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OITNB: Representation is Important, But Accurate Representation is Better

OITNB: Representation is Important, But Accurate Representation is Better

Season four of Orange is the New Black was the most devastating and “political” season yet. With many parallels between real life and Litchfield, the writing of the show was informed by current events; almost all, if not every one of the topics: race, sexuality, religion and capitalism, are ongoing discussions we are having right now. Without a doubt, some of these attempts at trying to highlight certain issues were essentially a way to garner views through shock factor, but I digress.
When I first watched the trailer of Orange is the New Black, I was a little bit nervous when I saw a hijabi in the trailer.

I checked twice to see if she was even wearing hijab because I was in disbelief––a Black Muslim character is on one of the most popular shows I watch?

But I didn’t want to get too excited, although I realized what this would mean for women that wear hijab, I didn’t know what to expect and I was skeptical.
For one, it is important to highlight how even though she is in a women’s prison, she is wearing hijab.
This misconception that women cover for men is a conversation that Muslim femmes and women that wear hijab everyday have with people that believe that hijab exists so that women can avoid being harassed, and sexualized by men.
While some of the topics brought up in this season about police brutality and dying while in police custody directly referenced current events and political discourse––this hijab on Abdullah was almost symbolic, a declaration of autonomy and independence perhaps. The insufferable conversation about if Abdullah decides to cover her hair for her man was skipped and she even hid the phone she wasn’t supposed to have in her hijab––her hijab doubled as a storage space, reminding me of the times where I’d wear my earphones under my hijab in class and watch videos on my laptop or listen to music on my phone when I’m in class.

Muslim women do have agency over their bodies and perhaps Abdullah’s character will showcase how hijab isn’t about men, hijab is an act of worship, and it’s required of both men and women.

Also, the physical manifestation of hijab is a piece of cloth; it can’t tell men to stop harassing you, and women don’t wear it to cover from men. That’s why Abdullah was wearing a hijab in a women’s prison.
Orange is the New Black tries to make Litchfield a microcosm for the real world.  While Cindy and Abdullah were fighting about their space in the bunks, it seemed like the writers were referring to the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, but if one was to dig deeper in the history of the United States, one would realize that there is history between the Nation of Islam and Jews. Both Black American Muslims and Black American Jews religious beliefs are a result of the same phenomenon––a rejection of the Christian white populace that enslaved them, and subjugated them and their history goes all the way back to the inception of the United States. The Nation of Islam and the Commandment Keepers were very similar in their politic by promoting Black religious nationalism and they viewed Black Christians with contempt and also had no interest involving themselves with white people that shared the same religious beliefs as them.
 In a sad attempt to make a political statement of sorts, they had Taystee sit down both Abdullah and Cindy, a Black Muslim and a Black Jew, in order to work out their differences. Their talk about the east and west, and Abdullah knowing these directions because of how she prays was funny, but it wasn’t until Abdullah left a shaken diet coke to blow up on Cindy’s clothes that I had a bad taste in my mouth about how Abdullah’s character was portrayed.

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The dynamic created between Cindy and Abdullah made it seem like this conflict was petty.  Satire and jokes are used to make light of antisemitism and Islamophobia, when this kind of bigotry gets people killed.

Black Muslims and Black Jews deal with constant erasure; they are are constantly interrogated about if they really are Jewish or really are Muslim. To a white gaze, i.e the majority of people watching OINTB, Black Jews and Black Muslims are living a laughable existence; Black Muslims don’t exist and Black Jews don’t exist.
I did appreciate how Abdullah was assertive, and funny. She didn’t take shit from anyone, although she did seem a little too quiet and shy towards the end of the season. All in all, Orange is the New Black could probably use a little color on their writing staff. Nothing about this season was radical. Accurate depictions are essential when it comes to representation. Shock factor and satire isn’t a way to address racism, colonialism and queerphobia. Representation is useless when it reinforces and upholds harmful stereotypes.

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