Oprah Winfrey’s imminent departure from daytime television has prompted emotional responses from Hollywood, members of the media, politicians, and the general public alike. Many people have even gone so far as to say that television will “never be the same.” To that I say, “good.”
As a young black woman who aspires to a career in media myself one day, Oprah’s accomplishments are tremendously awe-inspiring and motivational. She has blazed a trail, and no one can deny her importance in media, society, and the world at large, but I for one, cannot honestly say that I will miss her.
As I watched Julia Roberts tear up and express how much she will miss “sharing her afternoons” with Oprah and Tom Hanks proclaim that it was “like your favorite neighbor was moving out of the neighborhood”, I could not help but to think, “whose neighborhood?” That brought me to a greater realization. Who exactly are Oprah’s “neighbors”?
A few weeks ago, I watched Rob Lowe on the show promoting his new book. (I still don’t know who in the world that is, or why he is relevant.) He mentioned something about Santa Barbara, where I know Oprah lives, and I wondered if perhaps the two of them might be neighbors. Amidst chatter about the disappointing ratings of her new network, OWN, a friend of mine expressed surprise at how uninteresting the programming was. I immediately questioned her surprise. “Did she find The Oprah Show interesting?”
I actually used to enjoy the Tyra Banks Show because I felt like she addressed the age gap that The Oprah Show tended to miss, but eventually I began to realize that my overall disinterest in the show had very little to do with age. I don’t think that Anderson Cooper 360 is necessarily geared towards 20-something-year-old African American women, yet it is still one of my favorite shows. However, my expectations for Anderson are not the same as my expectations for Oprah are. I don’t see myself when I look at him.
There is a long-standing debate about whether or not African Americans have a primary responsibility to their race in the projects and arenas that they pursue. To that question I would answer, you may enhance the aesthetic quality of a picture by coloring it in, but you didn’t really change it if the image is still the same. Some may ask if/why you should have changed it, but what good is diversity if it is appearance only and not in perspective?
With that in mind, as African Americans it is time that we ask ourselves, “Who was/is Oprah’s audience?” If we ever tried to identify ourselves in the members of her studio audience alone, we would not find very many. My friend then pointed out something that I think is very true. Many African Americans do not support Oprah because we find her interesting or relevant, we support her because of what she represents–the ability of a black woman to gain the respect and admiration of the entire world.
She is like a magician, and her magic touch has long been capitalized upon by every industry imaginable. Oprah says to read a book, the world reads it. Oprah says she likes a product, the world buys it. Oprah says to vote for a candidate, the
world, America anyway, votes. What other black woman–black person period–do we know that has that kind of power? The real question that the upcoming ending of her show brings is, “will another black person be able to make an impact like that again?” There are a few other up-and-coming black female media moguls who would probably like to.
I appreciate The Monique Show because of the way that she highlights African Americans, and people in general, who don’t usually, or who are less likely to get, the recognition that they deserve. I also appreciate her willingness to be exactly who she is and her much more “neighborly” ( my neighborhood anyway) qualities.
Although the demographics of Wendy Williams’ studio audience, at least, might put her in the same category as Oprah– just for the younger set–I appreciate her comedy and her consistency. I’m just not sure that she can speak to (or that she desires or intends to speak to) the more weighty issues that affect society. Either way, I hope that neither Monique nor Wendy loses her essence as she continues to achieve greater levels of success.
While appeal to Black America at large is usually one of the first things to go when African Americans receive extreme levels of success (crossover success), I cannot help but to wonder why our support seems to be so expendable. Still, I hope that Oprah’s exit paves the way for the emergence of new voices–different voices–who are not afraid to speak truth to power and to be themselves in the process.