That’s a bold statement right? Oprah Winfrey is what most people consider to be the epitome of black excellence. She is a rags to riches story and a story of overcoming childhood sexual trauma and poverty to gain extreme wealth which she uses to “empower women” and “give representation to black women in media”. And in a lot of ways that is true. Oprah’s face every weekday on ABC was definitely something that made way for black women in the entertainment industry and journalism. She supports black directors like Ana Duvernay and Tyler Perry. She “gives back to the community”. What’s not to like about Oprah, right? PLENTY. Plenty is not to like about Oprah and her thirty year long career has PLENTY of anti-blackness, misogynoir, and dirtiness; which should honestly be expected. No one gets that rich without playing the game.
Reasons I don’t fuck with Oprah: The semi-comprehensive rant.
Oprah caters to the white feminist gaze. If you need context on what I mean by this please check out my article: ““Aint I a Woman?”- Feminism, the Illusion of Inclusion, and Historic Betrayal of White Women”. The demographic that Oprah has targeted for viewership of her talk show, and for her magazine are white women. Any episode of her show will feature a mostly white woman audience. This is possible because white women have more economic mobility to be stay at home mothers than black women. And in knowing this, Oprah’s show catered to it’s demographic. Being a registered and loud democrat her show was also HIGHLY liberal in its topics.
She was known for asking the hard questions- which in this context means “willing to gaslight and use dog whistle tactics on her black guests”- especially her black women guests.
One instance of this is when she interviewed Toni Braxton after Braxton filed for bankruptcy in 1998. Toni was embarrassed from having found herself in this situation. She was in an abusive record contract with La Face where she was only making $0.35 per album.
For context, La Face also famously fucked over TLC and in 1995 they had to file bankruptcy as well. Toni had FIVE Grammys and had sold over $170 million in records.
With TLC going bankrupt, the conversation on black women artists in the industry and specifically the record label in question fucking black women artists over was a part of public consciousness… for the black community. But for her white feminist, neo-liberal audience, Oprah wasn’t asking questions about why this continued to happen to black women. The specific abuses of this record company were COMPLETELY glazed over. She chose instead to GASLIGHT THE FUCK out of Toni- essentially victim blaming her for being taken advantage of by her record company. She also asked Toni very pointed questions about why the then five time Grammy winner felt like she had the right to spend the money she should have been earning. Toni is noticeably hurt, embarrassed, and confused by the questions and has been vocal about her feelings in that moment. Oprah is trash as fuck for this shit.
In another instance of shitting on a black woman, Mo’Nique has also been vocal about her dislike of Oprah. Mo’Nique worked with Oprah for Precious. Oprah asked permission for herself to interview Mo’Nique’s brother who molested her as a child. Mo’Nique approved, but declined her own attendance, then confided in Oprah PRIVATELY about issues with her mother. It was clear that there was no love between Mo’Nique and her mother. Oprah responded by inviting Mo’Nique’s mother and father on the show and interviewing them as well. She also allowed Gerald to “give his side” and talk about how he was hurt by talking about her abuse at this hand and paint himself as a victim, while her mother and father tell how they’re upset that she talked about this and should’ve been discussed within the family (but they all agreed to come to the show).
Oprah allowed Mo’Nique’s family, and her abuser to gaslight her on national TV. And in the interview, Oprah also acknowledged that she was aware of the beef between Mo’Nique and her mother at the time.
Mo’Nique confronted Oprah about going behind her back and Oprah said she would “check into it” and never called back. Mo’Nique then confronted Oprah the next time they saw each other in person and Oprah issued a half assed apology. Oprah, Tyler Perry, and Lee Daniels then engaged in a smear campaign labeling Mo’Nique as difficult to work with because she was not okay with Oprah exploiting her trauma in ways she didn’t approve. Mo’Nique’s career suffered as a result. Mo’Nique is still fighting the effect this has had on her career and even recently has called out Oprah again about her silence on her Netflix boycott and black women not being paid what they’re worth in Hollywood.
