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‘Insecure,’ Lawrence and the limits of the ‘Good Black Man’

Checking all the boxes only gets us approval from our homies. It doesn’t make us good parents.

Lawrence is a Good Black Man.

Let me explain.

Being a Good Black Man, proper noun, is about the belief that if we do the things we are told that make up a Good Black Man — a good job or a good education or a self-made man or making it out of the circumstances we were born in, or whatever criteria we’ve come up with — then we are owed access to the good life of, well, mostly any Black woman we want. We lash out when we feel like we aren’t presented with a smorgasbord of women at our beck and call. At its worst, the backlash can be violent. In other ways, it’s more subtle but still shortchanges the people around us.

Lawrence from Insecure is a Good Black Man. He’s exhibited Good Black Man-ness throughout every season of Insecure. He stayed faithful to Issa. He built up his career by believing in himself. And he’s trying to be present in his newborn baby’s life even though his baby mama is being less than cooperative. After all, Condola did say she could handle the child by herself. She is acting like the child is hers and hers alone without trying to involve Lawrence in much of the decision-making.

On paper, Lawrence’s willingness to work with her and fly a few hours every weekend to see his son and be there for all of his doctor’s appointments fulfills many of the requirements for being a good dad. As Lawrence said himself, at least he’s not like some of these other men out there who abandon their kids as soon as they’re born, right? Or the men who wouldn’t have put up with half of Condola’s drama.

And that’s exactly the mindset that dooms so many Good Black Men. We compare ourselves to the Bad Black Men who physically and emotionally abuse women, who ignore their kids, who terrorize their family, and we wonder why the partners and children in our lives aren’t happy just being with us and not those other guys.

I know so much about the mindset of a Good Black Man because, yes, I used to be one. I did the things Good Black Men were told to do to get the things we deserved in life. I opened doors for women, paid for dinner, never called them b-words, had a good education. So when I heard anyone, particularly Black women I felt like I was doing right by, make sweeping criticisms of Black men, I was quick to sing the chorus of “Not All Black Men.” Being one of the good ones absolved me of such judgments, or so I thought. For instance, a Black woman tweets something like “these men are threatened by strong Black women,” and I’d be quick to stand on the proverbial table and scream that she was wrong because I was different.

But here’s one of the things wrong with that mindset: Comparisons to Bad Black Men don’t feed our kids. They don’t provide the kindness our loved ones long for. They don’t support our co-parents.

I had a lot of questions about Lawrence during this week’s episode: Did he ask his employer if he could move back to LA to be with his kid? Whether they’d say no or not isn’t the point, necessarily. I want to know if he at least asked. We did see him take a meeting over Zoom. Did Lawrence look into some sort of live-in nanny for Condola? He sure lives in a nice apartment in the second-most expensive city in America. Is he spending all of his paid time off days seeing his son?

Checking all the Good Black Man boxes only serves to earn us approval from our homies and people on social media who want to see Good Black Men. For Lawrence to be the dad his son needs and the co-parent Condola needs, he has to think outside of the boxes he’s checked. He has to think beyond the things he sees as “good enough” and think about what it means to be the best father for his child.

I don’t think about myself in the context of the Good Black Man paradigm anymore. Because it’s a useless label. Because the Good is usually defined by people who don’t have women or children’s best interests at heart. When you see yourself as a Good Black Man, you don’t see where you need to do better for those around you. It robs us of the desire to improve and be the people those who love us deserve.

There’s still time for Lawrence and Condola to work through the roadblocks they’ve built for themselves as parents. But even if Condola doesn’t meet him halfway, there’s room for Lawrence to go further. To think beyond what’s acceptable and start imagining what’s possible. And going two steps beyond that. Then he can go from a Good Black Man to the Black man his family needs.

David Dennis, Jr. is a senior writer at The Undefeated and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.