As of this Thursday, I will have been working remote and staying indoors for a whole month. In the weeks that have passed, I have watched a lot of television, despite the fact that many of the programs I’d been a staunch follower of had gone off the air. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, TLC, Lifetime, HGTV, Animal Planet — you name it, I’ve given just about everything a shot. That being said, nothing had me more glued to my TV in these past few weeks than Insecure. After more than a year, we were finally catching back up with Issa, Molly and co. (though I can still do without Lawrence…) and I was geeked, which is a stage past simple excitement.
So when Season 4 premiered, I was ready. I had my ice cream with me, and my volume at a moderate level in preparation for the sex scenes we’ve all become accustomed to. I was definitely entertained.
And then I was perplexed.
There was a scene at the mixer Issa threw for prospective donors towards her block party where Condola and Tiffany introduce her to a woman named Sheryl (played by Paula Jai Parker). Condola and Tiffany attempt to help Issa explain the idea behind her block party to Sheryl, which our protagonist has been struggling to do all night. At one point, Sheryl asks her to speak up for herself.
“What else can you tell me Issa?” she asked. “You’re kind of being stingy with the deets. Are you Nigerian? I can’t do another scam, Condola!”
Condola reiterates that she’s not Nigerian, to which Issa responds “I’m American” with a dry, uncomfortable laugh.
Full disclosure: I’m Nigerian. My father came over to the U.S. in the ’70s, and I’ve been to the most populated African country four different times. My husband is Nigerian. My church is full of Nigerians. We have our issues, many of which myself and my church friends and cousins vent about after getting openly criticized about weight, being single or parenting choices. However, said issues are none that we would be fine with other people putting on blast, especially not on TV. So when I heard the “joke,” which landed somewhat awkwardly, I, even the most Americanized of folk, raised an eyebrow. After being glued to my seat for most of the episode, I got up, got some water, and tried to readjust myself so I could enjoy myself again. I wasn’t upset, because it was supposed to be a quip, and it’s a stereotype that’s been said time and again: some Nigerians are scammers. But maybe it’s all the TV I’ve been watching that led me to feel like I was getting weary of that oversimplified image.
That feeling seems more common these days. It’s why when I would watch 90 Day Fiance episodes with my husband, he would always want to fast forward through the scenes with Nigerian men. He would say that the guys featured were not really into the women who were flying across the world to meet them, these ladies usually being over 50, white, overweight and eager to have some sex. He claimed the guys just wanted to get to America, and would feign loving whomever to make it happen. For him, it was an embarrassing thing to watch. I always assumed he was being dramatic. However, his point became clearer when I started to see how people on Twitter talked about these same men, calling them scammers both in seriousness and in jest. And then when it became evident that an older Black woman featured on the same show recently was being catfished, and her daughter claimed the culprit had a number that was Nigerian (though that hasn’t been proven yet), I could see my husband’s point plainly. These representations were a hot mess and they were becoming too prevalent.
So when I heard the Nigerian joke on Insecure, I wasn’t angry or laughing or indifferent. I was just confused. For a show that has such a strong writing team, I felt like the gag was pretty basic. Going into the series’ fourth season, it seemed like a hat trick better suited for Season 1. Plus, star Yvonne Orji, who plays Molly, is Nigerian, and she claims she didn’t know about it:
All that being said, I won’t pretend that there aren’t people sending emails and calling phones pretending to be people they’re not to swindle others out of money. However, the vast majority are in Nigeria, where opportunities many people take for granted are not easily available. Unemployment is high, as is poverty due to government misconduct. And though people who make their wealth abroad can return and live very well, building their homes and having a flock of folks washing their clothes and driving them around, those not able to get the visas go elsewhere do their best with what is available — or some do their worst to get ahead, opting for advanced-fee scams.
That’s why when many, like my dad and millions of others, are able to leave and live in places that are thriving, they take advantage thoroughly of the opportunity to get a good education, create businesses, or do whatever work it takes to help their children excel. So when I constantly hear the 419 scammer joke in movies and TV and reality TV at that, I’m just a bit disappointed. So are many other people who know of more success stories than they do scam artists and men looking for a free ride to the States. I’m sure we could all agree that it would nice to be represented in the many more ways we are than that. Just saying.
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