Explaining Beyoncé’s public performance of pregnancy and motherhood Reclaiming a positive image for black women amid a history of degradation and slander

They’re here!

Finally, really and truly here — according to news reports.

By “they,” of course, we mean Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins.

For months, we’ve been lapping up whatever dribbles of details we could find about Queen Bey and her pregnancy, dining on a steady diet of Instagram posts and public appearances as her belly kept growing with two more heirs to the Knowles-Carter empire. And true to form, Beyoncé took the opportunity to give us a spectacle laden with meaning.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Beyoncé’s decisions about how her pregnant body would be publicly displayed was her understanding that no one can define themselves by a series of negatives. Black womanhood and black motherhood are always performed in minute-by-minute assertions, and that doesn’t become any less true if you are married, or wealthy, or well-educated. Just ask Michelle Obama.

It’s not enough to say “We’re not welfare queens or breeding wenches or “subfeminine,’ ” to use Eldridge Cleaver’s word. Telling society what you are not is not the same as defining what you are, as evidenced by the efforts of black clubwomen in the early 20th century. Thanks to, as Mary Church Terrell wrote, “false accusations and malicious slanders circulated against them constantly, both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves,” black women learned to present themselves as largely asexual to counter prevailing images of themselves as wanton Jezebels. It’s a legacy that’s continued to affect how we see black women, into the 21st century, as we’ve learned that sexual respectability politicking is just as confining as stereotypes that defined black women as irredeemably lustful.

Rather than be pigeonholed, Beyoncé used her second pregnancy to position herself, and by extension black womanhood at large, as the center of life.


Of course it was all connected.

It turned out that the Feb. 1 Instagram announcement of twins and the library of maternity photos released on her website were a harbinger of what was to come at the Grammys less than two weeks later. A club flyer, if you will.

With her last two albums, it’s clear Beyoncé has become wedded to the idea of letting her work communicate in the aggregate. The whole speaks louder, more concretely, and more decisively than any one individual element. That doesn’t apply just to her music, or the music videos (Beyoncé) or cinematic offerings (Lemonade) paired with it. Beyoncé boasts an unparalleled skill in stretching her artistic statements into multipronged events, taking full advantage of the internet, her performances and even step-and-repeat photo ops to present a consistent narrative.

“I think she was giving us a different vision of what black children’s futures could be.”

Her Grammys performance was a continuation of what Beyoncé was already aiming to communicate with her pregnancy announcement, through a series of photographs that had been art-directed and contemplated quite deeply. Looking back, it now seems like the most visible chapter in a highly curated story: how Beyoncé was not only embracing pregnancy and motherhood, but providing new fodder for what it means.

While some rightfully detected traces of Peter Paul Rubens’ many works depicting the Madonna and child in Beyoncé’s explosion of florals, the kitschy, Sears portrait gallery nature of the photographs referenced something else: the provocative, radical appropriating element of a Kehinde Wiley portrait.

Wiley is known for painting black people in a style that references the old masters, elevating ordinary modern black people to the status of nobility by immortalizing them in the same mythmaking environs as lionized white historical figures. With her maternity photos, and at the Grammys, Beyoncé elected to do the same.

At first glance, Beyoncé’s decision to channel Wiley seemed incongruous. She’s not ordinary at all. This is a woman who is known not just as a mononym but as Queen Bey, and for a time King Bey.

Why install yourself like the subjects Wiley recruits off the street when you’re a woman with the power to turn a man into a “black Bill Gates”? Quite simply, Beyoncé was tapping into a pop cultural black populism. She took the subtext of Lemonade and made it plain with the speech she gave upon accepting the Grammy for best urban contemporary album. In it, she aligned herself with and understood herself to be a stand-in for all black women, especially American black women.

“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. … This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

This might have been surprising if you only paid glancing attention to Lemonade, and took it as Beyoncé giving a public middle finger to her husband for cheating on her with Becky with the good hair. But the gossip was a lure for a deeper message.

Remember, the Lemonade film included the Mothers of the Movement: Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr and Lezley McSpadden, better known as the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, respectively. And so, on the night when Beyoncé was recognized for her work, her decision to depict herself as the madonna, as a multitudinous, many-armed deity, and as the orisha Oshun, was a decision to offer herself as a vessel for black women’s self-love. It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—- is a Star.”

Three years ago, Beyoncé opened the Grammys with a steamy performance of “Drunk in Love.” Seated on a French cafe chair, she writhed and vamped in fishnets and a black sheer leotard, exulting in the bliss of hot marital sexytimes, eventually joined by her husband. A British newspaper, Metro UK, responded with a headline spitting fire and judgment: “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act.”

For Beyoncé to then align herself, and by proxy, black women as a whole, with the iconography of the madonna was significant. When you consider that she did so after releasing a self-titled visual album that was a frank celebration of sex, it’s explosive. Even on Beyoncé, released in 2013, the singer was toying with imagery of the Pietà, casting herself as Mary and a black man as the fallen Christ in the video for “Mine.”

Beyonce portraying “Mary” in the “Mine” video


As with just about everything she does publicly, Beyoncé takes basic ideas and remixes them to great effect to suit her own needs. So of course she did it with a public pregnancy, too. Beyoncé’s pregnancy was political because black women’s bodies are laden with politics, whether we want them to be or not. Such is the burden of history.

Government has long sought to define and characterize black motherhood for its own ends. There are the “greatest hits” we all know and detest, such as legally defining black women as unrapeable in service of a “capitalized womb,” or determining that babies born to enslaved women inherited the status of free or enslaved from their mothers. There’s the Moynihan report’s prescription that black women’s achievement needed to be impeded in service to black men, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of the mythical welfare queen as a scapegoat, and even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s attempt to characterize the Affordable Care Act, with its provisions for free birth control and well woman exams, as a governmental “Uncle Sugar” enabling the actions of wanton, morally bankrupt women.

But attacks on black motherhood have also manifested in the form of attacks on their children, something that was visceral in Beyoncé’s inclusion of the Mothers of the Movement in Lemonade. Beyoncé communicated that there was no space between herself and these women. She is the mother of a black child, subject to the same dangers resulting from white fear and white supremacy. There’s no daylight between Beyoncé and, more recently, Diamond Reynolds, the woman whose partner, Philando Castile, was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop, in front of her young daughter, who was seated in the back of the car.

It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—– is a Star.

But while Lemonade, with its opening salvo of “Formation,” references modern attacks on black children and black motherhood, the fear black mothers harbor runs deeper than the past few years. It spans generations. Perhaps no such attack drives that point home like the gruesome 1918 lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child in Brooks County, Georgia.

After a black man shot and killed a white plantation owner, a lynch mob murdered Turner’s husband as part of a rampage of terrorism and revenge. Turner, 21 years old and eight months pregnant, had the temerity to protest. Upon learning that Turner intended to seek legal recourse for her husband’s murder, the mob came for her.

According to The Mary Turner Project, a Georgia educational collective dedicated to preserving her memory, “ … at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a ‘whiskey bottle’ with a ‘cigar’ stuffed in its neck.”

Simply terrorizing Turner was not enough. It wasn’t just that her husband was considered a threat — so was she, and the black child she surely would have imbued with a sense of justice and liberty had they lived.

Lemonade is partly about defiance and resilience. And arguably, there’s no greater show of defiance than making the decision to bring a black child into this world and shower it with love and pride and joy, knowing the hostility that awaits her or him.

The legacy of our society’s anxiety toward black female bodies are evident in the work of Beyoncé’s artistic predecessors. After Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, Vanessa Williams tweeted, “They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated “Save the Best for Last” — Oh how times have changed! Kudos Beyoncé!” The vision of a conservatively clothed, pregnant Williams was apparently too controversial for the Grammys in 1993, two years after Demi Moore appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In her 2003 memoir Chaka! Through the Fire, Khan revealed the angst of male record company executives who worried that her sex appeal would vanish because of a C-section scar cutting its way across her belly.

So what is there to do? How do you find a way to be celebratory instead of huddling in fear? Khan responded by continuing to perform in her trademark itty-bitty stagewear, exposed scar and all. If you’re Beyoncé, you bring the house down at the Grammys. If you’re Erykah Badu, you start ushering in black life.

While there are few public images of Badu pregnant with her children, Seven, Mars or Puma, she appeared in the September 2011 issue of People in a photograph that accompanied a story detailing her work as a doula — a service she provides for free to pregnant mothers, subsidized by her financial success as singer.

Badu appeared with her hair parted in the center. It flows in waves down her shoulders and over her breasts. She’s dressed in a loose-fitting white caftan, accessorized with a long, gold beaded necklace and rings of various sizes on both hands. In her arms, she’s cradling a nude black baby, Marley Jae Taylor, then 2 weeks old, whom she delivered. She’s standing in the middle of a Dallas field, surrounded by tall grass that appears to have parted for her. She called herself the “welcoming committee.”


The Grammys may have been the high point for audience numbers — it was more accessible on network television than Lemonade was on HBO — but Beyoncé’s pregnancy messaging apparatus continued to churn with her public appearances with daughter Blue Ivy and Jay Z at NBA games, when she and Blue Ivy showed up to the premiere of Beauty and the Beast or celebrated Mother’s Day dressed in the high-fashion equivalent of Mommy-and-Me togs.

Instagram Photo

All those images of black fertility and black motherhood rippled across the internet to reinforce the ideas first introduced with Lemonade — and then were reintroduced at the Grammys when Beyoncé deliberately lingered on a line from poet Warsan Shire about the “hips” that “crack” from giving birth.

Even the pink tuxedo Blue Ivy wore communicated a vision of black girl power. When her mother wants to convey messages about female power, she tends to revisit variations on menswear. She did it in the stagewear for her performance of “Love on Top” announcing her first pregnancy. It’s an element in the music videos for “Suga Mama,” “Upgrade You,” and “Haunted,” all of which feature Beyoncé playing with the idea of gender roles.

Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

At the Grammys, Beyoncé, who endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president with a performance in which she and all of her backup dancers wore pantsuits, seemed to echo the most memorable notes of Clinton’s postelection concession speech: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton told the little girls of America on Nov. 9.

As she delivered an acceptance and concession speech of her own (if you choose to believe, as I do, that Beyoncé knew before the Grammys that she wouldn’t win Album of the Year), the singer had a similar message.

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable,” she said, again becoming a megaphone for the desires of all black mothers.

In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

Daily Dose: 6/19/17 Another black person killed by police, this time in Seattle

The fight continues in Washington, D.C. And no, this one has nothing to do with President Donald Trump. On Monday, the Washington Redskins secured a small victory with a Supreme Court ruling that deemed the law preventing the team from registering trademarks with the word “Redskins”— or “offensive trademarks” — as unconstitutional. The controversial team name has been a topic of discussion for decades, but it intensified in May 2013 after team owner Dan Snyder staunchly vowed to never change it. Months later, President Barack Obama joined in, adding, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” A year later, the Trademark and Trial Appeal Board ordered the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ six federal trademarks. Now, three years and several court appearances later, we’re here. Snyder is “thrilled,” according to reports, and team attorney Lisa Blatt praised the court’s decision. The team may have won the war, but something tells me this battle is far from over.

Oh, wait! There is Trump news. Within a few hours of releasing a statement acknowledging Juneteenth, the oldest and most well-known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States, the internet quickly drew comparisons between President Trump’s issued statement and former president Barack Obama’s — one focused more on freed slaves, while the other praised men who allowed slaves to be freed. As the statement continues to be debated, most social media users have moved on to criticizing the president’s silence after an overnight van attack in London that left one pedestrian dead and 10 others wounded.