Oprah has been loudly silent recently as well, claiming she’s not going to “meet negative energy where it is”… but she was willing to meet Mo’Nique’s abusers (in more ways than one) and exploit her trauma. TRASH.
Oprah has several problematic business relationships and personal relationships. Her most notable one is with Donald Trump himself. They were so close that Donald Trump once remarked in 1999 that he considered her as a running mate. He even echoed the sentiment in 2015 when he was running. Oprah and Trump have an over 30 year relationship and he has been on her show several times, with the most recent being in 2011. The first known (at least to the indication of my research) appearance of his on her talk show was in 1988. We are now real aware of the kind of vile, racist, sexually abusive, and all around terrible human being he is- but how is Oprah guilty by association if his political views weren’t publicly known until his 2016 presidential run? Answer: Donald Trump has been a racist as long as he’s been a public figure.
Examples of Donald Trump’s historical racism include: being found to discriminate against black renters in the 1970’s, racist treatment of black employees at his hotels and casinos, calling for the death penalty of the Central Park 5 in 1989 (and maintaining that they were guilt in 2016 which is ten years after they were exonerated), stating in 1989 that “well educated blacks have privilege”, blatant racism on Obama’s birth, and this is all before he ever started his political campaign in 2015 with more blatant racism. And this is the man that Oprah gave a platform on her show several times and never inquired about the lawsuits, the sexual assault accusations, nor his political views. And seeing as though he was close enough to her to see her as a potential running mate- I understand why those questions never came up.
Toni Braxton’s Gucci silverware was much, much more important.
Oprah’s Harpo studios have done a lot of work with the Weinstein company. Weinstein is the man behind the co-opting of the #MeToo movement by white feminists. The #MeToo movement was started by Tarana Burke, a black woman who has all been erased from the #MeToo narrative in favor of pretty, white actresses. According to the actresses who have accused Weinstein of assault and harassment, his behavior was no secret. Oprah, as an insider to the business had to have been aware of who this man was and still chose to work with him. Weinstein also used his relationship with and proximity to Oprah to lure in women.
This, of course, is not her fault, but is also easily avoidable by not having a close relationship with a serial sexual abuser.
Proponents of Oprah often times cite her humanitarian efforts as a means to justify her as a “Black leader” or black excellence, but many are not aware that most celebrities only donate what they would have had to pay in taxes, and Oprah, as an incredibly wealthy woman would have to pay A LOT in taxes. Some of her tales of generosity have amounted to serious harm for its recipients. For example- the recipients of the famous car giveaway found that after being forced to pay taxes on the car, it was much more trouble than it was worth and most couldn’t afford to keep it. At her famous, glamorous school in south Africa, tales of her covering up knowledge and inaction of sexual assault being committed there is ripe. It is also notable that on the list of official charities that she has been known to contribute to- none of them are black women specific with the exception of the Girl’s school. As someone who caters to white liberals, I don’t exactly expect them to.
I grew up in Chicago and went to Harper High School for one year before transferring to a private Catholic school on a scholarship. Oprah featured the school on her show in 2006, then followed up in 2010 (the year after I transferred out). Oprah offered no financial aid to the students of Harper High School who she used for trauma porn. The student exchange program started by the show did continue, however, for a few years after she came and left.
Arne Duncan attempted to “turnaround” the school and gave it some funds, but due to the actual socioeconomic issues that were affecting student enrollment, attendance, and motivation never being addressed, mental health services never being addressed or offered, the violence in the outside community never being addressed, and the actual infrastructure of the school continuing to fall into dilapidation- the turnaround failed.
Arne Duncan never saw the turnatound through- he left Chicago to be Secretary of Education for Obama in 2008, the year I arrived at Harper as a student.
As someone who was an actual student of Harper, but came from a private education the year prior and the years after- it feels like a prison.
