Sunday, April 1, 2007

Hopeful, Yes I am...

Recently, Oprah has decided to invest $40 million out of her pocket to fund the opening of a school for impoverished girls in South Africa. Her decision to open the school, along with a subsequent interview in Newsweek Magazine, has caused quite a bit of controversy. First off, I scoff at anyone who thinks that performing a charitable act to uplift a group of people is wrong. Doing something to better others less fortunate than you does not equal wrong (this is where you imagine two sides of an equation, and in between them is an equal sign with a slash over it. Yeah. That one. I love those). The act itself is right and must not be construed otherwise. Albeit the plan is not perfect, and of course it is easy to poke holes in the administrative aspect of any idea. That being said, I will not in any way disagree with Oprah’s desire to open this school. Rather, I believe her response as to why she built a school in South African instead of one in an inner city neighborhood in the United States represents not only how far removed Oprah is from the plight of black people in the struggle for equality of opportunity, but also indicates the new found political and social conservatism of some blacks after they “get a piece of the pie.”

I’m not sure if Oprah is aware or not, but she does not have boot straps tied to her ankles, and thus did not use them to lift her from a humble upbringing in the Deep South and inner city to the television set of millions of people everyday. Not to take anything away from her or her diligence within the tough and historically racist entertainment industry, but Oprah is not where she is by her choice and her efforts alone. Along her path, I’m sure there was someone who saw something in her, or people like her, and decided to give her a chance to do either what they were able to do, or were not able to do. This is certain. Horatio Alger does not equal Oprah (insert the aforementioned equation). With the historically oppressive system in which we operate, one person will not make or enact change by him or herself. Keeping this in mind, it is completely and utterly damning to echo the exact words from Oprah Winfrey herself:

"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," she says. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

I will agree with the latter part of her statement. I think it is true, but not completely true. Yeah. Kids in inner city schools will ask for iPods, Mikes (gym shoes by Michael Jordan for those of you who don’t know), etc. But I think if you asked that same question to any kid anywhere in America, you would get those types of answers: from Gary, Indiana to Greenwich, Connecticut. Welcome to American Consumerism 101. Children are one of the biggest financial markets in the world. So I don’t believe the desire for material things is unique to inner city schools. In South Africa the kids ask for different things because that is an entirely different culture. They don’t eat their young as Americans do. They are not swarmed with ads (ironically the ones that run during Oprah’s show) which put the value of game console over the value of an educated child. The varying cultures in South Africa and America dictate the responses of all of the respective kids, not just a specific sub-group.

And let’s put the shit on blast because I can’t take much more PC crap. She didn’t come out and say it, and maybe she doesn’t even realize what she is saying. But all this “inner city” talk is underlined with black. And everyone knows it. That’s how she perceives it. That’s how white people who don’t know what they’re talking about perceive it. No, this is not to say all inner city kids are black and attend the public schools. And no, inner city public schools do not have all black populations. But they are overwhelmingly attended by black students. Especially in the city of Chicago, of where Oprah’s show has been filmed for years. Moreover, if she thinks that the black inner city youths are so hopeless, she shouldn’t fault them. She needs to fault the post civil rights generation of parents and adults (of which she is apart of) who have allowed this to happen. She needs to fault their conservative and negative views on the prospects of today’s younger generation.

I can understand when someone like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh makes a blanket statement like this. But it’s a shame when someone who is a product of that environment says something so subconsciously. This is evidence of the alienation and separation Oprah and other blacks of that sentiment (Clarence Thomas, Juan Williams, etc.) feel when it comes to uplift. They are so convinced that what they accomplished is all due to the sweat of their brow, that their success is accredited to how they rolled up their sleeves each morning to fight for what they earned. Oprah has the misconception that the very pool from which she came is no longer capable of producing such talent. As a black man at Yale, I know my presence here was not solely my choice. Although choice played into it, I could very easily be out on the streets, be in prison, or be dead. And statistical rates for black men in America support that. I haven’t achieved one trillionth of the “success” that Oprah has, yet am aware that I'm an example of chance. Oprah’s conservatism and ignorance about her own people will only further those trends. The onus is not on Oprah to solve everything or anything wrong in the black community. However, in her choice to help other needy peoples, she must not turn a cold shoulder to our children. I am not calling for Oprah-dollars, or even Oprah-publicity, but Oprah is responsible to at least deliver hope to children today. Her general disdain for inner city students robbed them of that simple faith and borders treason. Oprah must consider that f the leaders of today are not willing to help contribute to the leaders of tomorrow, the next generation will have to unnecessarily reinvent the wheel.


Anonymous said...

Who are we to tell Oprah what she can or can not do with her money or what her attitude should be towards black kids in inner city schools. It's her money and her mind and she can do whatever she wants with it, and if we don't like it then we shouldn't support her, by buying her products or by watching her show. I don't agree with her mindset but why does teh black community feel that she owes more to inner ciity black kids than kids in South Africa. They're both needy. Also it's not like her show or her magazine are geared specifically towards the Black community. So one can't say that she used the black community and is now investing in another group.

Jarrett said...

I don't think she owes any more money or any financial aid towards black inner city schools. That's not at all what I called for. I would never tell someone what to do with their money. But she does NOT have the right to say "they don't have the sense to learn." That's just not true and in my mind, that is what is most egregious here. I don't care that she doesn't visit the schools anymore; she just can't say that it's because they don't want to learn because that's completely wrong. It's a golden rule: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." That rule should especially be obeyed when referring to children. Her comment reflects the nihilistic state which her generation helped imbrue on the students in the first place.

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