by Rev. Irene Monroe —
In the past, Oprah has had presidential hopefuls on her show, for example, Al Gore and George Bush during their 2000 bid. By having both candidates on her show, Oprah not only appeared bipartisan but also catered to her audience comprised of both Bush Republicans and Gore Democrats.
When Oprah endorsed Barack Obama, I was excited to see her publicly take a stance politically, something she had never done before. And the historic nature of this presidential election, in my opinion, demands one from all Americans.
In sharing my elation about Oprah publicly endorsing Obama and going on the campaign trail with him, my friends—white and black, male and female—stated that she helps racialize Barack’s candidacy, especially in light of Obama presenting himself as a post-racial candidate. I debated back and forth with friends that it makes sense that she would endorse him, irrespective of his color, simply because he’s her hometown senator bringing something fresh to the ticket. But my friends argued that Hillary, as the first female candidate, also brought something fresh.
I was quickly told, by dissenting voices, that Obama’s race played a profound role, not only in Oprah’s choice for president, but also in using her crossover influence to win him voters.
I penned “By Dissing Palin, Oprah Hurts Obama” to provoke thoughts about the intersection of race and gender and how political pundits have espoused how white women might very well decide the presidential race.
Has anyone cared to poll how African American women are voting? And how my demographic electorate might too decide the race?
Or is it that women and blacks are categorized such that pollsters and political pundits assume that all women are white and all blacks are male?
An irate reader ignoring the gender issue in my piece sent me this missive:
“Your most recent opinion piece criticizing Oprah for not interviewing Palin — who disagrees with Clinton’s views on almost every issue — has driven me to write. Rather than analyzing why Oprah might not want to give Palin a national forum to spread further lies and her arch-conservative platform, you manage somehow to defend Palin at the expense of Oprah and Obama!”
Sarah Palin on McCain’s ticket no doubt excites Republican women. And just as women for Hillary can arguably assert that their candidate is a first, so too can Palin’s supporters. But invisible in this grab for female voters are black women, an important electorate in this campaign that seems to be overlooked.
Oprah endorsing Obama and not inviting both Hillary and Palin to her TV couch is no doubt her prerogative. But we cannot ignore how her endorsement of Obama has ignited a storm, in my opinion, of angry white women and men, both of whom, out of a sense of white privilege, feel Oprah owes them because of her success.
“ohhhh, what a sad day in oprah land….whites did make you and if you keep spending your white earned money on racists like barack, then you will have to work like the rest of americans, even after retirement…..i never liked her anyway….like Palin said…i am not seeking the medias good word….she darn sure doesn’t need oprah for anything….keep going oprah….bite the white hands that feed you, ” a white male wrote to me.
How much weight do TV celebs really have in endorsing candidates? Are we putting a lot of on weight on Oprah solely because of her influence? Or are we putting extra weight on Oprah because both she and Obama are black and her endorsement conjures up fear in some folks, like my neighbor who said, “Blacks are now taking over!”
An African American male respondent applauded Oprah’s stance for not having Palin on her show but misunderstood mine for raising the issue. He mused,
“What puzzles me is why any woman of color would ever think that white women’s agendas include them. White women have always used and misled black women for social and political gain. I applaud Oprah for finally acting like a woman of color and denying access to those who would grind African-Americans, especially me, underneath their heels! I’m surprised at you for insinuating that Oprah owes so much to white women.”
However, by closing off her TV couch to all the candidates after publicly endorsing Obama, Oprah’s ratings might be impacted. But the real question for me is, “Does white fear, anger, and unease about Obama get transferred unto Oprah because she endorsed him?”
Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”
Recent articles by Irene: