Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oprah's Utterly Inoffensive Remark

In the post "nappy-headed ho" media frenzy over anything with the mere mention of race, a considerable fuss has been made about a comment that Oprah Winfrey repeated in a commencement address over the weekend. Oprah recalled her grandmother's advice that she find "some good white folks" to work for, people who would take care of her and treat her well; Oprah regrets that her grandmother didn't live to see that she now has "some good white folks" working for her. Joe Scarborough, on Monday's Scarborough Country (MSNBC), joined with guest Steve Adubato in characterizing Oprah's comment as "racially insensitive" (or worse). However, a sober and sensible analysis of the remark shows that it was nothing of the kind.

Very simply, in the generation of Oprah's grandmother, for most African-American women in places like rural Mississippi, the highest status to which they could reasonably aspire was to work for a kind and generous employer, which most likely meant a white person or a white family. Her grandmother hoped Oprah would reach that level, but wouldn't have dreamed that she would become one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in America. Oprah was simply celebrating the fact that she has become (by most accounts) a kind and generous employer herself. She was not putting down her white employees, nor even casting them in racial (much less racist) stereotypes; she was only drawing attention to the fact that in only two generations the "ceiling" for a black woman has been raised almost beyond comprehension.

There's still plenty of racism in America today, but Oprah's comment was anything but an example of it.

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Update: I have included the Oprah quote in its context, in the comments on this thread.