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Let me say from the outset that there are a lot of things I admire about Oprah. Her tenacity in overcoming abuse as a child, enduring the trauma of having her innocence taken by a rapist and her ability to inspire others who struggle with insufficiency and demons are all worthy of accolades. However, Oprah does not walk on water. You would think otherwise given the rave reviews she is getting and the way she is being celebrated as a courageous truth teller who is speaking up for the least among us. Let me thus take this occasion to fill in the gaps in the fawning reception of Oprah’s speech and speak from the blank white spaces at the edge of print.
I’ll admit in advance that Oprah’s speech was fantastic! I was moved last night listening to her cadence and emphatic rebuke of powerful men who leveraged their status to repress their subordinates and treat women as sexual objects they feel entitled to conquer. Her soaring rhetoric and the way she raised and lowered her timbre was a stroke of genius! Oprah owned the room as she panned left to right to address everyone in attendance and her adoring public. Anyone who wants to know how to speak publicly should forever study the speech that Oprah gave last night and practice her delivery. I have not been that moved by a speech since Obama’s “Yes We Can” rally.
That is when it dawned on me and I was brought back to reality. Oprah’s speech was not some act of fortitude nor was it a proactive stance against injustice. She is championing an issue retroactively; she and the rest of the Hollywood elites who feign outrage about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and the rest of the brutes in the entertainment industry are jumping on bandwagons and finding their voice after the fact. I want to cut her some slack, I really do. Seriously, who among us would risk losing fortunes and being blackballed in order to speak truth to power? The tyranny of Joseph McCarthy almost looks quaint compared to the ruthless ways of Hollywood executives who use their influence to blacklist anyone who does not acquiesce to their demands. Dave Chappelle is prime example of what can go wrong when one dares to question the despots of Bel Air. Yet, the minute I considered giving Oprah a pass, she started to speak about the era of injustices we live in as she shrewdly positioned herself against the idiot in the White House. In the process, she started to defend the very establishment that was giving cover to the culture of rape and harassment that has shrouded Hollywood and Washington DC for decades. Mainstream media journos and pundits knew about Harvey Weinstein for more than two decades, hell some of them were on his payroll. These are her words as she stuck up for the “free press”:
We know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To—to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies.
This is the media that Oprah was shielding from criticism as she placed blame at the feet of Donald Trump without mentioning his name. What absolute truth were the hacks at the Washington Post and New York Times covering? The same mainstream media that lied us into wars in Iraq and Syria are the ones who gave cover to Harvey and his band of rapey men. Listening to Oprah’s speech last night would lead you to believe that all the ills of the world started on January 20th, 2017. I realized at that exact moment that Oprah was not giving a speech of reconciliation, she was laying out the foundation for a 2020 run at the White House. You know, because the best way to overcome the cult of personality that is Trump Inc is to have another cult of personality of our O.W.N.
For her narrow presentation of injustice, Oprah is being treated as the 21st century Sojourner Truth. We are a society so conditioned to fawn over the rich and famous that few question their sincerity. For the record, Oprah’s speech was written in advance and she was reading from teleprompters. Why does this matter you say? Because I’m sick and tired of canned speeches from practiced politicians who have perfected the art of delivery and well timed applause lines. I mentioned Barack Obama earlier for this exact reason, reading from teleprompters makes one a great actor not a great leader. Pitch, tone and pausing for effect has nothing to do with wisdom, heart and courage. What Oprah pulled off last night was a great act of playwrights—heavy on style but skim on substance.
The reason that the mainstream media pundits and talking heads are throwing rose petals at her feet is because Oprah used her massive influence and appeal to defend a profession that has driven itself into the gutter. Corporate “journalists” love to play victim and moan about how they are maltreated by Donald Trump and the wider public. What they leave out of their analysis is that it was mainstream media that wrought us Trump; they lavished him with earned (free) media and presented him as the radical alternative to an electorate that was either fed up with brand Obama or lost their enthusiasm for the First Bank President. Our society is in the gutter of sensationalism and outlandishness because mainstream media is steadily blowing oxygen on the fire of obnoxiousness that they keep creating. Oprah could have used her stature to admonish corporate journalists and reporters to grow up and report news that edifies instead of peddling bunk for the sake of clicks and retweets.
