades to come.

When speaking on the nostalgia of Insecure, one would definitely be remiss to neglect to mention the wily assortment of personalities and scenarios that the series showed in parallel to our own lives. To keep it 100%, Issa Dee made mirror talk sexy and that did a lot for my anxiety and processing my own decisions unapologetically in order to talk myself down off of a ledge.  Simultaneously, the show not only comedized but romanticized Black success and Black life in a way I’ve never seen, especially with the aid of the sonically spectacular soundtrack.

The weekly updated Spotify playlist with its beautiful range of ratchet to soulful tracks has been a *chef’s kiss*. Each track not only summed up the moment it was scripted into but allowed me to cinematically visualize my own life through the diverse genres on display. Additionally, seeing the growth of each character over five seasons has been exceptional and a low-key miracle. They have taken us for a loop, chile, and tugged on all of our heartstrings.  Issa navigating her romantic ties with Daniel/Lawrence/Nathan/TSA Bae; Molly understanding dynamics with Dro/Andrew/Taurean; Condola and all her given nicknames dealing with Lawrence and their new baby; Tiffany and Derek figuring it out as new parents— we’ve been through a lot with these folks and at times thought we wouldn’t recover the detriment of each character’s experiences. However, we’ve made it. Regardless of the shenanigans, Insecure made me feel unafraid of not knowing what exactly my future held or even how to maneuver it at times as long as I stayed true to myself and did what was best for me.

Insecure was not perfect but it taught us, as Black people, that we didn’t have to be either in order to be worthy of joy, success, love, friendship, and life.  While all good things must, unfortunately, come to an end, we have to remember the legacy, okay?! With one last episode in store along with a documentary highlighting the impact of the series in its totality, it’s no doubt that all the feels will be felt. Here’s to dedicating one last Sunday to a show that shifted the culture and let us know that our fears, hopes, and dreams, no matter how insecure we may be about them, are valid and worth fighting for.

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