Another day, another non-conviction. If you haven’t heard about the infuriating yet unsurprising acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile last July. The verdict prompted marches and calls to action across the country. Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor and registered gun owner, reached into his pocket to get his license. Fearing that Castile was retrieving a weapon, Yanez shot him multiple times and walks away a free man, as we’ve witnessed so many times before. The same song will continue: The national outrage, pain and frustration and personalized hashtags will roar, then quiet until the next unfortunate encounter.

Two days later, another police-involved shooting. A pregnant woman was fatally shot by two officers in front of several children in Seattle after reporting a burglary earlier that morning. According to police, 30-year-old Charleena Lyles displayed a knife before the two officers opened fire. Although the incident is still under investigation, family members told media outlets that Lyles had been suffering with mental health issues for the past year. The children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting were not injured.

Jay Z adds context to the recent 4:44 ads. We’ve all seen the mysterious salmon-colored background with the bold, black 4:44 displayed directly in the center. The ads, which simultaneously popped up in New York and Los Angeles and on several websites two weeks ago, sent social media sleuths into a frenzy. The only clue: the word “Tidal” in the coding that accompanied the ads. Many speculated it might be a new project from the proud papa of newborn twins, and others hoped it would be specifically about the twins.

Jay Z will be dropping a new album on June 30 as a result of a new partnership between Tidal and Sprint. In addition to the new music, the partnership will support the 1Million Project to help 1 million low-income high school students across the United States gain access to the internet. Free mobile devices and free high-speed wireless internet will be provided to participating students during their high school years.

It’s a win for all.

This Juneteenth, #40Acres40cities is reclaiming land as a form of reparations No one is getting a mule, but a free people can occupy land

Monday marks Juneteenth, otherwise known as freedom on CP time.

Yes, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. But it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the word made it to Texas, in the form of an order read by a Union Army general.

“Blacks greeted the news with the overwhelming joy that accompanies receiving the answer to a life-long prayer,” wrote Judson Jeffries, professor in the African American and African Studies Department at Ohio State University, in “Juneteenth, Black Texans and the Case for Reparations.”

White Texans, on the whole, were not as elated. One celebration of the newly freedmen was interrupted, Jeffries wrote, “when a (white) sword-wielding man nearly cut a black woman in half on the street.” In another instance, a black man who “leapt high in the air to express his delight” was shot between the legs by his slave master.

The reparations of 40 acres and a mule promised to freed people? It never arrived. This year, the Black Land and Liberation Initiative wants black folks to collect on that debt — not in the form of the beast of burden, but the one thing that they’re not making any more of.

On this Juneteenth, in cities across the country, black people will reclaim places and spaces as part of #40Acres40Cities, a direct action coordinated by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation. Reclamation could take the shape of a pop-up park or a community festival in an empty lot. Or it could be the takeover of a space with contested ownership.

Black people’s connection to the land is as deep as it is tenuous. We farmed the land, reaping crops and generating profits for slave owners, profits that undergird families and businesses that exist to this day.

Yet at the same time, we are vulnerable, be it to gentrification, predatory lenders, subprime mortgages or government policies that discriminate against black farmers. The #40Acres40cities action focuses on the South and Midwest, where the concentration of black people is higher. And while the Movement for Black Lives’ website lists some of the participating cities, the exact location may stay secret until the direct action occurs.

“You can’t say, we’ll be at this corner for an occupation,” said Chinyere Tutashinda, co-director of the BlackOUT Collective. “For black folks, when we think about liberation and equality, we have to understand that capitalism won’t get us free,” she said. “In order for it to continue to exist, someone has to be oppressed. … And because of racialized capitalism, it will almost always be black people.”

So while the Black Land and Liberation Initiative’s action Monday is about building communities, the larger mission is to confront the systems, institutions and people who built their wealth on the exploitation of black bodies and labor.

Speaking of wealth, just this month, the Federal Reserve announced that household wealth is up for the first quarter of this year, to $94.8 trillion. But rising tides have never lifted all boats. For every $1 of wealth the average black family has, the average white family has $13, a racial wealth gap that has grown since the Great Recession ended.

But the tropes that conservatives usually rely on to explain this disparity fall short. Here’s what doesn’t close the racial wealth gap, according to a 2017 report: attending college, working full time, spending less or raising kids in a two-parent household.

“We find that white adults who don’t graduate high school, don’t get married before having children, and don’t work full time still have much greater wealth at the median than comparable black and Latino adults — and often have more wealth than black and Latino households that have married, completed more education, or work longer hours,” wrote researchers in “The Asset Value Of Whiteness: Understanding The Racial Wealth Gap.”

Home ownership is often a path to wealth creation, but just over 40 percent of black people own their home, compared with 71 percent of white people.

Not surprisingly, the racial group that benefits most from the status quo believes little should be done. Just over 65 percent of black people but only 21 percent of white people believe the country’s wealth today is “significantly tied to work done by slaves,” according to a 2016 Marist poll. And 58 percent of blacks and 15 percent of whites believe the U.S. government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.

If what we’ve done has gotten us what we have, then it would take something almost unimaginable to repair the gap. Something like reparations. While reparations are usually visualized as a check for the descendants of African slaves, land is a suitable option, said Jeffries, who, with several others, started the first Juneteenth celebration in Lafayette, Indiana, 16 years ago.

Every year for more than 20 years, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, has introduced legislation to study the impact of slavery on African-Americans and suggest remedies — such as reparations.

His bill fails every year, and there’s no reason to think his 2017 bill will be the exception. Right? “I don’t see any reparations on the horizon,” said Jeffries, “but I didn’t see Obama on the horizon either.”

For the sake of black fatherhood, stop the war on drugs I get to celebrate Father’s Day with my dad after 27 years thanks to President Obama

“Your father WAS a good man, Nique. He always looked out for folks.”

“Boy, Ralph could run. You run just like him. He WAS a legend.”

“You Ralph son? He HAD a brain on him. Smart. Sorry to see that happened to him.”

