By Jean Baker, MFA student California and columnist
Was Oprah’s recent “Crash Moment” the behaviour of a cynical publicity hound – or just the blind rage of an insecure, overly-entitled, and super-rich celeb?
Oprah is oppressed. Didn’t you know? She recently caused an international incident, claiming that she was discriminated against by an assistant in a store. She claims the clerk told her a purse she wanted to look at was “too expensive” and offered to show her a cheaper one instead. Oprah claimed this happened because she was black. Fact is, the handbag was too expensive – about $38 000 – for a dumb handbag. But perhaps $38k is pocket change to a woman worth $2.9bn.
The store denies any wrongdoing, saying that the conversation didn’t go like that, and that the clerk merely showed her a similar bag in the different materials that happened to cost a lot less and was closer to hand – thinking she was asking for that due to the language barrier. Oprah then walked away from her without correcting the misunderstanding.
Making a fuss
Which sort of makes sense. At 5% commission, why would the clerk snub a customer? “Of course that’s not the case. Who wouldn’t want to sell a purse for 35 000 francs?” store owner Goetz said in response to the Chicago Tribune.
Oprah later apologised for making a fuss. But she took her time.
This is not the first time in recent years that the famous shopaholic has been “racially profiled” at stores in countries where people don’t recognise her. In 2005, she made public statements against fancy pants French store Hermes, who she claimed refused her access because she was black. In truth, it was because the store had closed 15 minutes before she started banging on the door in urgent need of a very expensive watch for Tina Turner’s birthday gift.
And even longer ago (in 1998), Oprah claimed a Texas libel case brought against her by beef farms was a racially motivated attempt to silence her – as if that were even possible. “I will continue to use my voice. I believed from the beginning that (the lawsuit) was an attempt to muzzle my voice, and I come from a people who have struggled and died in order to have a voice in this country. And I refused to be muzzled.” Oprah, that case sounds like a bunch of meat farmers trying to make a buck – not a political conspiracy. Get real!
I don’t doubt that Oprah has been racially profiled in her life… before she was famous. She had a difficult upbringing and suffered terribly, as a woman and as an African American. She rose above those who hurt her and is admired by many for her good works and success. Good for her!
Not ‘one of the people’
But thanks to this success, she’s not “one of the people” anymore. She’s not even one of the middle class – or the upper middle class. She’s now too rich and too famous to experience true oppression (or even normal life). Her claims to it are deeply insulting to those who really suffer racial discrimination, every day, in much cheaper stores, without leaving the country to attend a celebrity wedding in Switzerland.
And let’s just put it out there: I can’t help but wonder if this latest “Crash moment” is really nothing more than a shameless publicity stunt for the film she just starred in. It might be the first time I’ve ever agreed with anything mentioned on Fox “News”.
The Butler – a Hollywood The Help-meets-Forest Gump extravaganza in which Oprah plays a completely invented character of the butler’s alcoholic wife – is killing at the box office. Might be worth it to Oprah, but I figure the shop girl in Switzerland (who went into hiding, her name tarnished) probably needs the money more than Oprah Winfrey does.