Oprah Stands Her Ground

S. and I were in a movie theatre last December, watching The Great Debaters when I was converted from a passive Obama supporter into a disciple. It wasn’t the movie itself, but the sound of debate team member Samantha's voice booming out of the speakers as she uttered the kind of protest phrases from the thirties and forties that we seemed to still be piddling around with today:

    "I say that's a shame, but my opponent says today is not the day for whites and coloreds to go to the same college. To share the same campus. To walk into the same classroom. Well, would you kindly tell me when that day is gonna come? Is it going to come tomorrow? Is it going to come next week? In a hundred years? Never? No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!"

My face grew hot, my whole body was aflame, I was feeling a murderous rage overtake me - was the day it would be okay for a black man to run for president tomorrow? A hundred years? Never? – so I walked out to the corridor just outside the door to get some water and calm down. This was the same old shit I was hearing about Barack Obama – seventy years later – when would it ever end?

Back inside, I found my drink and took deep breaths. S. leaned over to me a little later, during a lull in the action on screen. "This movie," she whispered, "is Oprah’s propaganda for Obama. She’s trying to get the country used to seeing smart black people."

"What? How could she have known that he was going to run back then?" I said, before I realized I was talking too loud. Whispering, I continued, "do you know how far in advance they have to plan to do a movie? They were probably putting this together two or three years ago."

"That might be true," S. said, her eyes glowing with the idea of possibly discovering a subliminal message. "But I still think she’s using this movie to try to get the country ready for him. I really do."

I have discovered, over the years, that S. can exhibit an uncanny ability to recognize the hidden motivations of other women, like my co-workers, even if she’s never met them in the flesh. So maybe she was right that night. Maybe Oprah sensed what could be possible for Barack Obama before he did.

In some ways, Oprah and Obama are kindred spirits, with parents who abandoned them, relatives who raised them, a yearning for an answer to the age old question of identity that saw them veer into drinking and drugs, he with the funny name, she with unconventional TV looks, both of them success against improbable odds.

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, Winfrey has become larger than life, her personality and her image suffusing every inch of her tightly controlled empire.

I was impressed back when Oprah went public with her support for Obama's candidacy, knowing full well what kind of demographics her television empire depends on.

Then the fall campaigning began in earnest, and the McCain strategists came roaring out of the gate with a quick left-right-left combination that managed to raise the specter of race, spotlight the scourge of favoritism, and threaten Winfrey's cash flow at the same time.

I was doubly impressed last week with Oprah's unequivocal "no" to hosting a show introducing Sarah Palin to her viewers.

Winfrey's decision about this alleged request from the McCain/Palin camp has riled some of the more vocal members of her audience who frequent her online forums. I am sure there are more than a few McCain/Palin operatives who have registered since Thursday. Whether or not this dissension extends into the ranks of Oprah’s staffers, as it has been insinuated, cannot be determined.

None of these things really matter.

Winfrey has her own "earmark" program. She doesn’t need a lobbyist to go to Washington to see if he can “bring home the bacon”. She simply turns to her own bacon factory and hands out a few slabs.

How much bacon? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million dollars worth a year.

Oprah's money has been doled out generously here in Atlanta, with millions donated to Morehouse College alone. Her sense of decency compelled her years ago to buy a couple of adjoining high rise condos in Buckhead, Atlanta’s high rent district, combine them into one unit, and make it available to Coretta Scott King, where King lived until she died.

Most of the women who will rage on the internet for the next few days about how unfair Oprah is, about how betrayed they feel, will take her back, because there is no where else to go to get the kind of upscale, no nonsense empathy that her show provides for this particular kind of middle aged woman. There will be some in the media, who have never really contemplated before the kind of power a billion dollar net worth can give a black woman, who will be become obsessed with the notion that Oprah has gotten "too big for her britches". Or as they like to say down here, "uppity".

These are the same people who will automatically smile for the cameras when you say the word "diversity". The same people who will tell you that "color doesn't matter". That we are on the brink of a "post-racial" society.

Until we do something they don't want us to do.

"Diversity", it seems, stops just short of allowing access to the locus of power. The kind of diversity we rave about today is a purely social act - the large sums of money in this country are still guarded fiercely, the levers of power still wielded by hands that are almost exclusively white.

The act of asking Oprah Winfrey to put Sarah Palin on her show meant there were at least two possible outcomes to the the request. If the response McCain's strategists allegedly wanted was one they were unwilling to accept - i.e., the "wrong answer" - then they weren't really asking a question to begin with.

They were telling her what to do.

The time for real diversity, for real equality, the kind that can accept the decisions that are made when brown-skinned hands hold the levers of power, is right now.

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Anonymous said...

the screeching that oprah "refuses" to have palin on her show is hilarious given that palin "refuses" to allow the press to ask unimpeded questions.

TruthSeeker said...

This is great! Yes, they were setting Oprah up, and by extension, Obama.

GreenLadyHere said...


Among all the well-stated points, this one resonated with me:
"DIVERSITY, it seems, stops just short of allowing access to the locus of POWER!

Some evidence of this includes the spathe of Vice-Presidents of. . . . ,

Directors of. . . .

Assistant. . . .

BUT, you can believe that you are NOT being trained to assume the PRESIDENCY/CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICE!

I could go on, but, . . . :>) :>)

Thanks for your perspective!! :>)

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