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, and playing sports made these common sayings that were spoken to me. My father, Ralph Warren, was a present memory in my life but a very distant one to friends and admirers. Hearing this, you might assume my father was deceased — maybe an accident, a bullet or maybe bad luck happening to a man many had fond memories of. That wasn’t the case at all. My father was alive and well living in Indiana, then Kentucky, then Illinois in a jail cell, sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. He wasn’t deceased, but his sentence would ensure that he would never see freedom. He would die in jail. DIE IN JAIL.

That had always hung over me with great pain, fear and anger. I would not be able to see my father grow old nor pass away in the comforts of his home because he would be in a federal prison cell. That is why on Jan. 17, 2017 — when President Barack Obama, mere days before his term was up, commuted my father’s sentence for drug trafficking and firearm charges after 27 years — I cried for hours knowing that I would know my father as a free man.


On Feb. 8, my father arrived back at the Greyhound bus station in Toledo, Ohio, where dozens of family members, including my mom and sibling, and a host of friends welcomed him back. I introduced him for the very first time to my daughter, Lois Marie. Since his release, he has edited and re-released his novel Target, begun working at a local auto supplier plant and, most importantly, spoken to recovering drug abusers and young men who have come into contact with the prison system. Together, my father and I are advocating for reduced sentencing and more funding for re-entry programs to local and federal legislators. Our lives have been affected by this “War on Drugs,” and we are on a mission to ensure it won’t reintensify.

Between 1970 and 2005, America’s prison and jail population ballooned from 300,000 to more than 2 million. America’s “War on Drugs” began under former President Richard Nixon in 1971 as a response to the increase in recreational drug use and abuse in the 1960s. Initial appropriations were geared to clinical and drug abuse prevention efforts, increased funding for prisons, directives for harsher sentences and aggressive law enforcement geared at drug cartels. It escalated under President Reagan, with the creation of mandatory minimum prison sentences in 1986 after an influx of crack cocaine in American cities targeted black and brown communities.

The American presidency from 1970 to 2005 focused on “Law and Order” to combat drug trafficking and violence, resulting in 1 in 9 black children currently having an incarcerated parent. Ninety-two percent of parents in prison are fathers, and an overwhelming proportion of these fathers are black.

Children of incarcerated parents are faced with trauma, higher chance of being in poverty, and increased rates of incarceration that create a cycle of destruction in the black community. Mass incarceration of black fathers limits the financial stability of families. Coupled with other racially prejudiced systems, mass incarceration plagues the stability of the black community.

Attorney General Eric Holder established the Smart on Crime initiative in 2014 to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing and push more funding to programs that decrease prison recidivism. Researchers from the Pew Charitable Trust agree that federal mandatory minimums don’t deter crime or reduce the number of people who return to jail. Directing prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimums for low-level and nonviolent offenses, the Obama administration’s commutation and pardon policies allowed thousands to be freed and reunited with families and society. Unfortunately, these policies came to an end with the presidential election of Donald Trump and appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

In May, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to seek the harshest indictments for drug offenses and reinstated mandated federal minimums for all charges, which includes the “three strikes” provision when disclosing to judges all facts pertaining to sentencing. This reversal of policy is not just a setback for best practices in federal prosecutions and has widespread opposition by both political parties, but it is also a setback for black fathers and their children.

Current policies for the Justice Department directed by Sessions empower prosecutors to use the full power of the federal government to enact harsh sentences for low-level and nonviolent crimes and keep the current prison population, the world’s largest, growing. We know that federal sentencing grossly prosecutes a high proportion of black males, leaving their children fatherless, without dual incomes and suffering from extreme trauma. There are no winners in this scenario, only losers. The appearance of being tough on crime from the DOJ will not reduce crime, but it will ensure millions of fatherless children who will be at risk of committing crimes themselves.

If 21st-century federal sentencing policies mirror the past 30 years of “Law and Order” mandates, we will continue to see our prison population rise and spend much-needed funding on housing prisoners instead of investing in communities, families and children. The annual cost of housing a prisoner outstrips the cost of tuition in states such as California, costing more than $75,000. Frederick Douglass in the 19th century said, “It’s easier to build strong children than broken men.” As prison and education costs rise, we as a nation have to make a choice of where our priorities lie. If we believe that families matter and children need fathers, mandatory minimums that target black men must be a policy of the past. We need to reinstate the commutation policy of the last administration so that imprisoned citizens are reinstated back to their communities.

This is the first Father’s Day I will spend with my dad in 27 years. I won’t take it for granted, because I know that many children won’t be able to celebrate it with their fathers.

They were, like me, waiting and waiting for that dream of seeing their fathers on this side of freedom. I am also vigilant for black fathers who will be targeted by the Trump administration’s arcane policies that invoke echoes of the past and have destroyed communities and families of color in the name of “Law and Order.”

On this Father’s Day, celebrate black fatherhood and work to protect it at all costs. I plan to strap my daughter into her stroller, put on my best running shoes and run just like my father, next to my father.

Daily Dose: 6/16/17 Two black officers honored at Congressional Baseball Game

I’ll be hosting The Right Time again Friday afternoon, filling in for Bomani Jones again on #TheRightTime. We’re getting into that time of year where the sports calendar is pretty bare. Summer Camp Radio!

So, it looks like President Donald Trump is under investigation after all. After all that nonsense in which he awkwardly yelled at NBC’s Lester Holt about the whole matter and started the whirlwind that has had Washington in a mess ever since. It’s about his potential involvement with Russia, which is a bizarre web that also involves Attorney General Jeff Sessions. What the president believes himself versus what is actually true, who knows, but Trump says that what he’s under investigation for is firing FBI chief James Comey.

So, Amazon just bought Whole Foods. Sure, it sounds a little weird off the top, but think about it. If you were going to take over the world, what would you do? You’d probably buy a major globally branded newspaper, right? Then, to find a proper distribution model for everything else you push, you’d snap up one of the most popular high-end grocery store chains in the country, right? Well, lucky for Jeff Bezos, he has that kind of money, and that’s exactly what he did. All hail the new king.

