There is just something about her.
When she speaks, we are entranced. She tells us what she knows, and we believe her. We trust that the impossibility of our lives does not exist because she says so. She has always been that for us. When Oprah Winfrey gave her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes, she gave us what we have come to love from her. She gave us hope and inspiration. As the first Black woman to receive the award, her speech was grounded in affirmation of the Black women we often ignore and overlook. She invoked her mother, grandmother, activist Recy Taylor, domestic workers and other Black women who silently endured abuse and violence because they had families and responsibilities.
Without question, her words were magic — a healing balm.
Instead of appreciating Oprah’s moment for what it was, commentators and fans alike began to frame it as the inception of her political career. “Oprah 2020” hashtags and memes began to dominate social media and, for a moment, the thought was refreshing. To have a person emerge from outside partisan politics and move people to think about the world differently is a desirable aim. It was easy to get swept up in the whirlwind of a possible Winfrey Administration. Her speech brought back memories of a leader unifying us with eloquence and hope. As a country, we miss that.
Yet, this was not Oprah’s first foray into transformative speeches. Those who have closely followed her career knows she exudes a soothing and compelling wisdom every time she is before us. She has always called us higher. Black women know this because she is us. More than anyone else, we know what it has taken for her to become who she is. We know what it means to grow up Black in the segregated South and ascend in a world created to diminish you. We are well aware of what it takes to overcome sexual violence in communities that indoctrinate victims with shame and work to protect perpetrators at our expense. For Oprah to have accomplished all she has as a Black woman in this world has not been easy, and because of her international stardom, Hollywood often tries to erase the fact that she is Black. Thankfully, Oprah does not. As we saw Sunday night, her entire career has been devoted to telling our stories, the ways we have been maligned in American society and have still overcome adversity. Oprah could have participated in what Sterling K. Brown called “colorblind casting,” but she has deliberately chosen roles that put the experiences of Black women at the center. To tell the American story intentionally from the African-American woman’s perspective is risky, but this illustrates Oprah’s abiding love for Black women.
That could possibly be why sisters are cautious when joining the “Oprah 2020” chorus. While the need for a competent president is great, it would seem that Black women recognize how much the call for Oprah to run is grounded in the expectation that we must save the world. We are always called to save the world. Many celebrated the Black women who came out in droves to defeat Alabama senator Roy Moore after sexual assault allegations surfaced. “Let Black women do it” memes populated social media and political pundits discussed the viability of Black women as a voting bloc. Yet, we know that commentary was just empty rhetoric. The way Black women are treated in intimate, communal and structural spaces reinforces how little we are valued. The desire of so many to see Oprah run underscores the belief that Black women’s surrogacy is not only fruitful but essential to American progress. That Oprah would undoubtedly receive votes from the very same White women who elected Trump and be expected to clean up his mess is unconscionable. And, truthfully, Black women know that the system did not just break under this current administration. Centuries of anti-Black legislation and sentiment are embedded within the fabric of American society. But that truth is never taken into account when considering Black women. We are expected to shoulder it all, fix what is broken and love everyone except ourselves — the very things Oprah has been telling us for years to stop.
Should it be Oprah’s dream to be President, may she have our unwavering support. But if it is not, we must halt every attempt to make her “the help” of the highest order.
Quite possibly, the most important question we must ask ourselves when faced with “Oprah 2020” is why? Knowing how invested this country is in anti-Black woman assault, why would we want to subject her to unprecedented intersectional violence? Why would we want her to experience even greater depths of America’s hatred? For eight years, we recoiled and clapped back every time someone came for Michelle Obama. Her physical appearance was constantly picked apart and the attempts to discredit her accomplishments were exhausting. If Michelle could experience that just because of her proximity to the leader of the free world, one can only imagine what America has in store for the Black woman who desires that position. And why would we want Oprah’s hands politically tied and muddied in ways that would prevent her from doing the liberating work we need and love? From putting scores of young Black men through college to creating a school for Black girls, Oprah has sustained her love for us outside of the political sphere. She has amassed a level of status and influence that enables her to literally make dreams come true. I fear what happens to that magic if it gets relegated by political agendas. This is not to say Black women can’t become President of the United States. There are many sisters within the political arena who aspire to the office. They deserve our support and I hope we would rally behind them more than forcing someone else to live a dream that isn’t theirs.
Though we have yet to meet, I know enough about Oprah to know that she’s not going to do anything that she doesn’t want to do. If it doesn’t align with what she understands her purpose and vision to be, it’s not going to happen. She has shown us that much through the years. So, what she does with all the “Oprah 2020” talk remains to be seen. Yet while the world is analyzing her acceptance speech for its political prowess, I am grateful for the nurturing word it was. To Black women, she hasn’t just been this visionary and icon. For many of us, she has been a spiritual teacher and guide along the way. You saw it in the faces of the sisters present at the Golden Globes, who hung on her every word. You saw it while scrolling social media timelines and reading Black women’s reactions. She has been here for us and we have worked to return the favor. We share in her trials and celebrate her triumphs. When we hung too many of our hopes on her, she didn’t fling them off in angst or frustration. She lovingly gave them back to us, through her accomplishments, so we could fully live into our own dreams.
So many people love her and rightfully so; she cultivates light. But make no mistake: the light that radiates throughout this world comes from a Black woman who, on the largest of stages, speaks our name because we are hers. And because she is ours, we will protect her from even the America that claims to love her so.
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