Oprah made the evening news tonight in Boston, days after she visited New Hampshire. It was odd timing, because I’d been thinking about Oprah since she brought her “dog and pony” show to NH to stump for Obama. I don’t care about her politics. She’s a citizen and has a right to her opinions – she even has a right to voice her opinions. But something about the way it was done bothered me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
The news report was about the backlash Oprah has had from her viewers who are not impressed with her political self. They shared some of the e-mails in the report. But it was what the reporter said that caught my attention. She stated that many were upset because they felt Oprah was bringing more attention to the separation between the races than any progress made since Dr Martin Luther King. Of course, she denied any such thing and perhaps she is even unaware of how it looks from the outside. She sat down with her good friend Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America to discuss it this morning.
But what I have realized recently is that Oprah does indeed see the world in terms of black and white. No shades of gray – or should I say shades of brown or red. I have watched the Oprah show when I’ve been home for most of the time it’s been on. It dawned on me lately that when you look at her audiences, they are almost completely black or white. There are few Oriental or Native American or Hispanic audience members shown. The same holds true for her guests. It is rare that you have minorities other than African-Americans.
So what, you say? Maybe it doesn’t matter – but maybe it does. There are issues that she discusses but not with those who may be most effected by them.
I have a special concern for Native Americans, especially those who live on reservations, as you can easily see if you read my blog on a regular basis. I have made friends with a number of Lakota individuals. I don’t claim to be any expert. But I have visited Pine Ridge Reservation and I’ve traveled through the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. I know what I’ve seen and heard about.
Oprah has had shows on topics that effect many Native Americans but has not once pointed out how severely they are impacted by the issues. Examples? Sure!!
- Health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. Diabetes is a huge problem among the Indian population, bigger even than in the black population. Why doesn’t she find a “Dr Oz” who can address these problems?
- Poverty. I grew up small town poor and I’ve seen “city poor” but I didn’t know poor until I visited the reservation. At least, poor in terms of the basics in life – food, housing, clothing, etc. Certainly not poor in terms of family and friends. Oprah just re-aired the show she did about the 50 homes she built with her “Angel Network” in Houston, TX after Hurricane Katrina. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have helped them. But those folks were devastated by a catastrophic weather event. Many on the reservation are born into “third world” conditions and live that way much or most of their lives. There are people living in the middle of wind-swept South Dakota with holes in their homes, no money for heating fuel, no insulation in their homes and insufficient food. Who speaks for them?
- Domestic violence. Sexual assault. The Native American population has the highest rate of any group for domestic violence and sexual assault. Even Amnesty International has addressed the issue. But it isn’t an “issue” for the women who are more likely than not to be assaulted or abused. It’s reality. It’s a reality that needs to be addressed – an awareness that needs to be raised nationwide. If not Oprah, then who?
- Drugs and alcohol. Again, these are problems that hit the Indian population in very high numbers – even on a “dry” reservation like Pine Ridge. I’ve known folks who have had their food stolen by other family members so the family members could sell the food to get booze money. That’s addiction! Meth has made terrible inroads on the reservation. Never mind “A Million Little Pieces” – how about kids who never get the pieces put together because of addicted adults?
- Teen suicide. The rate of teen suicide on the reservation is the highest in the nation. It’s not difficult to see why – all the adult problems don’t do much to breed hope in the young. Lack of hope is something Oprah likes to talk about – and giving people hope is something she says is important to her. Then why not address a problem that is the biggest in the country? Is the minority too small?
- Joblessness. The jobless rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is about 80%. What more can I say?
- Health care access. Good care is miles away with no transportation.
- Prejudice. Maybe it’s because I was raised “color-blind” (my white grandparents had black friends in the 50’s, when it wasn’t common) or maybe it’s because I live in “liberal” New England (liberal but frugal) – but I really had not experienced prejudice directed at someone I knew until I visited South Dakota. But I saw it first hand – poor service in a restaurant with looks of disdain, kids being shadowed in the department store – small things to be sure, but they certainly made an impression on me. How much more for the children who are raised in that atmosphere? I know Oprah says she fights prejudice. But I also saw the way she “visited” the Navajo Nation on her cross-country road trip. It did nothing to bridge that gap. It’s not okay to fight for the rights of one minority but ignore the others.
I am not saying that Oprah has not accomplished much in her years on TV. She has. I think she is a bit short-sighted or, as I said before, she thinks in terms of black and white rather than the full spectrum of color.
I say these things because she has accomplished so much. These problems exist right here in the United States. No one talks about them and when someone like me speaks up, most people don’t listen.
But people listen to Oprah. Just ask Barack Obama!