If you didn’t know, Rep. Steve Scalise’s life was saved by two black people. When a guy decided to open fire on a Congressional Baseball Game practice, elected officials were sent running for cover and had only their security to protect them. One of those Capitol Police officers was a woman named Crystal Griner. She is a lesbian. It was she and a colleague, David Bailey, who engaged in the firefight that killed the man who was ready to mow down a lot more people. Oh, it should be noted: Scalise is not an ally of the LGBTQ community. At all.

The closer we get to the NBA draft, the more LaVar Ball’s name comes up. You know who that’s good for? Lonzo Ball. After he popped off on his dad in a Foot Locker commercial, he’s got his fellow soon-to-be draftees going after LaVar, too. Now, De’Aaron Fox has joined the chorus of people who can’t stand the man who started Big Baller Brand, which is sort of hilarious to me. Why on earth would you get involved in this man’s drama if you didn’t have to? Fox is not here for Ball’s games, which means that draft night should be prettttty interesting.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Look, there’s a whole lot of new music out right now, so you need to understand that this weekend is about to be lit on multiple levels. Young Thug has a new album out, and it’s summery and amazing. Dej Loaf just dropped some new heat, too. And 2 Chainz is out here, in addition. I’M VERY READY FOR SUMMER, Y’ALL.

Snack Time: Getting props from Barack Obama will never not be cool. In this case, he congratulated Jay Z on making the Songwriters Hall of Fame. These two and their bromance will only grow.

Dessert: Rest in peace, Jim Graham.

The murder of Tupac Shakur is a tragedy — but the why is not a complete mystery Conspiracy theories give fans comfort but, in truth, the brilliant artist was ‘a sacrificial lamb in thug clothing’

It’s time to stop wondering who killed Tupac Shakur.

America has spent the past two decades fishing at red herrings and inventing theories about how our brilliant brother could be gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip at age 25. The real answer is obvious, yet too many of us who love the culture avoid the facts: Tupac sealed his fate with one punch to a Crip’s face.

Heartbreak can teach powerful lessons. But instead of admitting that Tupac’s genius was extinguished because he chose to play gangster, we continue to rationalize and glamorize his Thug Life, aided and abetted by a corrupt justice system that denies us much-needed closure. To prevent more Tupac tragedies, we need to understand what happened, and why:

On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac, Death Row Records kingpin Marion “Suge” Knight and Suge’s gang of Bloods beat up a Southside Crip named Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson in a Las Vegas casino lobby. Anderson and three other Crips went looking for payback. A few hours later, cruising the Vegas Strip in Anderson’s rented white Cadillac, they saw Suge driving a BMW with Tupac in the front passenger seat. Anderson shot Tupac from the back seat of the Caddy.

Ain’t no skullduggery to it. Just the basic street arithmetic that continues to send thousands of black males to their graves.

Anderson’s beatdown was captured on security video. Suge’s gangsters quickly spread the word that the killer was Anderson, according to what informants told police in the chaotic days after the shooting. Those anonymous sources were confirmed more than a decade later by the eyewitness account of Anderson’s uncle, Southside Crip boss Duane “Keffe D” Davis, who says he was in the car and handed Anderson the murder weapon. Keffe D’s statements are detailed in the 2011 book Murder Rap, by retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective Greg Kading.

But thanks to Internet-borne conspiracies and institutional injustice toward black life, the question of who murked Pac has never been murkier. The new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, offers little clarity. Legend has enveloped Tupac’s death like barnacles on a sunken ship. But if you scrape all that away …


The machinery of Pac’s demise was set in motion in July 1996, when a crew of Crips snatched a Death Row pendant from a Blood named Trevon “Tray” Lane at Lakewood Mall near Compton, California, according to a Compton police affidavit. Two months later, Tray Lane was with Tupac and Suge at a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. After the heavyweight champ knocked out Bruce Seldon in the first round, the Death Row clique left the MGM Grand arena and spotted Anderson in the lobby. Tray identified Anderson as one of the Crips who snatched his chain.

The intersection of Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard is pictured on Sept. 8, 1996, the day after rap superstar Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight were both shot. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Tupac rolled up on Anderson, rhetorically demanded, “You from the South?” and punched him in the face. Tupac, Suge and their gang proceeded to stomp Anderson out, right there in the MGM lobby.

“In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible.”

These are indisputable facts, backed by witness testimony, police reports and videotape. I first saw them gathered in one place in the May 1997 issue of Vibe magazine, in a story by Rob Marriott. The report detailed how after Tupac’s slaying, Bloods launched a full-out war on Compton Crips. Suge’s henchmen told other Bloods that Tupac’s killer was Keffe D’s nephew, according to the Compton police affidavit. When the bullets stopped flying, 13 gangsters had been shot, three fatally.

“There are no easy answers to the myriad questions surrounding Tupac’s death,” Marriott wrote after his harrowing experience reporting from the streets of gangland Compton. “But it has become clear that the rap star’s death — and the three homicides that followed — are only the most visible tragedies in a web of intrigue that extends deep into the L.A. underworld.”

That web was real. At the center was the tarantula Suge Knight, who, according to evidence detailed in Murder Rap and the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan, ran Death Row like a Mafia boss. Suge’s violence is well-documented. He fueled a bicoastal beef with Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and its superstar rapper Biggie Smalls, who was killed six months after Tupac. Suge had LAPD cops on his payroll, according to LAbyrinth. On top of all that, shortly before his death Tupac argued with Suge over unpaid royalties, fired Death Row lawyer David Kenner and planned to leave the label.

Police, meanwhile, added to the confusion. Las Vegas cops told LAPD detective Russell Poole, according to LAbyrinth, that “the main reason they would never solve this case is that the politicians didn’t want them to. They said the powers that be had let them know the city didn’t need an O.J.-style circus.” Poole was investigating the Biggie killing. He said that LAPD brass, bracing for a lawsuit from Biggie’s family, blocked him from following numerous leads that might have connected black LAPD cops to Death Row. Poole was ultimately removed from the case and resigned from the LAPD in 1999.

