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Insecure

Source: Merie W. Wallace / HBO, Merie W. Wallace

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.

Hit the flip to see Twitter reactions to the joke and share your thoughts below.

Commenters, like this individual here, said they felt the “Are you Nigerian?” joke came off as “forced.” Others claimed it was one example of a few jokes from the premiere that didn’t land so well in their opinion.

The Nigerian ‘jokes’ on insecure are boring, the writing in the show is just…”

“So the Nigerian scam thing on Insecure threw me off because it was so unnecessary,” wrote a Twitter user after checking out the premiere episode. Someone with a similar opinion also noted that the quip felt unnecessary, writing, “Yh [sic] the Nigerian scam joke on Insecure was mad corny lmao. Wasn’t even necessary.” 

A young woman on the social media site said that the joke “was low hanging fruit,” and that there are “too many of y’all in a writers room for that.” Someone else agreed, saying, Did @IssaRae really think that Nigerian joke was funny? We already get enough of this from yt folks. Issa no for this one.” 

 

While this commenter said she was “irritated” by the joke, and was looking to talk about it, someone else commented via Twitter that she was more shocked than anything that writers for the series would let something like that slide.

“I was shocked when I heard the Nigerian scammer joke on Insecure….very sad.”

https://twitter.com/ada_enechi/status/1249638334701490177

Someone said after hearing the quip, “Insecure you’re on thin ice and it’s episode 1.” Someone else pointed out the fact that Issa is Senegalese, and since projects she’s been in have used such stereotypes, one is left to wonder if there’s some beef.

“It really baffles me. Especially since Issa is half Senegalese. Like, what exactly is the tension here?”

A few people pointed out that a particular stereotypical Nigerian joke was shared in Issa Rae’s film The Photograph, as well as, now, on her show. They couldn’t understand what this persistent Naija shade was all about. The commenter above called such puns “trash.”

“I’m usually here for Issa but she gotta chill.”

While this commenter said the comment “came out of nowhere and was really unnecessary,” someone else seemed to take the joke quite personally, calling out both Issa and Yvonne Orji out of nowhere.

“I suddenly don’t like Issa Rae,” the man wrote. ‘Are you Nigerian ? I can’t do another scam Condola.’ And Yvonne Orji was there and let her run down her whole country.” 

https://twitter.com/moyo_oj/status/1249686148097748993

Another commenter said the joke was in “poor taste,” while one on Instagram assumed that perhaps Yvonne gave her the thumbs up to go forward with the joke on the show.

“So she and Yvonne must’ve discussed it and felt oh yeah babe we joke about this all the time back home so it’s no biggie. I cannot.”

This commenter said “Issa we gotta talk sis” about the Nigerian scam artist joke soon after the premiere episode went off the air. Another commenter said of the comment, “Oh no,they didn’t! Yet another negative Nigerian stereotype in #Hollywood! Sigh!” 

Yet another said, “Thought I was the only one that cringed at this.”

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