One thing I’ll say about Oprah Winfrey is that she does not shy away from the discussion of race like so many black folks in her tax bracket…er, well, at least close to her tax bracket anyway.
Not too long ago, the queen of all media caused an international stir when she discussed an incident of shopping while black where she was denied proper service while looking at a $38,000 Tom Ford purse at an upscale boutique in Zurich. In the same month, she had the conservative blogs in a tizzy over comments she made in an interview with Anderson Cooper, about whether or not race played a role in George Zimmerman shooting Trayvon Martin, to which she responded, “Hellz Yeah. Duh!” Okay, I lied. What she really said was this:
“A lot of people, they think if they’re not using the N-word themselves, they actually, physically are not using the N-word themselves and do not have, harbor ill will towards black people, that it’s not racist. But, you know, to me it’s ridiculous to look at that case and not to think that race was involved.”
Then last week came reports of another interview in which Winfrey talked about racism, more specifically how not a single black person has risen above its hateful and destructive glare – not even the literal H.N.I.C also known as Barack Obama. According to the BBC, Oprah said, “There’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs in some cases and maybe even many cases because he’s African American,” she said. “There’s no question about that. And it’s the kind of thing no one ever says, but everybody’s thinking it.”
Right on, Oprah! For all the chatter and gossip about Winfrey’s lack of consciousness when it comes to race-talk in America, it certainly appears like she has no problem with calling out every single bit of it – even when she technically doesn’t have to. In the same interview she also had this to say:
“There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.”
And that is where she kind of lost me.
I kind of get what she’s saying: The United States of America was founded largely on racist principles, specifically the institution of slavery and the alienation of Native American tribes and thievery of their lands. And since its inception, the country has gone to great lengths to ensure that brown folks of all ethnicities are marginalized in society. Like it or not, racism is as American as apple pie and the thought that it will ever stop abiding by anything other than what its founders had intended does not seem naive.
But the idea that waiting out racism as a course of action to bring about a more just and equal society just seems defeatist. For one, they will never die. Because just like us good, non-racists folks, the bigoted generation that marinated in all that prejudice and racism can and did procreate. And odds are that they passed and will pass the same sort of mental dysfunction down to the next generations of little bigots. Like this mother, who thought it would be cute to dress her kid as a K.K.Klan member for Halloween based upon “tradition”; Or this future leader of tomorrow’s now viral rant about those annoying hordes of Asians with “poor manners” at UCLA; Or this genius here, who while probably closer to Winfrey’s age, is trying to build an all-white town in North Dakota so that all the little racists can live together in perfect Aryan supremacy harmony. To re-conceptualize the words of the late great comedian Robin Harris, racists don’t die, they just multiply.
I remember being a little brown-skinned girl in the Philadelphia public school system in the ’80s, listening as my elementary school teacher gave a presentation for Black History Month on who else but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We didn’t learn about Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War or his condemnation of U.S. policies, which help create the poor. Instead, our teacher, a young and overly-enthused white woman still high off of her foray into the inner-city school system, taught us from the pages of King’s more racially harmonious speeches and told us about this colorblind utopia our generation was going to bring about. More specifically, how our diverse generation, with our interracial games on the playground and shared love for New Kids on The Block and M.C. Hammer were the cure all to the nation’s problems. “Racism is really part of America’s past now and you guys are proof. By the time you all grow up, everyone is going to be even mixed up and you’ll see a change in society,” she said.
Being young and impressionable, my whole class soaked up that nonsense like a sponge. Many moons later, my ambitious teacher was right that folks are indeed slightly more “mixed” up racially than we have been before, however, folks are still pretty much racist, a point especially made after the election of the first black president. Likewise, the political, social and economic conditions of the historically marginalized have stagnated, if not become even worse. Clearly, waiting for the racists to sober up, breed out or die off is just not working. Nope. Addressing racism has to be intentional, and it needs to be called out and shamed. It has to come by way of righting past wrongs and ensuring that the system does create new ones. But ignoring racism will never make it die out, instead, it just gives it an unchallenged and unchecked platform to fester and breed into normalcy–like the Tea Party.