Oprah Winfrey is a cultural mover and shaker. That much is clear after her historically inaccurate film The Butler, which portrays Ronald Reagan as a doddering racist and ignores the legacy of bigotry of Southern Democrats, finished first last week at the box office. Seventy-two percent of those who went to see the film cited Oprah’s participation as a factor in favor of their buying a ticket. Sadly, Oprah has used that power to push a false racial narrative directly at odds with the racial narrative pushed by The Butler.
First, The Butler’s racial narrative. The movie, as Oprah has said, begins with a lynching in 1926 and ends with President Barack Obama in the White House. The notion is that Obama marks the culmination of a centuries-long movement toward equality for blacks in America, a popular perspective that largely explains Obama’s election in 2008.
Then there’s Oprah’s actual racial narrative. In her view, President Obama remains an exception to a broader racist rule. Trayvon Martin, Oprah says, is just today’s Emmitt Till, murdered in 1955 by the Ku Klux Klan. So what if racism in America is at an all-time low? So what if the vast majority of Americans are not only not racist, but actively anti-racist? That’s not enough for Oprah. “A lot of people think if they think they’re not using the n-word themselves, they physically aren’t using the n-word themselves, and do not harbor ill will towards black people that it’s not racist,” she said in a comment that is as challenged syntactically as it is intellectually.
This is paranoia of the highest sort. And it is absolutely crippling to America’s future. If a huge number of Americans believe that racism that is not present in action nonetheless lurks beneath the surface of our life, waiting to burst forth in a conflagration of hate such as that which allegedly claimed Trayvon, there can be no shared future.
But many on the left, including Oprah, apparently don’t want a shared future. They want emotional blackmail. The corollary to the belief that racism hides in the nooks and crannies of the white personality is the belief that the only way to expunge such racism by embracing the philosophy of people like Oprah. If you see The Butler, you’re buying a racial indulgence; if you vote Obama, you’re buying a racial indulgence. Lee Daniels, director of The Butler, told CBS News that white extras cried during the filming of the movie. Presumably, in his view, that meant they were not racist. But what about all the Americans who will never shed tears over The Butler? How will they demonstrate their non-racism, even if there has never been a shred of evidence that they are in fact racist?
That seems to be the perspective not just of many black Americans like Oprah and Daniels, but the perspective of many in various minority communities. For example, in California, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a law declaring that transgender children must be allowed to enter bathrooms of their choice and join sports teams of their choice. The idea here is that this will minimize bullying, as though most Americans bear children with gender identity issues some sort of ill will. The truth is far simpler: Americans have a right to worry that their children will feel uncomfortable in a bathroom next to someone of the opposite sex, no matter what that person believes him or herself to be. That’s not wrong. That’s normal. But the onus has now been placed on children without gender identity issues to explain why they feel uncomfortable at the urinal next to a girl, even if they’ve never bullied a transgender child.
That’s nasty. More than that, it’s an attempt to shape values by implying that everyone is in need of having their fundamental racism, sexism, homophobia overcome by government action. Americans have nothing left to discuss. America is now a country where whites are often perceived as racist until proven innocent. And the only way to prove yourself innocent is to perform acts approved by the leftist establishment.
None of this helps black Americans. All it does is perpetuate power for those who divide us in pursuit of political gain. Hillary Clinton, who has begun touring the country invoking the supposed racism of voter ID supporters, is merely the latest race hustler to attempt this pernicious trick. Unfortunately, it seems to work. And that means that Oprah’s racial narrative is far more influential than The Butler’s.
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