Thomas Paine's Corner
“The other kids were all into black power,” Oprah told the Tribune in the mid-1980s. But “I wasn’t a dashiki kind of woman … Excellence was the best deterrent to racism and that became my philosophy.”
Excellence indeed. Few would deny that Oprah Winfrey has achieved an extraordinary degree of THAT, at least by our society’s warped standards. Witty, articulate, attractive, beloved by tens of millions, and fabulously wealthy, she is the “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” queen of a vast media empire. Oprah is a living embodiment of the American Dream. What is perhaps most inspiring to her genuflecting disciples is that Oprah rose to her stratospheric position of wealth and influence from an impoverished start in a socioeconomic hierarchy still largely dominated by white males.
Oprah Winfrey ostensibly possesses the mythical Midas Touch, a generous spirit, deep spiritual wisdom, and, in the eyes of those blinded by their adoration, the credentials of a saint. Yet despite appearing destined for canonization, Oprah injects heavy doses of infectious pus into the already deeply abscessed wound of the American psyche.
How could anyone who’s noted for having said, “Let your light shine. Shine within you so that it can shine on someone else. Let your light shine,” have such a pernicious effect on our culture?
Let’s “count the ways…with a passion put to use.”
To truly understand the depth of the damage Oprah inflicts on our society, we need to step outside of our bourgeois indoctrination and see her for what she truly represents. Manifesting the Horatio Alger Myth on steroids, Oprah is a wet dream come true for our criminal class of ruling elites sometimes referred to as the plutocracy. She provides them with “irrefutable” and ubiquitous anecdotal evidence which “proves” the idiotic delusion that America is a meritocracy where everyone has a realistic chance of getting rich, if they just work hard enough. The reality is that the richest 20% of US Americans own over 80% of the wealth and the long-term trend has been toward an ever increasing concentration of treasure into a smaller number of strong-boxes(1).
Comfortably administering her dominion from “The Promised Land,” her 42 acre estate near Santa Barbara, CA (which she purchased for a cool $50 million), Oprah surpassed the $1.5 billion mark in net worth in 2006 while earning the tidy sum of $260 million. See what happens when you devote yourself to excellence (and narcissism) instead of “wasting your time” parading about in a dashiki to pursue “ridiculous” ideals like civil rights and egalitarianism? Others did that for her. And now Oprah’s very existence proves that economic inequalities and barriers to upward mobility have been eliminated for all of us, right?
Well, not exactly. Consider that in the United States “the average African-American family has about 60 percent of the income as the average white family…..[and] the average African-American family has only 18 percent of the wealth of the average white family(2).” Meanwhile, in the most affluent nation in the world (in which 12% of the population is black), “Saint Oprah” is the only black billionaire and one of only two blacks to make the Forbes 400.
Despite the innumerable exploitative workings of the capitalist pyramid scheme which enable the obscene opulence of Oprah and her miniscule number of peers (while concurrently damning billions of others to live in varying degrees of economic misery), she certainly has no qualms. In fact, she gushes about her unconscionable accumulation of treasures. From the 4/11/06 People Magazine article, Oprah Winfrey: Wealth Is ‘A Good Thing:’
[Speaking in Baltimore on Monday at a fundraiser for Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Winfrey told the audience, “I have lots of things, like all these Manolo Blahniks. I have all that and I think it’s great. I’m not one of those people like, ‘Well, we must renounce ourselves.’ No, I have a closet full of shoes and it’s a good thing.”
Winfrey, 52, who is reportedly worth more than $1 billion, said she doesn’t feel guilty about her wealth. “I was coming back from Africa on one of my trips,” she said. “I had taken one of my wealthy friends with me. She said, ‘Don’t you just feel guilty? Don’t you just feel terrible?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t. I do not know how me being destitute is going to help them.’ Then I said when we got home, ‘I’m going home to sleep on my Pratesi sheets right now and I’ll feel good about it.’ “(3)]
The Oprah mystique affords her and her fellow members of the opulent ruling class a potent psychological weapon (which they wield like a cudgel) to sustain their cultural hegemony, thus perpetuating their virtual monopoly on the wealth and power of the US. And be it conscious or otherwise, Oprah has betrayed her own race and class by shilling her core philosophy that “not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” While personal responsibility is undeniably important and human beings do have the potential to pull themselves out of difficult circumstances (i.e. abject poverty), for every Oprah who “makes it,” there are tens of millions, regardless of race, who work tenaciously and are never able to overcome the tremendous barriers erected by the ruling class. Yet Ms. Winfrey would have us believe that if she can do it, anyone can. And if you don’t, just what the hell is wrong with you?
Aside from the significant impediments that face all US Americans (excepting those who are born into our de facto aristocracy and can rise to the top regardless of how lazy, depraved, and ignorant they may be—think George W. Bush), many blacks face nearly overwhelming structural barriers which keep them mired in chronic destitution.
Thanks to the courageous efforts of civil rights activists, institutionalized and overt racism are fading in the United States. However, Oprah’s very existence as a black billionaire and the “you can do and be anything you want if you work hard” pseudo-wisdom she so gleefully dispenses to the masses would indicate that America’s poor (and its impoverished blacks in particular) no longer face incredibly long odds as they employ vigorous efforts to improve their socioeconomic conditions.