Oprah: A Lesson in Self-Promotion

Last week, news broke that Oprah Winfrey had experienced racism at the hands of an Italian store clerk while shopping in Switzerland. She simply chalked up the incident to prejudice, saying, ‘‘I’m in a store and the person doesn’t obviously know that I carry the black card and so they make an assessment based upon the way I look and who I am.” The internet was a buzz about how things like this can still happen to Black people despite a tremendous amount of wealth and mainstream success. After apologies from the store owner and the Swiss tourism board, Winfrey later stated that she regretted mentioning the incident at all. It all seemed a bit familiar. As far back in 2005, Winfrey made similar claims when she wasn’t allowed into a Hermes store after it had closed, and according to the staff, was being organized for a private event. I was surprised I couldn’t find many articles from the sales clerk’s perspective. Though the owner offered apologies, she did add that there was likely a language issue rather than malice on the part of the clerk and after reading an interview in a ¬†German newspaper with the clerk (who wished to remain anonymous), I’d have to say I agree. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that an Italian speaking English might not have accurately conveyed what she meant, but that doesn’t make her a racist. It’s also not so far-fetched to think that Oprah, with a movie to promote, offered up a tasty soundbite to get her name trending. I think it’s terrible it comes at the expense of this woman who feels she needs to hide for fear of humiliation or¬† worse. It’s a shame that someone as learned and as well traveled as Oprah would make the assumption about this woman’s character and exploit her in national and international media.