Commentary: Is Segregation the New Black?

Cast of Orange is the New Black

Commentary: Is Segregation the New Black?

What's the real message behind Rolling Stone's whitewashed cover?

Published June 10, 2015

“One of these things is not like the other…”

Leave it to ol' Sesame Street to teach us the value of perception. Now, apply that lesson to two very distinct magazine covers gracing newsstands this month. Both Rolling Stone and Essence feature captivating portraits of the stars of Orange Is the New Black. You can’t, however, miss the major difference, the all-white Rolling Stone pictorial contrasted against the all-Black ensemble on Essence.

Is segregation the new Black? Maybe.

It’s not shocking that OITNB stars Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, Vicky Jeudy, Adrienne Moore, Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley are fronting Essence’s July 2015 issue; after all, it is a magazine catering to the African-American community. But you have to wonder why Rolling Stone tapped only Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon, who are both white, as the faces of Litchfield Penitentiary when nearly every cast member has become a household name following the show’s immense success.

Namely, Cox has taken the reigns as a leader in the LGBTQ community and was even the first transgender person to cover Time last May. Aduba won an Emmy for her portrayal of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, among other awards. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell that to Rolling Stone’s editors.

In recent months, the publication has struggled to regain its credibility. From the mishandling of a student’s alleged rape at the University of Virginia to objectifying a “headless” brown body for a recent cover featuring Kendrick Lamar, Rolling Stone is having a hard time getting it right in a world that demands accuracy, diversity and inclusion. This current, seemingly small-but-telling oversight certainly doesn’t help the cause.

Season 3 of OITNB premieres on Netflix June 12, so there’s still time to binge watch (like me) if you're new to the bandwagon. One of the best things about the show is how racially diverse the cast is, and it's that kind of effort that will help make Hollywood more inclusive overall. We also know from history that roles for talented Black actors on network television are few and far between, aside from unicorns like Empire and Scandal.

It’s hard to argue a reason why our newsstands can’t be a fantastic rainbow of every skin tone. Yet, the one that always comes to mind is marketability, or the perception that lighter skin and straight hair sell more issues than shades of cocoa. If Rolling Stone doesn’t see the value in Brooks, Wiley, Cox and other brown beauties from this show or any other, then it will just continue to sell itself short in the end.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photos from left: Essence Magazine/ July 2015, Rolling Stone Magazine/ June 2015)

Written by Britt Middleton

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