It is a place that sucks the motivation from even the brightest students. The work was not challenging to me. The services for students who were gifted and motivated like me were limited and I found myself coasting through because the workload wasn’t challenging. I can understand how students with hard home lives, with different educational ability levels, and with different levels of motivation could walk into that prison and never see or want anything more from their education. Having witnessed this first hand and walked away without offering aid is disgusting of Oprah.
Oprah answered questions about the opening of her South African school in 2007 with the logic ”If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.” Her inaction is loud. She met with Harper students who were literally asking for the same standards of education as white suburban children, opened a school elsewhere without providing any resources, then went on her show and said “I believe, just as I know all of you watching believe, that every American child deserves the best school” and encouraged people to go to Standup.com for aid instead. She has no problems with broadcasting the trauma of black children so her white viewers can feel like they helped. She has no problems walking away from the same black children she just exploited without providing them resources, then further going to the media and claiming that the black children in the city she claims as home doesn’t want or deserve them. Fuck Oprah.
And yes- this one IS personal.
In the years since Oprah has ignored the cries for help from inner city Chicago kids for better education- CPS (Chicago Public Schools) has gone on a full scale assault on those same children, closing and targeting schools of children in poor black and latino neighborhoods for closure and forcing them to travel longer distances, into unfamiliar and unsafe territories. This is marked by the CPS “ Safe Passage” program where CPS now pays adults to stand on corners on the new routes to these schools and protect children who are in unfamiliar neighborhoods on their way to school. CPS has announced the closure of ALL FOUR high schools in the Englewood area, Harper will close at the end of this year. This means ALL Englewood high school students will have no high school in their neighborhood.
Oprah had a chance to make a real difference here ten years ago and decided these kids weren’t worth it. It is honestly disgusting. But let Oprah tell it- these kids don’t want or deserve more.
Oprah’s Golden Globes Speech this year was when I had officially had enough of her white feminist, neo-liberal nonsense, and pandering to white sensibilities at the cost of erasing the pain of black women and children. In this speech, Oprah compared the historical sexual and racial abuse experienced by black women and girls (like the assaults she covered up at her school) to this pretty little white elite #MeToo movement (the one that calls out her buddies Trump and Weinstein, and has erased black women like Tarana Burke). Erasure and exploitation of black women and children and our trauma for white feminists to feel some sick sense of Munchausen’s by proxy is honestly repulsive.
Their struggle has never been ours.
Oprah has been recently more on the producing side, giving opportunities to black women in film like Ana DuVernay. Most of Oprah’s credit in the black community come from her acting and producing career on the grounds that she provides representation for black people in media. I have a counter for that as well. How many films has Oprah produced that she did not also star in, thus making them self serving? Of those few- how many were actually targeted to African American demographics? Queen Sugar and Greenleaf have found a home on her network- as has Iyanla: Fix My Life– but with those exceptions- Oprah’s body of work is just more neo-liberal white feminist stories about fighting for white approval and acceptance and furthering the idea that proximity to whiteness is an accomplishment. This is an idea that’s just as damaging to black audiences as lack of representation at all.
Her stories also seem to either be black women trauma porn (on theme) or integrationalist. This is most interesting to me, as her projects that are not geared towards black audiences like The Hundred Foot Journey, don’t have these same themes.
The family of one of her films The Great Debaters is currently suing her- claiming she never paid for the rights to their patriarch’s story. She used her promotional tour for Selma to down talk the young, black, grassroots protesters against police brutality in Ferguson. This is a very stark contrast, considering that she is now offering thousands of dollars to support protesters of school shootings in Florida, whom are also grassroots, but also not mostly black and are also in line with the neo-liberal political agenda.
Between Oprah’s dicey connections in the industry, her respectability politics, her exploitation of black pain, her gas lighting of black women in crisis, and her erasure of black women’s SPECIFIC intersectionality for white women’s gaze and coin- I find no qualms with making the following statement:
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