More importantly, Oprah could have used speech to be a voice of reconciliation. Instead, she chose to perpetuate the “us versus them” paradigm that is tearing at the seams of our nation. I say this with all sincerity from my heart, I really do consider myself a feminist. The patience and guidance of women is what is needed to deliver us from the alpha traits of ego and pride that is consuming our world into the pits of war and violence. But even I—someone who solemnly prays for the day women would take the helm of leadership—get defensive when I feel as though men are being unfairly maligned and condemned for something all of us are not responsible for. Collective judgment is not an act of wisdom, it is an act of demagoguery. That is why I refuse to use rhetoric like “white privilege” for example, assigning blame to all for the sins of a few is a craven impulse of firebrands not actions of healers. We already have a fatuous rabble-rouser at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; we need change from the status quo, not Trump in reverse.
I would be applauding Oprah too had she displayed an act of true valor and led a conversation about the way our political system is giving tribute to the wealthy by taking from the poor. I would have joined in the ovation if Oprah talked about the oppression of the struggling masses who are being victimized by the cunning of the moneyed gentry. It’s the flavor of the moment to talk about Roy Moore and his depraved predilections, but talking about personalities while overlooking the politics and policies that indenture the vast majority of Americans into a life of financial uncertainty and anxieties is nothing more than gutless pandering. After eight years of Obama’s platitudes and a year of Trump’s disorders, I’ve had enough of politicos pretending to be for us as they read words from teleprompters written by speech writers.
Oprah is not a truth teller, she is just another polished politician dressed in the guise of a shaman. Where was Oprah’s indignation as her chosen one Obama endorsed monetary policies that shoveled over $14 trillion to the same criminals who bled our nation while he gave the back hand to millions of Americans who lost their homes to foreclosures? Where was Oprah’s rage when Obama continued Bush’s repugnant wars of choice as he ordered the bombing of innocent civilians in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and beyond? Did you know that 90% of the people exterminated by drones are innocent civilians? You know, the people our military-financial complex turns into abstractions by calling men, women and children “collateral damage”. Oprah is all in on #MeToo, but what about the teeming victims of Wall Street who are calling concretes their new homes and the endless stream of bodies stacking up from Aleppo, Tripoli to Sana’a. Where are their #WeToo champions?
Its sad when you think of it. Injustice has become a business model and a way to elevate one’s Q ratings. It’s poetically tragic that a hashtag is actually the symbol for a number, we are quantifying human suffering instead of looking at the quality of hurt people endure. One day it’s a fling with Flint, Michigan only to pivot and hookup with Dakota Access Pipeline then a quickie with the newest outrage—we have a commitment problem with the sacrifices it takes to deliver true change. Instead we chase our collective tails as we vigilantly stay on the hunt for the next big social injustice. This is how iniquities get normalized; we are so inundated with scandal and busy being stirred into frantic commotions that we have come to accept strife as a norm. Our attention span shorter than that of a toddler, we are jumping from rage to rage and investing little time to fix the core problem. As Thoreau once said, a thousand hack at the branches of injustice for every one that digging at the root of it. This is how a few with billions in their Swiss accounts can subdue billions who are left yearning change as they count pennies in their pockets. As I noted, I am writing from the blank white edges of print. As I present this to you, there are a million getting stoked about the idea of Oprah 2020. I will not be joining that caravan, I’ve had enough of putting my faith in the rich and powerful. Let me break news here, no matter how eloquently they speak and how brilliantly they tug at our heartstrings, the “upper-crust of society” do not want change. Why we keep expecting the uber opulent 1%—who thrive as we shrivel—to save us from the ecosystem that they are prospering in is beyond my comprehension. Let others place their bets and go all in on Oprah and her brand to save us from Trump—that is why we keep crapping out as a nation. I put my faith in those who struggle and endure just like the rest of us. I don’t care about voting for a billionaire who gives out free cars to her adoring public, I cast my lot with the mother working at Holiday Inn who is breaking her back to feed her children and laboring to pay her car note. #Oprah20Never
“Truth is powerful and it prevails.” ~ Sojourner Truth
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Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss how we overlook the endless treasures in our midst as we keep worshiping the stones of the rich. Let us empower ourselves instead of waiting for the powerful to deliver us.
Check out this Ghion Cast where I discuss how we the people keep getting deceived into believing the rhetoric of the rich and powerful and keep getting broken by the promises of politicians, pundits and media personalities.
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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