Everybody has feelings about Jenji Kohan’s “Orange is the New Black.” I have all the feelings. Since the show’s debut, we’ve tossed opinions back-and-forth about the cast of characters and the powerfully written narratives that reveal the unseen lives of American’s imprisoned women. But of the many conversations that have surfaced, the most discernible for me is of the legitimacy of Piper Kerman, the memoirist about whom the show was made.
In brief, after getting involved with an international drug dealer, Kerman (a white woman) was indicted for money laundering and spent a year in a woman’s prison – you know, the usual account of a well-to-do white woman who graduated from Smith. She subsequently wrote a best-selling memoir, which was adapted for Netflix. You can watch all of season one there now; I finished it in less than a week.
The show follows her into prison and tells the backstory of several other inmates, many of them women of color. The storyline is emotionally riveting. We’re met with race-related segregation, which mirrors the actual prison experience where racial categories and separation are often strictly enforced. Piper’s race and class privilege are checked in the first episode when it’s revealed that she “read up” on prison etiquette before she arrived. One inmate gives birth in prison and comes back to her bunk child-free, showcasing the reality that two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers and busting the myth that women who labor in prison get to keep their babies. As a birth justice activist, I wished they’d shown the inhumane way in which many prisons shackle women during labor. Keep reading »
For the last several years, natural hair “trends” have been on the rise for African-American and other women in the U.S. Just last week, Oprah graced the cover of O Magazine donning an enormous Afro, much bigger than the one she wore in the late ’70s when she first started on primetime. Oprah’s gesture pays tribute to the millions of women who have tossed relaxers and weaves to the side and embraced their own hair — their natural hair.
As I wrote last spring, women of African decent, and some others too, sometimes use a product called a perm to make their hair “more manageable.” These began as a trend in the 1920s so blacks (both men and women) could more readily assimilate into white culture and evade the detriments of racism. If you’ve ever read or watched The Autobiography of Malcolm X, you’ll remember the scene in which he dunked his head in a toilet bowl to find reprieve from the smoldering “conk” (what a perm used to be called) he was using to straighten his hair.
Oprah’s hair was a wig designed by lock guru Andre Walker but the idea of it still persists – Afros, and other natural hairstyles are here to stay … or are they? Keep reading »
As I sit in my living room, the familiar sound of rotating blades of a helicopter whoosh above me. I can hear them, hovering. They’re following the Oakland protestors who have taken to the streets outraged by the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman. “No justice, no peace,” they shout as they embark on a mile-long march for justice. This custom is a byproduct Oakland’s long legacy of dissent. To outsiders signs that say “Fuck The Police” seem entirely unrelated to the trial, but the relationship between the department of justice and local law enforcement is one that Oaklanders understand very well.
Like Oakland, the rest of the country is in mourning. People everywhere are trying to reconcile how no one is being held accountable for the untimely death of a teenage boy. We’ve taken to the streets, the Internet, to church and community, but one thing that social media has made apparent is that we’re mourning for very different reasons.
For many, we mourn because this case crystallizes how the legal system does not provide equal protection of the laws for everyone. Some mourn because the not guilty verdict means Martin’s parents will not be vindicated in their son’s death. Others mourn because another young boy of color was robbed of his life and it could have just as easily been their son. And of course, some don’t mourn at all — the death of a black boy is insignificant to their life. Keep reading »
I’ve written candidly about Mother’s Day and all the ways I think the commercialization of it fucks up our relationships with our moms. My own relationship with my mom has been easy because … well, she’s awesome. But my complex relationship to fatherhood makes both talking and writing about it difficult.
There are two people in my life that I call Dad – my biological father and my stepfather. I have very different relationships with each of them and writing about one without mentioning the other feels like a weird act of disloyalty. But this Father’s Day, I’m letting go of that and writing about redemption and it’s relationship to fatherhood.
My biological father has a colorful past; he talks openly and nostalgically about his time as a drug dealer and his stint in prison. I remember bits and pieces of it. One time when I was small, my mother took my sister and me and my brother to the prison to see him. We pressed our dirty, little hands against the impassable glass partition that separated us and talked over a black phone that connected the two sides of the glass. When my dad was released, my parents were separated and we were shuffled back and forth between them every other weekend. My parents were young when they had my twin sister and me — just 21 and 22. Now, having a brother who is 25 and a father, it puts into perspective what it must have been like for my dad to have kids at that age. Keep reading »
One day in college, during track practice, I wore a bandanna to my work out. I was having a spectacularly bad hair day and that thin piece of printed cloth made me feel safe from criticism. My coach, who was a hard ass, wasn’t having it and ordered me to take it off immediately. I ran back to the locker room, did my best to make my mane look presentable but still, I cringed as I walked back to the track, embarrassed of what my teammates would think.
Like many black women I know, I have always had a tumultuous relationship with my hair. If it didn’t look good, I didn’t feel good and often it dictated whether I would have a good or bad day. But my own criticism of my hair wasn’t something I could have ever controlled; it was something that started with my ancestors, long before I was born. Keep reading »
Moving through the world as someone who identifies as bisexual or queer, I’m always navigating difficult experiences that compartmentalize my sexuality. I’ve been labeled “indecisive” for not being more assertive in which sex I prefer to date. I’ve been called “disgusting” because my desire to date women makes some people uncomfortable or possibly more accurately, question their own sexuality. And, of course, I’ve been told that my experience is a phase that will soon become a distant memory as I evolve into heterosexuality, find the perfect man, marry and become a Quiverfull woman who embraces domesticity and leans away from my career.
But none of these experiences trouble me as much as a recent experience I had in which I, and women like me, were named sexually perverse. The U.S. Supreme Court hearing regarding California’s ban on same-sex marriage has surfaced some polemic debates on the rights of the LGBT communities. In my experience, when opponents to marriage equality aren’t being downright nasty they’re crafting negligently harmful stories that characterize same-sex loving people as menacing. We’ve all heard some of the narratives: “Gay people will convert our children,” “Giving gays the right to marry will compromise the institution of marriage,” “Gay people lack a moral compass which is why they’re okay with being gay,” and “What’s next, sex with animals?” Keep reading »
The always-inquisitive Jada Pinkett-Smith recently posed a question that has many people scratching their heads and some folks outright upset. In short, she’s wondering if black women ask to be represented in mainstream media, on the covers of magazines like Vanity Fair, shouldn’t white women be represented on the covers of traditionally black magazines like Essence, Ebony and JET?
The answer? Yes and no. Keep reading »
Pediatric dentist Dr. Misee Harris of Kentucky is petitioning to become the first ever Black “Bachelorette.” This prospect means a lot is surfacing for me regarding the harmful stereotypes reinforced by women of color on reality television. How would she be received? If she did get an opportunity to be on the show and chose a non-black man, what would the social implications of that be? But more than that, I feel disheartened because I know that this reality reflects how America feels about who deserves to be happy and who doesn’t. Keep reading »
Insult comedian Lisa Lampanelli has made headlines again – for all the wrong reasons. Last week during the Writers Guild Awards, she shamelessly tweeted a picture of she and HBO “Girls” producer and star, Lena Dunham captioned “Me with my Ni**a @LenaDunham of @HBOGirls – I love this beyotch!!”
The interwebs erupted with rage as yet another privileged white comedian made a “joke” at the expense of the Black experience. The ubiquitous nature of racism means while we see and hear it everywhere, we’re rarely given the opportunity to understand the motivation behind it. Lampanelli’s entire shtick is to exploit the sensitive nature of race and homosexuality and to make money from abusing the art of comedy, not taking responsibility for the social implications of her “work.” Keep reading »