Commentary: Oprah’s Comments and the Backlash from the Right

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Oprah Winfrey attends a dinner in honor of the Medal of Freedom awardees at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Commentary: Oprah’s Comments and the Backlash from the Right

Oprah Winfrey’s statement that President Obama faces racism seems reasonable enough – but not to the country’s right-wing.

Published November 21, 2013

It was a perspective that seemed thoroughly reasonable.

In a recent interview in London, Oprah Winfrey responded to a question asking whether she believed President Obama is the object of incivility and racism as America’s first Black president.  Winfrey responded by saying that, from her point of view, that was patently true.

"I think that there is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs,” she said. “And that occurs in some cases and maybe even many cases because he is African-American. There's no question about that and it's the kind of thing nobody ever says but everybody's thinking it."

After watching a series of behavior toward this president that can be described as impertinent at best and racist at worst, America can only conclude that Obama has had to deal with some pretty shoddy treatment.

Winfrey pointed out the time that Obama was heckled by a Republican congressman during the president’s state of the union message. But the list goes on, from the determined efforts to portray Obama as a foreign-born, Muslim socialist or even communist to outright racist tweets and obstruction to the president’s selection of judicial nominees.

It didn’t take long for the backlash to form. And it has come out with strong condemnation, most notably from Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio personality and perpetual Obama hater.

"But Oprah, if Black people in this country are so mistreated and so disrespected, how in the name of Sam Hill did you happen?” Limbaugh asked. “If there is a level of disrespect simply because he's Black then how, Oprah, have you managed to become the at-one-time most popular and certainly wealthiest television personality?"

How on earth does that address Winfrey’s comments?

Elisabeth Hasselback, the conservative Fox News personality, offered an equally disjointed critique.

“Throwing around racist accusations, calling someone a racist certainly for disagreeing when they are indeed not, would undermine racism when it does occur,” Hasselbeck said.

To Limbaugh’s assertions, Winfrey’s suggestion doesn’t negate the presence of racism. One person’s success doesn’t negate the presence of racism. Madam C. J. Walker was a millionaire entrepreneur at the same time that African-Americans were regularly being lynched in the early part of the 20th century. Entrepreneur A. G. Gaston was one of the richest men in America, at the same time that Black students faced hostility seeking to enter public universities in Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960s.

These pundits and commentators will never admit the reality of the hostility toward Obama. It meets the red-meat needs of their audience of older, conservative zealot Americans. But, as Oprah Winfrey pointed out, the ranks of that demographic group is headed toward extinction as time moves along and a more multi-racial progressive nation emerges. That is indeed the silver lining accompanying the very hostile cloud that Limbaugh and his colleagues inhabit.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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