Oprah Winfrey - Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism

Oprah Winfrey - Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism

When the first episode of her self-titled show aired in 1986, many dismissed Oprah Winfrey as being just another talk-show host, who thrived on human drama and sensationalism; considering that the theme of the show was titled “How to Marry the Man/Woman of your choice”, that assumption can be considered fair. Little did people realize that only a few years later, Oprah herself would be subjected to racial abuse on a now widely-viewed episode, which concluded with surprising results. During an episode which featured the perspectives of Neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klan members, among other factions who endorsed “white power”, an audience member addressed a black woman by calling her a “monkey”. When Oprah asked him if he thought she was a monkey too, given that she was also a woman of colour, the aggressive audience member retorted with, “It’s a proven fact”. He was later ejected from the studio for using profanity and threatening fellow members of the audience. Oprah later stated that she was shaken by the incident, but that everybody was allowed freedom of speech. From then onwards, she continued to include the appearance and opinions of those who held racist perspectives, and often succeeded in getting them to rethink their hate-filled thoughts. Along with shocking the forward thinking audience, Oprah succeeded in bringing forth the issue of racism without actually judging those who insulted her. Her mature stance on the subject was rewarded with an interesting conclusion to the “monkey” episode when the man who racially abused her came back to the show and extended an apology for his comment. Oprah won the admiration and respect of her contemporaries by daring to explore topics which were volatile and controversial, always using her trademark straight forward questions to extrude confessions, opinions and prejudices from her diverse group of guests, who ranged from actors, to musicians, to world-renowned peace activists. She also used her famous Book Club to promote “Night” by Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust who penned his traumatic experiences as a young man under the brutal and bloody Nazi regime in 1945. Wiesel himself appeared on the show and reduced the audience and Oprah to tears as he recounted moments of his life and pleaded for peace in the world, lest the horrors be repeated. As with the $30 million dollars worth of book sales generated by her book club, “Night”, too, reached out to audience members and made record sales after the episode. Oprah has consistently used her influence and wealth to challenge what she believes are racist, sexist, ageist and overall, unfair attitudes. Certain episodes of her show have taken on the challenge of reforming those with ignorance and prejudice in their hearts. A particularly hard-hitting episode involves a young female ageist who claims to “hate” senior citizens because she thinks of them as being useless and ugly. Oprah and her team chronicle the woman’s journey as she is made to live in the shoes of a senior citizen, complete with prosthetic makeup and clothes to make her look old. The conclusion involves a tearful admission of her immaturity along with a new found regard for senior citizens and their struggles. In her own right, Oprah is credited as being one of the first people of colour to have ever hosted a syndicated talk show, a feat which makes her a path-breaker at a time when growth opportunities for African Americans were few and far between. The universal appeal of her show and her own ability to influence billions makes her, according to some reports, more influential and famous that President Obama! Additionally, she keeps opportunities within her own work environment and many charities open to people of all races and colour, adding more credibility to her stance on equal rights on non-discrimination and equal opportunity for all.

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