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Black Ink Crew was probably the most compelling reality show on television, but unfortunately, very few people watched.

Or, if they did watch, they mostly dismissed the series as ghetto.

And I can certainly understand the argument. The tattoos, the drunkenness, the flagrant cursing, the “Hotepry,” the fighting and overall blatant disregard for what White people might think, is enough to turn off even the most liberal-minded Tenth member.

But what the show lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in truthfulness. Or as they call it on the streets, “realness.”

For all intents and purposes, Black Ink Crew is a microcosm of gender politics and other issues that are universally shared by all. And in spite of what we may try to tell ourselves, there is nothing class specific about misogyny and patriarchy, nor the fight for women to claim some autonomy within or around it.

Black Ink Crew, as in all aspects of society, centers around the lives of men. Not only are they the main cast members on the show, but they control and dominate the spaces and environments around where the show is centered. While women are present in these spaces, their presence is also heavily policed, scrutinized and punished.

In lots of ways, Black Ink Crew is like Mad Men.

Nothing better illustrates this than Season 4’s reunion special, which aired earlier this week. The reunion show’s host, Big Tigger, asked Sassy, a supporting cast member on the show, if it was hard to be a woman in the Black Ink environment. An environment created by the shop owner, Caesar.

As the conversation went:

Sassy: It is hard to be a woman at Black Ink if you like having dignity.

Caesar: What you trying to say, that we are sexist or something?”

Sassy: Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I see how y’all talk to some women.

Sassy called the environment out for what it is. However, it is easy for her since she no longer relies on the series for her survival. And even still, she keeps her comments pretty brief and sterile because, without those same men, she would not be on the show.

But this is not the case for other women who are more invested in the environment.

Like Caesar’s apprentice Donna who has been labeled a “hoe” for having sex with three other employees at the shop, including Ted, O’Sh-t and Walt. During a highlight reel of some of Donna’s best moments, we witness Dutchess, who is Caesar’s fiancée, warning Donna that she is in danger of being called “Miss Loose Booty.”

It is unclear whether Donna is a sex-positive feminist or if she is guilty of trying to use her sexuality as currency in the shop. She claims that being a tattoo artist is her dream. Yet we know that at one point, her “behavior” had “caused” her to be called a “b-tch” and get kicked out of the shop earlier on in the season. And she would spend the rest of the season trying to get back into Black Ink.

But in a personal rebellious act, Donna owns up to her promiscuity. She reminds the cast that even as they knocked her for being a “hoe,” all of her sex partners had also cooked breakfast for her afterward. It is a brazen attempt at owning her sexuality while also gaining respect. After all, men don’t do for “hoes” what they would do for the more dignified women in their lives.

She also adds:

“Every negative conversation about me is because I f–ked y’all. and I didn’t try to be with y’all. I didn’t try to fall in love with y’all. I f–ked. I had y’all all in rotation. And as soon as I found my ni–a, I cut all of y’all off.”

However, the men in the room are less than impressed. In particular, Walt, who jumps up from the reunion sofa and begins beating his chest about how he “got it” a few days before the reunion. In his world, he assumes that this information garners him cool points. But his reaction is predicated on the idea that men desire while women are convinced. In short, we are supposedly not as sexual as our counterparts. We are forced, manipulated and conquered. And when we are tricked too easily, we’re deemed stupid for being gullible.

But while Walt continues to boast and beat his chest about getting one over on her, Donna does not relent. More specifically she tells him, “You got it a couple of days ago, I got it too.”

While the authenticity around Donna’s sexual freedom is dubious, her willingness to own up to at least sexual attraction also serves as an empowering act. Our inability to ask for the things we want (including the demand for orgasms as Nicki Minaj would say) is what keeps women sexually and emotionally unfilled most times.

Likewise, even if Donna had not sexed every member in the Black Ink crew, she would still likely have found herself maligned in the shop. Like Dutchess who has been labeled as bossy and emotional. Or Sky who sees herself as one of the boys and claims herself wiser than most women, but kind of settles for anything–including the unrequited love she has for Teddy.

Regardless of the healthiness of her choices, you have to admit that it was pretty brave of Donna to own up to who she is and claim a space for herself, particularly in an environment that offers so little.

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