Oprah’s $500k support of the Parkland students is a raw reminder of her lack of support for Black lives
This is about her glaring lack of support of movements for Black lives railing against systemic oppression and state violence.
by Jamila Mitchell
Oprah Winfrey recently committed a $500,000 donation for the upcoming March for Our Lives protest, matching contributions from other celebrities such as George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, and world renown luxury brand, Gucci. Inspired by the recent Parkland school mass shooting, the March for Our Lives event will bring together pro-gun regulation proponents and surviving students to demanding sensible gun regulations in DC next month. Oprah’s tweet declaring her $500,000 support for this event was met with much praise. However, her response leaves #BlackLivesMatter proponents feeling dismayed and ignored.
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We are dismayed – perhaps really, confused – because Oprah Winfrey’s response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and protests were far different. In a 2015 interview with People magazine, Oprah Winfrey stated that #BlackLivesMatters “lacks leadership” and “clear objectives.” Her critique met its own criticism from #BlackLivesMatter as activists and Black Twitter graciously reminded her that “each one of [the] protesters is a leader” and reiterated clear objectives such as policies to end police brutality.
Despite Black Lives Matter actually campaigning with public ads against the NRA’s violent propaganda as recent as October of 2017, there have been no statements from the A Wrinkle In Time star to suggest that her position on #BlackLivesMatters has changed.
Oprah has made discussion of racism a theme of her career: the Oprah Winfrey Show’s controversial skinhead interview in the 90’s, financial backing of and acting in movies on race relations and anti-Blackness like Selma, to interviews like her 2016 HuffPost interview with Ava DuVernay, “This Is How Oprah Winfrey And Ava DuVernay Define Black Lives Matter.”
Yet, somehow, the words that she uses to discuss Black protesting efforts are different than her language around the Parkland students.
Her commentary has often been vague and insulting, describing Black Lives Matter protests as a “total chaos and dysfunction” and the consequence of ignoring “hurting people.” Meanwhile, when it comes to predominantly white children from a predominantly white suburb, Oprah apparently couldn’t agree more with this statement from George Clooney on behalf of himself, his wife, and his 8-month-old twins:
“Amal and I are so inspired by the courage and eloquence of these young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School. Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country. And, in the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we’re donating $500,000 to help pay for this groundbreaking event. Our children’s lives depend on it.”
Where are the leaders of March For Our Lives? What happened to chaos and dysfunction? Could it be that all “young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School” are the leaders?
Well, what about organizers like Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter from Oakland, California or the United We Stand Coalition based in St. Louis, MO? Apparently, the hundreds of organizers and tens of thousands of people of color courageously marching to demand specific solutions to end the institutional racism that has oppressed an entire people for hundreds of years is not leadership that billionaires in America can agree with, let along donate $500,000 to.
This is not the first, and certainly not the last, $500,000 Oprah has donated to charitable causes. Oprah has donated millions for various efforts, including education, women’s health, and homelessness through her three charities The Angel Network, Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. But, this is not only about the money. This is about her glaring lack of support of movements for Black lives railing against systemic oppression and state violence, versus her eagerness to support these white students protesting for gun control.
Oprah is the mainstream model of the Black elite that this country often finds missing in this fight. Black icons like her are available for celeb-endorsed “symbolic” events like the 50th Anniversary of the marches from Selma hosted by President Barack Obama, but rarely are they available to support present actions taken against the unjust killing of Black people today. Not in St. Louis. Not in Chicago. Not in D.C. These elders of Black capitalists even leave the minority of blacklisted young professionals like Colin Kaepernick for the wolves in public protest against police brutality.
Political movements enacted by Black Americans have historically been criticized as either disorder, frivolity, or even terrorism by this country. Unfortunately, that narrative is also touted and normalized by Black icons like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and Russell Simmons, who all built their own empires with the help of the dreams of Black children.
In 2015, Oprah Winfrey ignored the work of thousands of Black organizers as she confidently described #BlackLivesMatters as leader less movement with no specific demands. Since then, she has been silent on #BlackLivesMatter and the anti-racism work that the movement continues to do, conducting hundreds of peaceful demonstrations. She has been silent as Black voices chant and cry out for new Black people slain every year. And her silence is so loud.
Black people are not dismayed by Oprah Winfrey’s expensive support for the March for Our Lives because of the money. We are dismayed at her hypocrisy, and we demand that she and the rest of the world respect our voices and follow our leadership with the same respect and honor that they holds for these white Parkland students. We deserve it.
Jamila Mitchell is a writer that comes from across the disciplines of business management, non-profit development, and community organizing. Educated in economics and business management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering Rader School of Business, Jamila has used her knowledge assets on neoclassical economics as an advocate and grant writer for various causes such as mental health treatment. She has worked on numerous political campaigns including the Fight For $15 pro-union national campaign, voter rights, and various President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.