Powerful. Unarguably the essence of how the world would describe Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah is indeed an inspiration to women. Born into poverty, victim of sexual abuse, being the antithesis of the typical European standard of beauty, yet becoming a television phenomenon, having a distant relationship with her family, and overcoming it all to become one of the most influential women to ever live. That is one hell of a success story. Through Oprah, black girls and black women see tangible proof that anything, everything is possible with a vision, strong work ethic, persistence and determination. And for that reason I love what Oprah represents.
Once again Oprah has done the unthinkable. On January 1, at 12:00 p.m., the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) debuted, estimated to reach over 80 million homes. Through the shows “Master Class,” “Ask Oprah’s All Stars,” “Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love,” “Enough Already! with Peter Walsh,” and “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman,” viewers are encouraged to live their best life. In an interview with Susan Casey, Editor-in-Chief of O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah admits creating OWN because of her frustration with the atrocious state television is in today with all the “trash TV.”
I’ve always believed that that was what the fame was for, so that people would pay attention. For me, though, it’s been equally important that once they’re paying attention, you have something meaningful, worthwhile, and of substance to say to them—you’re not just yakety-yakking.
In recent years I started to feel that, Gee, television has lost its mind. There’s no mindfulness there anymore. You used to be able to watch shows and come away with something—like with my favorite program growing up, “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Television doesn’t make me feel good. There’s nothing about it that makes me feel good. I literally do not have it on at any time in my personal space, be it in the office, be it in my makeup room. If I walk in and it’s on, I will say, “Turn it off,” unless it’s something I need to know or need to hear. I just won’t have it.
While I applaud Oprah for her accomplishments and purpose behind creating OWN, I cannot turn a blind eye to the lack of representation of black women.
Despite Oprah’s bff Gayle King hosting “Gayle King Live!,” a TV version of her XM Satellite Radio show, black women are almost non-existent. I don’t knock Oprah for participating in nepotism by giving King a show; it is after all her best friend. But King as the token black woman on the network does very little in regards to serving as an outlet for and about black women.
Although Jay-Z, Maya Angelou and a few non-celebrity blacks will be featured on a few episodes, there is nothing tailored to fit the unique lives of black women. Not only would programs structured for black women be beneficial and relatable to all ethnicities, but it would have given Oprah’s largely white middle class demographic an opportunity to empathize with our plight, to recognize we want the same things as women worldwide, to understand black women are making major moves professionally, and there are countless black women shattering glass ceilings.
Oprah’s network missed an opportunity to shine a positive light on the forever marginalized and vilified- black women.
In all fairness, Oprah handpicked a black woman, Christina Norman, as CEO of OWN. And I respect that. But it almost makes the impact of a clinched fist blow feel harder when both the CEO and owner of the new network are black women, and neither of them felt passionately enough about creating something, at least one show, for us by us.
Is it fair to expect Oprah to reach back a hand to elevate black women and black men through her network? It probably is an unrealistic expectation for the woman who has never built a racially conscious platform in her 25 plus year career. Sure she was the pocketbook behind productions such as “Color Purple,” “Women of Brewster’s Place,” “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” but her decision to adapt those classic pieces of literature to film probably had more to do with them being epic literary works than anything else. And perhaps her network employs droves of black writers, producers, directors and cinematographers behind the scenes.
Just maybe Oprah will surprise viewers with “Your OWN Show,” a competition like reality show where contestants compete for their shot of having their own show, by choosing someone of color. But my optimism is low on the odds of that happening. Maybe it is misguided for me, and others, to expect anything of Oprah.
But that doesn’t keep me from wishing that one of the most powerful women in the world, who happens to be black, wouldn’t at least shine a light on the brilliance and achievements of black people that is overlooked far too often.