Marion “Suge” Knight and Tupac Shakur during the 10th annual Soul Train Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1996.

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Anderson denied killing Tupac and was never charged. In 1998, Anderson was shot dead outside a Compton car wash over what police there said was a drug debt. Anderson’s killer is serving three life terms.

In 2006, Kading, the LAPD detective, was assigned to reopen the Biggie Smalls homicide case. In Murder Rap, Kading says he and his team kept hearing about Keffe D, Anderson’s uncle, who saw Smalls at the Soul Train Music Awards after-party hosted by Vibe magazine shortly before the Brooklyn rapper was killed. Kading set up a drug deal sting to coerce Keffe D into talking about Biggie’s murder. The trap worked. Kading writes that in December 2008, facing decades in prison, Keffe D sat down to work out a deal — but denied any knowledge of Smalls’ killers.

Instead, Keffe D told them about Pac’s death. Kading was in the room questioning Keffe D. The interview was recorded. The gangster’s story went like this:


In 1991, when Keffe D’s Crip gang was selling dope nationwide, he was introduced to a Harlem drug dealer named Eric “Zip” Martin. They started doing business. Two years later, Zip, who was involved in the music business, brought Keffe D to a BET party at the Paradise Club in Los Angeles. At that party, Keffe said, Zip introduced him to Combs.

Keffe D said he maintained a relationship with Puffy, and he lent him the 1964 Chevy featured in Usher’s “Can U Get Wit It” video. When the East-West beef jumped off, Keffe D said, his Crips provided security for Bad Boy on the West Coast. At one point, Keffe D alleged, Combs said he would pay a million dollars for Pac and Suge to be killed. Kading quoted Keffe D in Murder Rap as saying: “(Puffy) was like, ‘I want to get rid of them dudes.’ … I was like, ‘Man, we’ll wipe their ass out, quick … it’s nothing. Consider that done.’ ”

Combs has adamantly denied soliciting any murder.

Keffe D told Kading that he went to Vegas simply to enjoy the Tyson fight and met up there with Zip, his nephew “Baby Lane” Anderson and other Crips. After the lobby rumble, when Keffe Dheard his nephew Anderson got stomped by Death Row, they immediately planned to retaliate. Zip gave Keffe D a .40-caliber Glock. Kading wrote:

“ ‘(Zip) said it’s perfect timing,’ Keffe D recounted, leaving the exact meaning of the words up to us. Was Zip talking about killing two birds with one stone, taking out Suge and Tupac as payback for the Baby Lane beating and in the process collecting Puffy’s million-dollar bounty? It was impossible to know for sure.”

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Keffe D said that Zip departed after giving them the gun. Anderson, Keffe D and two other Crips cruised the Strip in Anderson’s rented Cadillac and spotted Tupac’s caravan. They pulled alongside the BMW driven by Suge Knight. Keffe D was in the Cadillac’s front passenger seat with the Glock, prepared to shoot, but Tupac and the BMW were on the opposite side of the Caddy. “Lane was like, ‘Give it here,’ ” Keffe D said, “and popped the dude.”

Keffe D told Kading he never got a dime of Combs’ promised payoff, although he thought Zip might have collected and not shared the loot. “If (Puffy) would have just given us half the money, I would have stayed strong,” Keffe said, explaining why he was telling on Combs.

Combs has called all of this “pure fiction” — and has said he never even used Crips as security.

Kading knew he couldn’t make a good legal case on the word of a criminal like Keffe D. He tried to coerce Zip to corroborate the story and tell on Combs by setting up a sting with Keffe D. But before the trap could be sprung, Kading’s superiors removed him from the case in 2009.

“It was almost as if, in some surreal way, Poole was right all along,” Kading wrote. “The LAPD was trying to cover up the Biggie Smalls murder, not by protecting corrupt cops but by undercutting the ability of its own investigators to make the case.”


Neither Keffe D, Zip nor anyone else has ever been charged with killing Tupac or Biggie. Zip died in 2012. Keffe D is locked up on a marijuana distribution conviction. The Las Vegas police investigation into Tupac’s murder technically remains open. “In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible,” Kading wrote. “When the truth is missing in action, anything can take its place.”

Like the theory that Suge conspired with Anderson to kill Tupac because the rapper was owed millions and about to leave Death Row, which former LAPD detective Poole believed. Or that Snoop Dogg’s cousin Lil’ Half Dead, mad at ’Pac because he allegedly stole the hit song “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” helped Suge’s wife and Death Row’s head of security try to kill Suge and take over the company — but they missed Suge and hit ’Pac instead. Or that the FBI didn’t want ’Pac starting a black revolution. Or that he’s in the witness protection program. Or alive and well in Cuba.

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Not since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have conspiracy theories run so amok. But the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Of course a Crip came gunning for a crew of Bloods who dealt him a humiliating butt-whipping. Tupac beat up a killer, who then killed him. All over a piece of jewelry.

Tupac chose to live, and die, by the rules of Thug Life. Our inability to face that fact is a symptom of our inability to help our most troubled young black men.

A black BMW, riddled with bullet holes, sits in the police impound lot on Sept. 8, 1996, in Las Vegas. Rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and critically wounded while riding in the car driven by Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight the previous night after attending the heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon.

AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

“It’s become obvious to anyone paying attention that the gangsta image — for all its force and bluster — is nothing if not tragic, a myth of empowerment with the capacity to rob our generation of its potential greatness,” Marriott wrote in the 1997 Vibe story that connected the dots of the tragedy. “If we as a Hip Hop Nation can ever move beyond the directionless violence and self-destruction gangsta sometimes glorifies, then maybe we’ll have ’Pac to thank for it. Perhaps, in the end, he was simply a sacrificial lamb in thug’s clothing.”

Hip-hop music still thrives on violence and self-destruction, despite the rise of many incredible positive emcees. Recognizing the facts of Tupac’s death could offer some measure of redemption. There will be no help from law enforcement, no deserved clarity and closure through the process of arrest, trial and punishment. If those of us who love the culture don’t want Tupac to have died in vain, we need to come to grips with reality on our own.

