Did you know... the numbers of black women in prison has been on a steady decline since the early 2000s?
I've blogged before about how positive stories about black women rarely make the headlines. Well brace yourself -- here's yet another MAJOR case of that.
A recent Washington Post article (that was really focused on reviewing the new Netflix series Orange Is the New Black) revealed that the number of black women in prison has been SHARPLY declining for the past 10+ years. To the tune of a 30% drop. At the moment the vast majority of women in prison are Caucasian.
That’s major news -- I wonder why we don’t hear more of these positive stories about black women? I guess because stereotyping us as all into the same “reality TV ratchet” box wouldn’t be as fun!
My Thoughts on Orange Is the New Black
I admit that overall I like the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. I don't particularly like the typical and annoying stereotypes of black women that continue to be portrayed on the show. For instance, there's a scene where a black girl is extremely excited about putting a few strings of the main character’s blonde hair in her head. Then there's a scene where a young black girl gets jealous when a black male PSYCHO guy fawns over the white main character and he throws her a scrap to tell her “you can get it to.” In the first season the black women seem to be very “asexualized” and made to look like crazy wild fools compared to the other mild-mannered, beauty conscious inmates (Latinas and whites).
But you have to consider the source -- the show's creator Jenji Kohan is notorious for writing shows where the irresistible white woman main character is elevated to super human status while everyone else is her minion (she also wrote Weeds, nuff said). But you know what, if I wrote a television show I would probably do the same thing for a black woman lead (stay tuned!).
I'm also cautious about how this show kind of romanticizes prison like it's some kind of sorority row. Let's be clear, prison is the worst place you can end up next to a pine box. The reality is that women in prison are treated like chattel property, like less than dirt and often are powerless to do anything about their situations. There are countless stories about women being raped by COs (not in loving voluntary relationships with them) and they don't really get to be in their kids' lives.
But that critique aside, what I like about the show is that it tells realistic stories of how these women ended up in prison. It's one big cautionary tale. Of course, 90 percent of the women ended up there by following behind a guy who got them in trouble and then dropped them cold.
I also find the black women on the show entertaining and endearing. I would like to see them represented in more "we found love in a hopeless place" tales as is the case with the white women and Latinas instead of just being portrayed as silly caricatures.
Possible Reason for the Decline of Black Women in Prison over the 00s
Learning that the rates of black women in prison has dropped so sharply over the past decade is very encouraging. I can watch this show for its entertainment value, knowing that sisters aren't crowding up the prisons as much as they were in the past. I believe the decline may have something to do with black women starting businesses in greater numbers, going to college more than any other group, working hard, being inspired, staying busy, being responsible, becoming empowered and learning to love themselves. According this article, investing in black women could give the economy a major boost.
Regardless of the reason behind it, this is very positive news for black women. I hope this trend continues and I also hope that whatever is causing the rates to rise so sharply for other groups of women reverses as well in the coming years.