How Do You NOT Know About Issa Rae?

On a flight from New York back to California last Friday, I came to an interesting revelation: not enough people know about Issa Rae.

I’d returned to my seat after what seemed like the tenth bathroom run and picked up the book The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl from where I left off. I was then surprised by the passenger in seat 26B, who sat next to me for over five hours and chose that moment to ask, “Do you like that book?” in a very curiously excited tone. I could not hold back my enthusiasm! I began to rave, not only about the book, but Issa Rae in general. Then it dawned on me—not enough people know who this phenomenal woman is, and I have to change that!

So for all of the people across this country—and even in my home state (I’m so ashamed)—who don’t know who Issa Rae is: she’s the voice of explanation to every weird thing we’ve ever done in our lives. A half Senegalese, half American Black (and beautiful!) woman from the East Coast, who spent several developmental years in Senegal and much of the most awkward years of everyone’s life in Southern California, she has been able to experience the awkwardness of not really fitting in basically everywhere. The daughter of a doctor and a teacher, Issa had—without a doubt—no choice but to be awe-inspiring. And having one parent from Senegal and the other from Louisiana, it was destiny to have a few cultural differences that would turn into fabulously funny stories somewhere down the line. Experiencing cultural influence from such a variety of places, Issa seemed to, well . . . stand out. But somehow, she turned the most awkward of moments in her life into a profit, so I’d say it was all worth it because she is #winning!

In her book, Issa paints a raw portrait of her life. The honesty does not go unnoticed. Family relationships are usually complicated, to say the least. We have little choice over our family, and a social (and for some, cultural) expectation of us to be present in the lives of our family members.

Issa successfully gives her readers a little taste of something that she will later explain in more detail. This in turn sparks the strongest form of nosiness (I am so nosy!) in my mind that turns into a raging flame, making me so determined to drench this fire with the answers to my questions of, “Oh no, what does that mean!? What happened!?” It’s the book form of “To Be Continued…” during the juiciest moment of your favorite show! But at least with books, you usually can just keep reading to get the answer instead of waiting until next week for the next part of the show. Basically, when she mentioned for Father’s Day she texted her dad to go to brunch, he responded with a “BTW- I’m married now,” and Issa mentions (in the book form of a confessional) that she hopes it’s not the woman who ruined the life of her family. I almost passed out. I tried to remain calm as I did not want to be booted mid-flight from the plane, so I internalized my response. I was like, Huh!? Was her mom the woman who ruined her life? What did her mom do to her? Is this just a joke? Oh no, did her mom die and now her dad’s a widower who got remarried? WHAT HAPPENED?

So, to not spoil the book too much (because I want you to read it!), I’ll fast forward to college life. Issa went to Stanford, where she was one of few Black students—which of course put pressure on her. As an outlet, Issa began writing a mockumentary, Dorm Diaries, which was the ground work that lead her to more directing and acting. A few years later, Issa created a YouTube series, Awkward Black Girl, that highlighted some of the most unfortunate—and of course, awkward—experiences of Black people who don’t fit into social or stereotypical norms of people of color. Issa’s thought was Black women in Hollywood are put into a niche role, as if they aren’t multidimensional, and she wanted to prove Hollywood and consumers wrong. She has been killin’ it ever since. In addition to her book, Issa is the star of the TV series Insecure, a hilarious comedy series that is so addictive, I binge-watched it in two sittings.

I have to admit, I’m late to the Issa Rae party, but so glad I showed up!

I didn’t really know much about Issa Rae before this past December. I had heard of her web series, but to be honest, I couldn’t even remember if I had watched it or not. I went out to lunch with one of my girlfriends and she asked me if I had seen the show Insecure. I remembered hearing about that show, too— but didn’t really know what it was about, and never took the time to find out any more information. However, thanks to my saint of a friend who convinced me I NEEDED to watch this show, I went home that day and started bingeing: I literally went to sleep watching it and woke up to finish the season. I pushed everything back that day just to be able to see every episode. It was so addictive that I was upset season two wasn’t available yet. And honey, I tell you! I binged that show for the rest of the evening and next morning.

Insecure is about millennial Blacks in Southern California who are basically trying to create the lives they envisioned for themselves, especially when it comes to relationships: romantic, professional and interpersonal. Insecure is almost like the millennial version of the show Girlfriends, but in no way a copycat. It is SO refreshing to see a show starring people of color that I could identify with, and also portrayed a positive image of the Black community. And hands down, the best part of the show is the intricate difference between each character. They each have a unique storyline and backstory, so all viewers can find one character that is relatable to some part of their own life’s journey. Finally, no more one-dimensional characters who fit stereotypical ideas of Black folks! Man! And BTW, by the end of the season, you will be forced to choose: #TeamIssa or #TeamLawrence. I will admit, when it comes to Insecure, I am #TeamLawrence—but in real life, I am completely #TeamIssa!

So back to the book . . .

I have one and only one problem with this book: I now mentally and emotionally feel Issa is my best friend in the whole wide world, and basically the only person who gets me.

When I first began reading the book a few weeks ago, it was almost painful. Not because of her writing skills, but kind of because of her writing skills. Issa Rae is an exceptionally gifted writer (I mean, what do you expect—she went to Stanford! The only Ivy League of the West Coast!), and the vivid descriptions of the awkward things she had done as a child just made me cringe with agony for her! And not only that, but she also had me reflecting on my own life, remembering oh-so embarrassing, and oh-so forgotten, memories of my past! I was like no, no no no. We can’t add water to those memory mogwai and turn them into a torturous gremlin to plague my mind of my own awkwardness. So I closed the book, and put it on the shelf, where I thought it would remain to collect dust while also impressing house guests with my array of real, tangible, paper-made books—ya know, because no one does that anymore! Like, who buys non e-books anymore? So automatically I’d come across as a really cool, misunderstood soul.

But, as I prepared last week for a trip to the East Coast, I grazed over my book collection and grabbed Issa Rae off the shelf. I guess I forgot how much it reminded me of those weirdo things I used to do. (I write that in italics, because I know every day I’m creating more weirdo-esque memories that I hope to forget for eternity.)

It is pretty crazy to think of the things Issa and I have in common: I had one parent who was a teacher, my parents met at a school (they both worked there, not students—unfortunately my nephew tells this story a little different: that my dad was a teacher and my mom was a student and my dad waited for her and married her when she was an adult, which is NOT true! But that’s another very long story . . .), I grew up in California (northern, but still California), my parents came from two different cultures, I couldn’t listen to explicit music but tried my best to sneak and hear it at every chance; Issa went to Stanford and my dad went to Stanford, plus I was born at the Stanford hospital and grew up in Menlo Park, which is the city next to Stanford; we both are writers, and I was in a music group as a child, just like Issa was—I mean, this list can go on for days and weeks.

Issa Rae is everything right now, from her awkward life, clever and witty humor, to the fact that she’s an ultra-smart Stanford alum, philanthropist, New York Times bestselling author, producer and actress. She already has such an impressive résumé, and I cannot wait to see what else she has in store for us. I’ll be metaphorically sitting front row, with popcorn and soda pop, cheering on Issa Rae, the protagonist and my shero.


Issa Rae has worked with Pharrell Williams, is the winner of a Shorty award for Best Web Show, was featured on the cover of Essence Magazine, included in Forbes “30 under 30” entertainment list, nominated for several awards, writer and author of a New York Times bestseller, producer, director and the most relatable awkward Black girl I know. Needless to say, Issa Rae is a huge deal that everyone needs to know.