In ‘Orange is the New Black’ season five, the show takes its darkest turn yet ‘Orange’ joins the ranks of shows and films that will come to define the Trump era despite being conceived before it

This article discusses the plot and details of the fifth season of Orange is the New Black in its entirety. Spoilers abound.

Remember the good ol’ days, when Orange is the New Black could insert itself into consideration for the comedy category of the Emmys and, despite its hourlong episode run time, such a move was considered reasonable?

Because after all, it was funny, with its satirical look at a specific type of clueless white liberalism — the kind that subsists on a steady diet of Whole Foods, goop and This American Life. We could all laugh at Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) naïve assumptions about what life would be like in a minimum-security prison and whom she would be able to trust. Orange is the New Black began as a show that ushered in breakout stardom for Laverne Cox and a national conversation about trans people and the injustices they face. It had a hopeful bent, one that whispered the possibility of one day being able to say, this is how life once was.

Granted, that world ceased to exist the moment Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was suffocated to death in a chokehold by a correctional officer at Litchfield in season four. Like the titular character of Poussey’s favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we are down the rabbit hole now. Season five of Orange doesn’t soften the fall either. The inmates at Litchfield can’t see much beyond this time, time and more time behind their bars — any hope of this is how life once was has morphed into this is how life is and will continue to be, far, far further into the future than we ever imagined.

The world of Litchfield worsened considerably as the prison came under the management of MCA, the fictional private prison corporation modeled after the real-life Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Life at Litchfield was never ideal, but once it became a private prison, its crises metastasized thanks to poorly trained guards, many ex-military and all operating under the command of sadistic authoritarian Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke). Piscatella makes Pornstache (Pablo Schreiber) look like a dancing, toothless bear by comparison: all fright and no bite. Piscatella’s zeal for punishing inmates was what led to the prison uprising in season four to begin with and the cafeteria standoff that resulted in Poussey’s death.

Season five is set during a prison riot that takes place over the course of three violent, chaotic, seemingly endless days. The ladies of Litchfield have taken over the place with the help of a gun, smuggled in by an inept guard known as Humps (Michael Torpey), who is concerned about prisoner retaliation and his personal safety in the wake of Poussey’s death.

The women take the guards hostage and issue demands, although it is the black women who want justice for Poussey who are the most heavily invested in using the riot to change conditions at Litchfield. For others, the first hours of prisoner freedom in Litchfield are a bacchanal. Some women institute a run on the commissary, the kitchen and the pharmacy, while others take the opportunity to simply walk around the campus in the nude, and still others revel in the ability to walk around drunk without fear of repercussions. Flaca (Jackie Cruz) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero) use the opportunity to become YouTube stars and grant makeovers.

After realizing the tampons, cheetos, and takis are a bribe from the governor, rather than an expression of good faith negotiation, the women set fire to them.

But Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and her deputies work to compile a list of the 10 most common requests from the 400 women in the prison:

  1. Fire the current guards and hire ones with proper training
  2. Reinstate the GED program
  3. Better health care (there’s a reference to an inmate who died after guards refused to hospitalize her even though her rotten tooth had gone septic)
  4. Conjugal visits
  5. Amnesty for rioters
  6. An end to solitary confinement and arbitrary cavity searches
  7. Equal treatment regardless of race or celebrity
  8. Internet access
  9. CO Bailey arrested and charged for Poussey’s murder
  10. Free tampons, hot Cheetos and Takis available in the commissary, and more nutritious food in the cafeteria

A couple of women, Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Blanca (Laura Gómez), realize the tactical advantage a prison riot affords them, and they start sifting through guard files in search of evidence that Piscatella is unfit to be working at Litchfield. It turns out they’re right — Piscatella left his last job at a men’s prison after he handcuffed an inmate in a shower and proceeded to scald him to death. Red and Blanca are aided in their mission with the help of pharmaceutical-grade speed, which one of the guards has been smuggling in and keeping in his locker in a bottle marked for energy-boosting vitamins — yet another symptom of Litchfield’s danger and dysfunction.

Despite the deplorable conditions that have led to the Litchfield riot, the writers of Orange is the New Black were not interested in creating pro-prisoner propaganda — far from it. One of the most disturbing aspects of this season is the depth to which it forces us to think about how easily power can corrupt individuals who see themselves as good or, at the very least, not as bad as their tormentors.

Alison (Amanda Stephen), Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) are committed to seeking justice for Poussey.

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

When inmate Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (Dascha Polanco) gains control of the prison after picking up Humps’ gun and shooting him in the leg with it, it doesn’t take long for the inmates to begin subjecting the guards to the same humiliating treatment they’re protesting. They force the guards to strip down to their underwear, then openly objectify and sexually harass them. When two meth heads get the gun after Daya loses it, they force the guards to amuse them with a talent show dubbed Litchfield Idol, in which one guard sucks up to his captors by going full Magic Mike to TLC’s “Red Light Special.” They force the guards to eat the same prison slop they’re fed day after day, and to relieve themselves in a communal bucket.

To replicate the cruel and unusual hellishness of solitary confinement, known as the SHU (Secured Housing Unit), Litchfield inmates throw the warden, Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow), into the “Poo”: essentially, solitary confinement in the prison’s outdoor porta-potties. The inmates’ actions echo revelations from the Stanford prison experiment and more recently in Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer’s account of the four months he spent working in a CCA prison in Winnfield, Louisiana.

The worst part of Rogue Litchfield is the way it fails the most vulnerable inmates, namely Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Maureen (Emily Althaus), the two most severely mentally ill prisoners there. Suzanne suffers without her antipsychotics and without her regular troupe of protectors, who are busy negotiating the terms of a hostage release with the governor and his aides. Suzanne is left zip-tied to her bunk by the meth heads, who paint her face with baby powder and makeup. Maureen, who was in the infirmary after surviving a vicious lock-in-a-sock attack, will likely die. Her facial wounds are infected to the point of inducing delirium and fever.

