Browser by Years

How Racism Kills: Poussey Washington’s Death in Orange is the New Black

May 02, 2019
Giselle Hengst

Abstract: Racism is one of the important social problems in the United States that must be addressed. Racism and its consequences are well highlighted in popular culture, including movies and shows, to further emphasize the effect of racism. This paper will discuss institutional racism and how it is demonstrated in the context of the judicial and prison system through an analysis of a show called Orange is the New Black. From analyzing one of the characters, Poussey, and her death, this research will discuss different ways racism could be manifested and the different forms of racism in an institution. This paper will also discuss the extreme outcome of racism in our society – death.  

Introduction: Racism, quite literally, kills. In the United States, racism is ubiquitous and stems from the legacy of race-based slavery. One area where racism is particularly salient is in the criminal justice system. Despite the constitutional promise of equal protection under the law, racist policies such as the War on Drugs have led to laws that disproportionately affect Black people such as severe penalties for drug use and possession, mandatory minimums, life sentences, and three strikes laws [1]. These policies are examples of institutional racism. Institutional racism is racism embedded in political and social structures, resulting in disadvantages for minorities based on socially assigned race [2]. On the other hand, personally mediated racism describes the prejudice and discrimination that occurs between people of different races [2]. Importantly, personally mediated racism upholds the social norms that prevent institutional racism from being eradicated. In the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, the death of a Poussey Washington, a young Black female inmate, demonstrates how personally mediated and institutional racism work together to allow her death to happen while simultaneously protecting the white correctional officers from being held responsible.



  1. Jerram, Leif. “Space: A Useless Historical Category for Historical Analysis.” History and Theory 52 (2013) p. 400-419.
  2.  Sewell in R. Percy, ‘Picket Lines and Parades: Labour and Urban Space in Early Twentieth-Century London and Chicago’, Urban History, 41/4 (2013), p. 457.
  3. Percy, Ruth. “Picket Lines and Parades: Labour and Urban Space in Early Twentieth-Century London and Chicago.” Urban History 41 (2014): 456-477.
  4.  Lefebvre, Henri. “Space: Social Product and Use Value.” In State, Space, World: Selected Essays, edited by N. Brenner and S. Elden, translated by J. W. Freiberg, 185-195. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
  5. Herod, Andrew. “From a Geography of Labor to a Labor Geography: Labor’s Spatial Fix and the Geography of Capitalism.” Antipode 29 (1997): 1-31.
  6. Remus, Emily A. Remus, Tippling Ladies and the Making of Consumer Culture: Gender and Public Space in Fin-de-Siècle Chicago (2014).
  7. R. Kelley, “‘We are not what we seem’: Rethinking black working-class opposition in the Jim Crow South” (1993) p. 99.
  8. Kruse, Kevin M. “The Politics of Race and Public Space: Desegregation, Privatization, and the Tax Revolt in America.” Journal of Urban History 31 (2005): 610-633.
  9. Butler, J. 'Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street'