If you didn’t have a chance to witness the truly inimitable Oprah’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes last night, watch it, read it, and let her wisdom wash over you. I recommend doing this several times a day. The power of her words does not need be restated here; I only can say that I now wear their warmth and their strength around me like armor.
Oprah Gail Winfrey is a force undeniable and this speech—its elegance, its eloquence, its wisdom—reminded us all exactly why. She might have been off the air for a few years now but her ability to electrify a room and empower us at home through the screen remains simply unmatched. Doesn’t the world feel a little bit different today? A bit brighter, full of just a little bit more hope? And as the praise rushes in this morning, one question arises above all the rest, shouldn’t this extraordinary example of a woman be our next president?
Let me just say up front, I love Oprah. Like, I really do. Forbidden to change the channel, I watched episodes of Oprah everyday after school at my grandmother’s house on the tiny TV mounted in the corner of her kitchen as I waited for my mom to come home from work. While I may not have taken my viewing that seriously when I was a kid, in a lot of ways—many of which I didn’t realize myself until last night— The Oprah Winfrey Show was my introduction to so much of the world and as such significantly shaped my worldview. So that said, I’m not going to deny that if Oprah ran for president I wouldn’t absolutely be on the front lines campaigning for her. Like, Oprah 2020 hats, buttons, stickers, sweatshirts kind of campaigning. Like, approaching you on the street with an IPad asking for donations kind of campaigning. Standing in line at polling station on voting day would feel like the highest honor. But the question isn’t really whether or not we want Oprah to be president (because anyone in their right mind would), but do we as a country deserve her?
The idea that we can ask Oprah to be our next president emerges out of the cultural trend that publicly deifies black women while systematically and structurally denying us access to the full reaches of our humanity. Consider the posthumous praise and honor bestowed now upon Erica Garner (may she rest in peace and power), even as the justice racist police violence forced her to spend her life fighting for remains unserved. Consider Beyoncé being invited to last years Grammy’s to perform music from her heart shaking album for their ratings and profit, only for the Album of the Year to inexplicably go to Adele instead. Consider the savior status bestowed upon the 98% of black women who showed up to vote against pedophile Roy Moore in Alabama, a narrative that distorts the fact that these votes weren’t about saving the world but protecting themselves from this world that has never had black women’s interests at heart. Consider a history of black women giving their all to a country and a culture only to be discarded time and time again.
Black women are gods, saviors, protectors; we are a resource to be tapped into. We are mules carrying this country on our backs. This country depends on us—our talent, our style, our vernacular, our labor, our thoughts, our activism, our strength— and leaves us nothing to depend on ourselves. We strive, we persist, and we succeed but we do it all without resources, without platforms, without capital, without the human rights we deserve based on our existence alone. Everything we do gets done directly in spite of a system designed to keep us confined to the margins. Consistent glorification of our triumphs made in defiance without any acknowledgement of the forces we are, in fact, defying is nothing more than a useless and hollow performance of wokeness that translates into nothing, brings on no change, inspires no action. Idolization is just another form of dehumanization.
Asking Oprah to run for president is a recognition of her intelligence, her kindness, her resilience. There is no denying that she is the exact kind of person we’d all want to see more of in politics. But in calling her in post-Trump, as some form restorative justice is a copout, a shirking of responsibility, and a disservice to her legacy. It’s not that Oprah couldn’t be president but that she shouldn’t have to be. This woman has spent her entire adult life and career giving; I think she is entitled to her garden and her dogs and her peace. After all, it wasn’t black women who made this mess. If you were really inspired by Oprah’s speech last night, your next step is to stop treating black women like avengers you can invite into the conversation only when white people need to be saved from their own mistakes considering that we’ve already contributed one-thousand times more than our fair share. Ask yourselves not what more can Oprah do for us, but what you can do to be more like Oprah. Consider her words a call to action get involved, get educated, give your time, and give your money. Hire black women, support black women, listen to black women, uplift black women. Instead tapping Oprah in for a last-minute clean up job, try to save yourselves for once.
In the words of black feminist poet Audre Lorde, black women have “too long been expected to be all things to all things to all people and speak everyone else’s position but our own.” I quote this to say to my fellow black women and girls that ‘time’s up’ for us too—from now on, we’re saving ourselves.
Words by Chaia.
Images via Google.
Quote from Audre Lorde’s collection of essays & speeches Sister Outsider (which is definitely worth a read if you haven’t already).