Essentially, a private prison system motivated only by profit and shareholder greed created this dangerous environment for inmates and corrections officers alike. It’s what’s set off the chain of events that led to Poussey’s death, the riot, Humphries’ death, Maureen’s likely death and Piscatella’s vengeful spree of inmate kidnapping, scalping and torture.

There was always a moral imperative to Orange, even in its first season. It’s based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, the character on whom Chapman is based, and Kerman is a devoted and vocal advocate for prison reform. OITNB began as a show that had the radical audacity to make otherwise apathetic people question the prison-industrial complex. It added some drama and some sex and got us hooked. Along with Sunday mornings spent with Melissa Harris-Perry, Orange helped us arrive at a point where Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, could vault to intellectual superstardom, where notions of prison abolition began to work their way into the mainstream, and where @prisonculture became a must-follow account on Twitter. Orange began as a reflection of real-life horror stories that President Barack Obama’s administration and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers were at least trying to end with measures aimed at reforming the criminal justice system, such as rolling back mandatory minimum sentences. Obama remains the only sitting president to ever visit a federal prison.

Brad William Henke as Litchfield’s resident villain, Desi Piscatella.

Jojo Whilden/Netflix

But nothing is outrageous anymore. The most disturbing thing Orange could do in its fifth season, and what’s resulted in a show that’s not nearly as bingeable as its more lighthearted early fare, was explore the far-reaching implications of the private prison system’s greed-driven nihilism. Take, for example, the frightening real-life circumstance of one prisoner whom Bauer wrote about in Mother Jones: a man at Winnfield who lost his fingers and both legs to gangrene after officers refused to hospitalize him in an effort to save money because CCA is required to pick up hospital tabs. It’s entirely plausible that a prisoner could die of sepsis in Litchfield.

The most hyperbole OITNB inserted into the show was done by shooting an episode in which Piscatella has sneaked back into the prison in full riot gear as a horror movie, with Piscatella as the monster hunting down and snatching women one by one. After all, Piscatella’s murder-by-scalding shower was another instance of abuse ripped from the headlines — the real-life Florida prison guards who facilitated and oversaw Darren Rainey’s death weren’t even charged for it.

Orange is not the first drama to reveal the ugly underbelly of the carceral state. Don’t forget about Oz, which began airing in 1997 and practically required its viewers to watch from between their fingers, if they even managed to make it through all six seasons at all. But the tales Orange tells are all the more effective thanks to how easy it is to point to their corollaries in real life. Despite CCA’s best efforts to mask the goings-on inside its facilities, we know about them. It’s virtually impossible for the fictional circumstances of Litchfield to be more devastating than the truth of life at Winnfield Correctional and private prisons like it all over the country.

Like Get Out, Beatriz at Dinner, The Handmaid’s Tale and even the second season of Queen Sugar, the many horrors of the fifth season of Orange is the New Black will likely be remembered as emblematic of the Trump era, even though it was written and shot well before the nation swore in its 45th president, or even elected him. Now, the most nightmarish aspects of Orange reflect a reality that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is working to maintain and expand, by rescinding an Obama order ending federal use of private prisons and by revitalizing the drug war. It’s one in which a sheriff who presided over the torturous death of one inmate by dehydration and the repeated rape of another has been elevated to the position of assistant secretary within the Department of Homeland Security. The vision the Sessions Justice Department has for making America great again is precisely the one Orange is the New Black has revealed to be barbaric, dehumanizing, expensive and grossly ineffective.

The latest season of Orange forces us to ask ourselves if we’re still the country of Oprah-as-mentored-by-Maya-Angelou. The place that believes when you know better, you do better? Because we are post-Attica, post-Stanford prison experiment, post-Sandra Bland, post-60 Minutes expose on Pelican Bay. The Blacksonian, in part funded by Oprah herself, was built around one of the guard towers from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, so infamous is its role in American history. Angola is the Lucy in the evolutionary story linking slavery to modern-day mass incarceration, notorious for its long sentences, corruption and reliance on practices such as chain gangs and convict leasing.

Alison (Amanda Stephen), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), and Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) strategize about what to do with Warden Caputo (Nick Sandow).

JoJo Whilden / Netflix

Part of the legacy of Orange is the New Black is helping us to know better. Because of it, we are able to imagine what life is like in the SHU, and why many consider it to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. It’s shown us the many obstacles for released prisoners that lead to skyrocketing rates of recidivism. We know that companies like Victoria’s Secret use prison labor, at a cost of mere cents per prisoner per hour, to manufacture those sexy skivvies we treasure so much. And, thanks to its past two seasons, we know the moral and human costs of treating prison as a corporate moneymaking enterprise rather than a rehabilitative one.

But even when faced with the shameful inhumanity of recent history, even as states such as Louisiana are taking steps toward criminal justice reform, the present and the near future seem to point to a dismal return to a reality we’d agreed was worth ending.

Obama receives ‘rock star’ treatment in Canada Although the former president was there to deliver a speech, his dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became the buzz

The latest stop in former President Barack Obama’s post-presidency tour was Tuesday in Montreal, where Obama delivered a speech and later chatted it up with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Obama addressed the Montreal Chamber of Commerce in a speech that largely focused on warning against populism and authoritarianism. During his 70-minute talk to a crowd of more than 6,000, Obama also addressed climate change, diplomacy and fake news.

Afterward, Obama met up with Trudeau for dinner at Liverpool House in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighborhood. Residents lined the street outside of the restaurant as Twitter users playfully teased the pair about a “bromance.” Trudeau confirmed the outing through a picture of the pair posted on his Twitter page.

“How do we get young leaders to take action in their communities? Thanks @BarackObama for your visit & insights tonight in my hometown,” Trudeau’s caption read.

According to several news outlets, Canada rolled out the red carpet for the former U.S. president. The Toronto Star described the scene before Obama’s speech to the sold-out crowd as one “laid out for a rock star.”

The obvious question for Obama: Where to next?