Issa Rae on life as a honeymooner, creating boundaries and caring for each other
When Issa Rae is at home in View Park, a peaceful hilly area in South Los Angeles where she grew up, she likes to wake up at 4 a.m. to take a walk. “Waking up very early makes me feel better,” she told me during a Zoom phone call at the end of last month. We’re talking about self-care, work, and well-being a few weeks after meeting on set in Miami, where she is temporarily living to film an upcoming pilot for HBO Max. Just two weeks before that, Rae was in the south of France, where she married longtime partner Louis Diame in an idyllic location surrounded by close friends. Now we’re both calling from Los Angeles, where I spent most of the pandemic after traveling across the country to be closer to my parents and where Rae lives when she’s not there. “I’m so happy to be back,” says Rae. “I was a bit homesick, to be honest.”
Rae spent a lot of time at home here during the early days of the pandemic. It was then that she realized that getting up early to go for a walk on her own was her favorite form of self-care. She listens to the news on her walk to get in touch with what’s going on in the world, then goes home to read her newspaper, what she tries to do every day, or just sit in the dark for reflect. “It makes me feel like I’m not late, which is a constant state and a constant source of anxiety,” she says. “Waking up at four, I’m just like, ‘Not many people are awake right now, at least on the west coast,’ and it makes me feel like I have a window of time just to myself. I think it’s my form of meditation, because I don’t meditate.
The Los Angeles Rae, born Jo-Issa Rae Diop, walks each morning is highlighted in Unsafe, his not-quite-autobiographical HBO series about navigating love, friendship, and hanging out in your late twenties. The show, which debuted with director Melina Matsoukas’ foregrounds lovingly saturated with color, focuses on life in South LA, a vast area in the center of town where black people have historically existed in black spaces as innumerable as they are. Rae’s work, in particular with Unsafe, has done a lot to showcase the beauty, history and complexity of a neighborhood that is undergoing an incredible amount of change and is fighting hard to keep the history of its struggles and triumphs alive. This is one of the reasons I asked him to honor our September cover. Of course, I also wanted to know how the life of a newlywed had been (we will get there!), But I especially wanted to speak with Rae to emphasize the importance of community well-being, of looking after his neighbors and his relatives. . by investing in the health of the people and places around you.
In today’s landscape, South LA’s boundaries extend past major highways to the east and south, stopping at Interstate 10 to the north and the oil fields that separate it from Culver City to the west. But in the 20th century, South LA was South Central, a relatively small square of streets that bordered Central Avenue (although the neighborhood was growing, there was still South Central until 2003, when its name was changed to South LA to rename the area after the riots of 1992). It was here that black Americans across the country moved for better opportunities and economic mobility; due to racial restrictive covenants known as redlining, there were few other places blacks in Los Angeles could legally live. After the redlining laws were declared unconstitutional in 1948, the culture and people of South Central spread to nearby areas like View Park, Leimert Park, and the Crenshaw District. White families, in turn, fled to the suburbs as construction of LA’s new freeway system passed through once desirable neighborhoods.
For decades, this larger South Los Angeles has been a primary center of black experience in the West and a major arts and cultural center. Today, however, the black population of southern LA has shrunk to just 28% of the total for the area. Demographic change took decades, but a new stadium and a new transit line, as well as the housing boom have all contributed to a shift in the makeup of this historically black neighborhood.