The Queen of Low-key: What Issa Rae can teach us all about avoiding TMI
OPINION: Issa Rae got married last weekend but many didn't even know she had a boyfriend, much less fiancé. Our Blue Telusma thinks that's exactly how it should be
Monday, Issa Rae kicked off the week by pleasantly surprising her fans with the news that she had run off to the south of France and gotten married to her longtime boyfriend, Senegalese businessman Louis Diame.
Some of her more casual supporters marveled at the fact that they didn’t even realize she was dating anyone, let alone engaged. And the pictures of the gorgeous sprawling estate in Nice where the ceremony was held, complete with glowing bridesmaids and a bevy of friends and family all made it clear that this wasn’t an elopement.
This was a wedding of epic, fairytale proportions.
It’s almost inconceivable that in 2021, when months of quarantine has pushed our collective social media addiction (and penchant for oversharing) to an all-time high, that anyone notable, let alone a full on A-list celebrity, could keep something this major under wraps.
And yet Issa managed to do just that and not just for her wedding.
If we think about it, Black Twitter’s favorite unproblematic queen has, over the last decade, managed to give us viral soundbites á la “I’m rooting for everybody Black,” while simultaneously keeping us almost entirely out of her business.
And one could argue rather convincingly that her ability to feel accessible without actually being accessed is probably what sets her apart from many of her counterparts who take turns being dragged in the court of public opinion.
For those of you seeking to find the same semblance of inner peace while in the midst of a global glow-up, below are the top three things we could all learn from Issa about discernment.
Be authentic without being performative
Celebrities are often slaves to their perfectly curated public personas, knowing that if they disregard that fickle balance of being both relatable and aspirational they could easily find themselves falling off of their highly lucrative pedestals.
But Issa is one of those clever starlets who entered the scene proudly leading with her Awkward Black Girl insecurities instead of attempting to hide them. The very things that would mortify most of us are what she chose to humanize, in turn, giving her viewers permission to also show themselves a bit of compassion.
And clearly this has worked. Over the last decade Black and brown women in the public eye have become increasingly confident in letting us see their real selves. However, at some point that liberated stance took a turn toward the extreme, and now being “authentic” has ironically become hella performative.
Many a celeb has fallen into the T.M.I trap of revealing way too much, way too often in a way that feels more self-indulgent than empowering. Now it’s not uncommon to find uber-successful public figures arguing with their fans in social media comments sections, writing emotional tweets about strangers who don’t like them and acting as if every unsavory feeling is fodder for new content.
That “woe is me” mentality has even bled into their fan bases to the point where it appears nothing is sacred anymore. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve seen people sharing deathbed “selfies” with their dying loved ones or posting the faces of homeless people at shelters where they are volunteering. And that sort of blatant disregard for other people’s privacy and/or dignity is kind of gross.
But while self-awareness may be at an all time low on social media, there are still the likes of Issa, Beyoncé, Kerry Washington and a small group of other fan faves who have managed to be vulnerable in their work, while still remembering, “Everything ain’t meant for everybody.”
These women feel as familiar as play cousins to their supporters. Yet deep down we know that many of the greatest moments of their lives will never make it to their social media feeds, and on the rare occassions that they do, its well after the fact.
Nurture real relationships instead of chasing clout
Despite how big and scary it may look from a distance, in real life Los Angeles is really just a glamorous small town. Everyone here who works in entertainment, media, and different supporting industries like hair, makeup and catering, etc., all know each other in passing.
To that point, my first six months in L.A. I ran into Issa more times than I could count. While I couldn’t call her a personal friend, we know enough people in common for me to be able to say with the utmost certainty — that woman is loyal AF to her tribe.
Back in 2016 when musician Jidenna made a guest appearance on Insecure as Yvonne Orji’s on-screen date, Chris, that wasn’t a favor to his label or an attempt to get a hot new act on her show. Issa was actually showing love to her real life friend from Stanford during his ascension to stardom.
And if you look at the supporting characters on the show or even whose working with her behind the scenes, in one way or another she’s essentially surrounded by her chosen family.
There is an extremely important lesson in this approach because the truth is, as much as we think of Issa Rae as a person, she’s also a brand that would not have flourished the way it has without an ecosystem of loyal collaborators. And unlike some Hollywood divas (and divos) their allegiance isn’t based on just a paycheck.
This is perhaps what makes the same Black Twitter that is known for mercilessly ending careers in a matter of hours, so consistently kind to her. Issa comes off as a good friend on screen because she quite literally is one in real life. The way she and her team pour love into each other is palpable in a way you just can’t fake for this long.
That’s why when you look at who was invited to her super secret wedding, rather than gasping at the impressive names of mega-celebrities you didn’t even know she was cool with, you instead find yourself smiling at photos and videos from exactly whose been there all along.
When you nurture friendships instead of chasing clout, that sort of devotion becomes inevitable. Take note, folks.
Mind the business that pays you
OK, now that we’ve gotten past all the sweet stuff, let’s get into some mess. Or better yet, let’s discuss how brilliantly our girl has managed to sidestep and lean back away from mess in a way that damn near defies gravity.
In 2019 when outspoken actress and comedian Amanda Seales found herself on Instagram Live complaining about what she perceived to be a social slight while attempting to enter an awards show after party, she was hit with a tidal wave of backlash that had her understandably shedding tears of frustration while unpacking the incident with her fans, and during appearances on shows like The Breakfast Club.
But the thing that made some stifle a giggle is how Issa managed to stear completely clear of getting involved in the scandal, without alienating Seales who still had the entire last season of her show to work on.
If the old playground chant, “My name is Bennett and I aint in it!” was a person, it would be our good sis.
To be frank, everybody knows Issa has NO interest in being involved in mess. In fact, if you ever see her at someone’s personal event, she’ll often pop in to greet friends, show love and support to whoever is throwing it, take pictures with fans, and before things get ratchet (in a bad way) she’s seemingly disappeared or ducked off backstage to be with her real friends.
Avoiding unnecessary scandal is perhaps one of her most underrated superpowers.
Which is why when it was recently revealed that the late Nipsey Hussle had helped squash tension between her and fellow Los Angeles native Lauren London, I was surprised by that bit of tea but also not shocked that it had been kept under wraps for so long.
While some find themselves constantly emeshed in public squabbles, Issa instead seems to be singularly focused on minding the business that literally pays her.
We’ve all seen the memes advising people to “Stay hydrated and mind your business” but she legitimately practices that in real life, even moments when sending a subtweet or leveraging her platform to crush folks she doesn’t like could be oh so easy.
This doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a well documented petty streak. All comedians do. But whenever she makes a rare headline for a clapback, its always done with humor and subtle grace that is completely devoid of malice. YES folks, it is indeed possible to address a mean comment without using it as an excuse to be cruel.
So if the woman who is low-key dominating whole sections of Hollywood, and set to play Spider-Woman in an upcoming blockbuster to boot, can still check her ego enough to keep it cute, what’s your excuse?
Maybe its a Capricorn thing, but if you looked up the definition of “social discipline” in the dictionary there’d probably be a photo of Issa Rae laughing all the way to the bank right next to it. Well played, sis.
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