Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't cry for Oprah

By now you’ve heard of the Oprah Winfrey flap in Zurich, Switzerland.  Oprah alleges she dropped into a chic boutique to have a look around.  When she asked to see a $42,000 handbag behind the counter, according to Oprah, the clerk told her she couldn’t afford it.  The clerk has gone public with her side of the story saying she actually offered to show Oprah the bag but she didn’t want to see it.

The insinuation is that Oprah was discriminated against not only because she’s black but because she’s a plus-size woman.  The incident has brought to the fore once more the issue of discrimination.  Oprah has a history of sort of playing the victim.  It’s rather hard to swallow from a woman who’s worth over $3 billion.

It does raise another issue, however.  Regardless of what really happened in Zurich, people do still judge other people by appearances.  It’s a fact of life that’s not likely to change anytime soon.  The question is really not how you change it but how you respond to it.

I’ve actually been in a black bar where I found it hard to get service.  I suppose I could play the victim but I find such a role unbecoming.  As we stood at the bar watching the bartender take orders from other patrons acting as if we were invisible, my brother asked, “Can a white man get a drink in here?”  I felt as though I was in the nightclub scene from “Animal House” but that simple statement broke the ice and the bartender, who moments before acted as if he’d rather we not be there, was in stitches.  The other black patrons around us broke up laughing and from then on everything was fine.

My point is a lot of people will face discrimination in their lives.  The real test is in how you react to it.  I find it odd that Oprah sat on her alleged discrimination story for almost a month until the week of the premiere of her new movie, “Lee Daniels: The Butler.”  Coincidence?

There’s no doubt that black folks in this country have been subjected to ungodly discrimination and worse throughout the history of this nation.  There’s also little doubt that this is no longer 1955.  I would suspect if I dropped into that little boutique in Zurich wearing my usual garb of Diamond Gusset Jeans and Polo shirt the lady behind the counter would probably assume I couldn’t afford a $42,000 handbag either.  In my case she’d be right.

In an interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” Oprah said the Zurich sales clerk didn’t “obviously know that I carry the black card,” referring to the American Express Centurion Card.  AmEx is mum on the exact number of people who have one but rumor is you have to charge at least $250,000 a year to get one.  Needless to say, that leaves most of us out of the club.

It’s really hard to feel sorry for a woman who’s listed by Forbes as the richest celebrity in the world.  Not to take anything away from Oprah.  She is 100 percent self made and that’s something to be celebrated.  Regardless of inferior service in Zurich, she’s certainly not to be pitied.

Oprah has lived the American dream like few others ever have.  Whatever discrimination she’s had to endure in her life has obviously not held her back.  That’s the teachable moment in all of this.  Oprah had a chance to make the point that you can’t let other people, no matter how bigoted, stand in your way.  She blew it.

Phil Valentine is the host of the award-winning, nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Phil Valentine Show.

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