Orange is The New Black's Poussey and The Erasure of The Black TCK

Orange is The New Black's Poussey and The Erasure of the Black TCK

Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for season 3 of Orange is The New Black, particularly the finale. If you haven't watched all of season 3 expect spoilers.

 

One of the greatest and most insidious crimes of white supremacy is the consistent portrayal of people of color as one-dimensional beings with a single story. Whether the narrative is one of "positive discrimination" as in the case of the "Nerdy Asian kid" or the "Magical Negro",  or blatantly "negative discrimination" as in the case of the "Angry Black Woman" archetype, it serves to take away from the humanity of the person of color by painting all members of a group with one mediocre brush. 

That's why it's important to have shows like Black-ish and Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Empire where black people are portrayed in a variety of ways with complex stories and backgrounds. Until black people and other people of color are allowed to be seen as multi-layered individuals and not tokenized living archetypes serving to fulfil some abstract diversity quota, movements like #OscarsSoWhite started by April Reign will continue to be necessary.  

Poussey was a sign of the times we live in, where there is a growing awareness of the importance of diverse stories in media. Immigrants and refugees are usually coded as people of color, while expats are usually portrayed as white. When I found out that Poussey had grown up in multiple countries, I was struck to my core. Here, finally was a black woman on TV who shared my story. Poussey was a young black woman who had struggled with some of the unique labels and expectations placed on black children whose childhood is spent outside of their home country. She understood what it meant to be a representative of your family and your country even as a kid because of your parent's work.

 Image Description: A black girl in a black top with a TWA looking towards her right while walking through a city. 

Image Description: A black girl in a black top with a TWA looking towards her right while walking through a city. 

 

Poussey knew what it felt like to have people assume that you are an immigrant and that you are trying to get away from a home that they assume is worse than where you are now. She understood what it felt like to be stereotyped as someone who came from an economically disadvantaged background just because of the color of your skin. When she fought with Brooke, her girlfriend, because Brooke had assumed that her nerves around her idol were because she came from the hood, I felt her pain. She wasn't angry because she felt insulted by her assumption. She was hurt because she realised that her girlfriend whom she loved couldn't be bothered to know her story and to a TCK that origin story, the story of where you come from, means everything. TCKs joke often about the dread we feel when someone asks us where we are from, partially because it's hard to answer, but also because it hits a particular chord for many TCKs. Home and identity are so closely intertwined and for many it is something that comes with a lot of questions and hurt. The idea of having a home, one place that you belong, can seem foreign when you have spent much of your life in transit. Poussey was the first black girl I've seen on TV that understood the black and TCK experience because she lived it. 

When Poussey was killed off I was crushed. Her relationship with Brooke, her joy and her hope for the future, were the only bits of light and relief from a season rife with emotional trauma porn. The way she died and the lack of dignity with which her death was handled, where her body was left on the ground in the hall for hours after the fact, was atrocious and unnecessarily cruel. The length of time it took for them to contact her father after she had died was unbearable and the way they chose not to mention her name to the media left me cold. It was supposed to be a nod to many of the deaths and experiences that have spurred the Black Lives Matter movement but it was poorly handled. They made her death an accident in which the killer was portrayed as having made a mistake that anyone could make and humanized him through several dialogues and story choices. It was a slap in the face and after discovering the lack of diversity in the writers' room, it is no surprise to me that the episode went down like a lead balloon in many circles.

Poussey was a character that existed as a shock to the white imperialist narrative of white as expat and black as immigrant. She was a beautiful character with a wonderful story and she will be missed, at least by this TCK.