By Aura Bogado
Slave narratives became most fashionable among abolitionist circles in the mid-nineteenth century. These narratives remain deeply powerful, yet each one is framed by a white introduction, which authenticates the black experience. The white practice of verifying the lives of black fugitives who were skillfully plotting their own liberation has changed in circumstance and in medium—but the role of white people at its center has not. Today, its latest manifestation is playing out in the Netflix hit series, Orange Is the New Black.
I first saw a poster for the new series on a subway platform. The word “black” plastered near women of all colors in prison jumpsuits made me shake my head in disappointment, but I soon forgot about it along with all the others racist images I’m surrounded by daily. The next time I saw a reference to Orange Is the New Black was on a giant video billboard during the massive march in New York following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in connection with the killing of Trayvon Martin. As thousands of people took to the streets against white supremacy, there was an intense irony about a fictionalized depiction of black women cheering on a prison fight as a very blond white woman stood there, shocked with horror. I crudely tweeted, “Racist shit playing W 35 and 6th. It never ends. Neither do we. #HoodiesUp,” with a looping Vine to illustrate my disappointment.
Since that time, many a friend and colleague has taken the time to explain to me that I was wrong about my gut reaction to Orange Is the New Black. They point out that the series is based on a book, whose author, Piper Kerman, spent time in prison. I answer that Assata Shakur wrote a brilliant book titled Assata: An Autobiography that includes details about her time as the only woman in an all-men’s prison—yet I’ve not seen it developed into a series. It would be timely to do so now that Shakur is the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list.
Read More White Is the New White | The Nation.