Today at 4pm EST, marks the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show. I cannot believe that it has been 25 years. I started watching Oprah as a very young woman, and I must admit that she has been a constant throughout the years. I have not always agreed with what she has had to say, or the approach that she has taken on many issues, but I cannot deny that she has been an impressive source of encouragement for many, and has represented some of the best of Black womanhood over the years.
I know that critics have pointed out repeatedly that much of the money and gifts that she has doled out over the years, has come from corporations, who were attempting to buy a little cheap goodwill from the public. Even considering this, it would be ridiculous to pretend that the various people who were helped, did not in many cases have a life changing moment. Yes, Oprah is not the paragon giving that she has constructed her public image to be, but the truth is, that for a woman beholden to so many, she managed to do a lot of good. In the end, I suppose it would simply be best to say that for a shrewd businesswoman, she has a good deal of heart. I will however hold her absolutely accountable for unleashing the slut shaming, homophobic, transphobic Dr. Phil on an unsuspecting world.
I remember when White women went into a tizzy, because she refused to have Sarah Palin on her show before the election. Oprah held fast saying:
"At the beginning of this presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates. I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over."As a WOC, I was incredibly impressed by this because White women have long claimed ownership of Oprah. In many cases, they have sought to slot her into the mammy role and by this declaration, she loudly sent the message that though they have supported her career, that they did not own her.
There was also the issue with 50 cent and Ludicrous who complained that she did not cater to them. In fact, 50 cent went as far as to call Oprah an oreo - Black on the outside, White on the inside. You see how this works right? A Black woman who dares to not support Black men as they see fit, is suddenly not Black enough. There was no consideration of what their responsibilities to Oprah, or more generally Black women might be, and instead, they decided to use their privilege to demand support. Let's face facts, it is Oprah's show and yet they still felt that they had the right to tell her what to do. This arose from a place of Black male privilege, though I am quite sure that men like 50 cent and Ludicrous would deny that such a thing exists.
These two incidents greatly highlight the tightrope that Black women in the western world must constantly negotiate to get through the day. Both Black men and White women want us as allies when they can profit from the association, but when it is time to return the favor, or simply support our decisions, many suddenly lose interest in a relationship. Black women are not merely stepping stools to advance the agenda of White women and Black men, and Oprah's actions made this very clear.
I also remember the episode that she did when Dr. Maya Angelou appeared to talk about her book, I know why the caged bird sings. Instead of having a reading circle with largely Black women, Oprah had largely White women. As the White women cried and talked about how they related to the book, I remember being so angry that I had to change the channel. I think it is great to expose Black artists and culture to the wider world, though Dr. Angelou did not need this, but that does not mean we should give up our ownership. Dr. Angelou is our shero and the last thing I wanted to hear is the opinion of White women on her work, because no matter how many times they cried, they could not possibly relate to it. I don't play the yaya sisterhood, even for Oprah.
In the end, Oprah emerged as the lone survivor of the talk show wars, outlasting the great Phil Donahue, and the lesser great, Montel Williams, Sally Jessie Raphael, Geraldo Rivera, and finally the dregs: Rikki Lake,Tara Banks and Jenny Jones. For the record, I don't count DNA testing Maury and trailer park fighting Jerry Springer as actual talk shows. She did this with great business acumen, pride, and an extreme amount of class.
No show on television is perfect regardless of who produces it, because it originates in an extremely flawed society, but for what it's worth, Oprah taught Black children to dream and showed them that they have the right to stand up and be counted. What better legacy could anyone ask for than that?
Will you be watching the finale show today and what are your thoughts on Oprah's legacy?