Hey there readers! DBW has come out from under her brand new duvet to answer all the questions. Well, just one question today.
Am I doomed if I’m a BW and I enjoy friend chicken?
In a word: NO. Now, is there a valid reason one would feel such concern over enjoying such a meal? Absolutely. I’m not going to drag y’all through the history. This isn’t that blog. Instead, why don’t we just take a quick field trip to Google images and see if we can visually trace why BF don’t always feel comfortable claiming fried chicken. I’M DOING THIS FOR YOU READERS. I HOPE YOU KNOW THAT MEANS I CARE.
Look, like I said, this isn’t a deep meditation on how visual culture and white supremacy linked together to tie fried chicken as a Black pathology. Suffice to say: it is a thing. It is a thing that follows behind BF regardless of socioeconomic class. Like this dude:
But is it such a thing that you can’t get your 2-piece white meat spicy Popeyes on? Hell no.
Sighs. So I’m sure by now you’re wondering why DBW is going to all this trouble to legitimate BF relationship with chicken? Well, it’s because sometimes we forgot our own selves that it’s not the chicken that’s the problem. It’s the circuit of representation which often times we get NO Say over. That chicken thing? It’s gonna be linked to BF regardless if we eat and continue to stampede each other at KFC in Oprah’s name or if we decide to as a collective go completely vegan. Representation is not based on what folks actually do or don’t do–it’s based on imagination and lore. Remember my example about BF not riding bikes? Yeah. That. (Sidenote: DBW knows that BP ride bicycles. Before y’all get in a tizzy about my ignant generalization, please actually read the damn post first. I’m just saying.)
Anyway, all this talk about representation is tied to this:
So…DBW is about to mildly defend Orange is The New Black (OITNB) from this well-meaning but petty, overly reductive, non-nuanced article. The author makes some valid critiques:
- Piper Kerman’s success is built on the backs of Black and Brown bodies she knew in prison
- The fact that Assata Shakur’s autobiography of being in a male prison is not already a television series is indeed a shame–although if the author honestly thought a network exec would make that happen she really hasn’t been paying attention.
- The fact that the show is at least initially centered around a white lady.
However, her analysis (because you know…she quit halfway through which isn’t a terribly complete analysis–let’s call it a “lysis” because it’s half done) of why she didn’t enjoy the content of the series is based around what she read as the show being full of tropes/stereotypes: “With very little exception, I saw wildly racist tropes: black women who, aside from fanaticizing about fried chicken, are called monkeys and Crazy Eyes; a Boricua mother who connives with her daughter for the sexual attentions of a white prison guard; an Asian woman who never speaks; and a crazy Latina woman who tucks away in a bathroom stall to photograph her vagina (the pornographic image is indiscriminately paraded throughout an entire episode).”
But here’s the thing: All of those types she lists and simplistically describes are wholly out of context–context, by the way, that is NECESSARY in understanding how what could be initially seen as one-dimensional character stereotyping is actually more complex AND dimensional as we watch the characters develop.
The fried chicken bit? Taystee taking ownership of loving chicken both served the scene AND was a mild form of what we media studies/cultural studies lovers of Stuart Hall’s sexy ass (May the Lord watch between me and he while we are absent one from another)
describe as a transcoding strategy of “contesting from within.” What does that mean? Well, instead of the tried and FAILED way of trying to annihilate a stereotype (because well, we never can annihilate it. We can superimpose something over it but that doesn’t eradicate the old type–it just gives us TWO) contesting acknowledges it AND playfully demonstrates that the issue isn’t with the group in question but the group who decided that, for example, enjoying fried chicken is a problem.
For the record: DBW does not think that moment was minstrelsy, neither a simplistic stereotype. The way it was written was a smart negotiation. But since the author didn’t actually know what a negotiated reading (Lord Jesus deliver DBW from folks who never learned about encoding and decoding) was, all she heard was “fried chicken” and ran away. Sad.
But not only that. We got one of the best examples of code switching ever. I mean, for real, it’s the best of what BW do: we observe. We take note. We discuss. Flawless moment is flawless.
Moving on: Crazy Eyes:
Yes, we initially watched the character from the perspective of Piper. And, yes, the woman we would come to know as Suzanne (if you’re worried about spoilers after all the news stories about this show please climb out from under the pop culture rock you hide under more often) was initially viewed as “Crazy.” But again, if you stop there, you miss the depth and nuance that the writers and the actor brings to the character. Even to the point where the character has a meta moment and asks the character we initially viewed her through why she is called Crazy Eyes.
I’ma pause for a minute and let that sink in with your spirit for a minute. Don’t worry about me. I’ll wait.
Sipping tea and eating a dill pickle.
Have you caught it yet? It’s called NUANCE and SYMMETRY folks. But again: You’d have to finish the show to get that reward.
Finally, for time’s sake, I’m going to pull one more distorted type from the list: “a Boricua mother who connives with her daughter for the sexual attentions of a white prison guard.”
So, the author is talking about this:
Okay, so there are actual story reasons that do make sense within the logic world of the series supporting this decision–which, I mean, given the powerlessness of these women leaves them precious few options. DBW sees it less as reinforcing a stereotype and more like using the foundation of that type to showcase so many other things between these women. These women are not dumb but very knowledgeable about how the world operates.
And they get to be playful young women:
Look: Jenji Kohan admitted that she bait and switched what the show would be about when she initially framed the series around Piper and then actually made it about all the other women in prison. We know that. It’s not revolutionary; it’s just a strategy that enables a plethora of women types to be on television. We WOC have not yet hit the pinnacle folks. We still fighting with the same folks for opportunities to be in the same 5 parts. So when a part that is actually culturally specific and smart comes along, we need to try to figure out what it’s doing before we run off to talk about things that are tangentially related and don’t actually take into account the complete dearth of representation WOC suffer from.
Is it perfect representation? Hell no. There are many problems with the series to pick at. Also: Representation in and of itself is faulty because duh–it’s a RE-PRESENTING OF A THING.
So what does all this mean? In short: If you get upset over a character wanting some chicken, you’ve missed the damn point. Go back and start over again.
Or to say it like Piper: