OITNB hasn’t been a must-watch cultural zeitgeist since the conclusion of its second season but the subsequent seasons were generally entertaining despite the too-often clunkiness of the writing, the fractured plots, and the increasingly bored performances delivered by some of the cast.
Then came the latter half of season six and by far the greatest disappointment of OITNB to date – it went full on racist.
The series has long borrowed heavily from recycled/rehashed/reformed stereotypes. Whether that is the result of lazy writing, ignorance, or both, doesn’t really matter. From Piper’s privileged whiteness, Tasty’s street-smart blackness, Aleida’s hyper-aggressive Latinoness, the hungry dykeishness of Carrie, or the guards’ general evil cartoonishness, the show has since day one, swam in, and nearly drowned in, its overuse of caricature.
And yet it remained an intriguing, even charming, series.
The fall comes in the form of the character Cindy Hayes, the large and boisterous black inmate and longtime friend of Tasty. That friendship quickly dissipates, though, under sentencing pressure from the legal system following the friendly fire death of the psychopath guard, Henke.
Tasty is made to take the fall and her supposed friend Cindy is the one who allows the system to do so. On the surface, the writers of Orange is the new Black likely went for the ‘corrupt system breaks apart even the closest of friends’ scenario (yet another cliche) but the fuel for that cliche is racism plain and simple. You see, Cindy sells Tasty out quickly, shows some back pain remorse, but is then laughing away as the memory of that betrayal fades. A supposed strong and proud black woman is turned betrayer against her closest prison friend in a matter of minutes. She is exposed as weak, feckless, and utterly self-serving.
No justice. No peace, because there is no honor among (black) thieves. OITNB took one of the worst black stereotypes and ingrained it into one of its original black characters. ‘They’ can’t be trusted. ‘They’ are only out for themselves. ‘They’ are without honor, without principles, and incapable of noble sacrifice.
That’s not merely lazy writing – it’s racist. There are no black writers on OITNB and 90% of those writers are white, and the vast majority of those are white females. One has to wonder if the near totality of their experience with minorities is via the same stereotypes manifest in the series they create.