If you don’t think Oprah is qualified to run for president, you don’t know much about Oprah
Oprah Winfrey’s 2018 Golden Globes speech made such an impact that even before the standing ovation ended, it seemed like the entire internet was asking the same question: is Oprah going to run for president?
I don’t know the answer to that question and neither does anyone except Oprah — and maybe her partner Stedman Graham, who has said she “would absolutely do it,”and bestie Gayle King. Sources are saying that she really is considering it.
But as someone who’s been an Oprah megafan and scholar for over a decade, I can say this: Oprah is more than qualified to be president. And the people who are saying otherwise just don’t know enough about what she’s accomplished. If Oprah isn’t qualified to run for president, then seriously, who is?
What does it take to be president? Some people might say political experience, but I’d point out that plenty of horrible presidents had political experience before they were sworn in. Also, let’s face it: politicians are kind of horrible and it seems like the more entrenched someone becomes in the political system, the more corrupted they are by special interest groups. This was one of the main problems people had with Hillary Clinton.
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But if we want a president who will deliver on their promises, ensure equal treatment for all Americans, improve our economy, and just generally kick ass, who could be better than Oprah?
If you’ve never scratched the surface on Oprah’s life story, you might think she’s just a megarich celebrity for middle-aged ladies. And it’s true, middle-aged ladies were her bread and butter during her rise to fame in the 1980s and 1990s. She still courts that audience today, with her part-ownership of Weight Watchers, her lifestyle magazine, her emphasis on spirituality and the programming on her television network.
But Oprah was not born a billionaire with access to this massive audience. She was born an impoverished person of color with unmarried parents in one of history’s worst places to live in those circumstances: the American South in 1953, where segregation was still the law of the land.
Oprah was born to an unwed teenage mother and raised mostly by her grandmother in rural Mississippi, until her grandmother died and she went to live with her mom in a Milwaukee boarding house. At just nine years old, she was raped by a 19-year-old cousin, she says, and was continually sexually abused from ages 10 to 14. She became pregnant and ended up having a baby at age 14, but the infant died two weeks later.
This sexual abuse would be enough to break the average person — let alone the added institutional racism and sexism Oprah had to face throughout her life. Oprah persevered, though, and not only ended up getting a full ride to college, but also became the first black female news anchor in Nashville, Tenn., at just 20.
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She soon became co-host of “AM Chicago,” and took it from being the city’s lowest-rated show to its highest-rated. It was soon renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and syndicated nationwide. By 1986, Oprah had negotiated her way into owning the show through her company Harpo Productions — a bold and impressive move, when most people would’ve been fine to just star on daytime TV without owning their own vehicle.
Her show became one of the most popular daytime talk shows of all time, and she now owns and operates a media empire. Not only does this prove she’s an effective leader. But it’s safe to say that because of this, Oprah changed the way mainstream America perceived black women.
Many of her white fans might not have had any black friends back in the 1980s — and, let’s be real, a lot of them probably still don’t today. America is still pretty segregated in many areas. This is partially why women, people of color and LGBT+ people in the public eye are often saddled with the unfair burden of being seen as a spokesperson for their particular demographic. Oprah accepted this challenge early on, and has taken on the thankless work of busting down mainstream stereotypes about women of color.
She’s also repeatedly put her job and success on the line to point out racism, sexism and hypocrisy throughout her career. Some have complained that Oprah doesn’t do enough to fight racism, and instead would rather placate her massive middle-American white audience. But in fact, Oprah has never shied away from making her audience uncomfortable. She has repeatedly forced America to look in the mirror when it comes to racism. For just one example, take a look at this segment she aired in 1987:
Oprah also doesn’t get enough credit for pretty much starting the mainstream conversation around childhood sexual abuse. Back in 1987, Oprah not only dedicated an episode to the issue, but talked about her own abuse. It was unfathomable that a public figure would discuss this back in the 1980s. Throughout her career, Oprah has continued to advance the conversation on childhood sexual abuse. She even broke down stigmas surrounding male victims when she invited 200 male sexual abuse victims to her show.
Not everything Oprah’s touched has turned to gold — most famously, scandals rocked the school for girls she opened in South Africa. And if you read Kitty Kelley’s biography of her, “Oprah,” you’ll get a three-dimensional view of the icon, flaws and all. Although Oprah reportedly detests that book, though, there’s nothing in there that will make you doubt Oprah’s intelligence, character or accomplishments. Her few missteps pale in comparison to her successes.
This is a woman who knows how to get shit done. She’s not just a celebrity. She has single-handedly beaten odds that would leave most people defeated — a feat that even by-your-bootstraps Republicans have to find impressive. What more could you ask for in a politician than Oprah’s drive, focus and ability to succeed despite facing some of the biggest obstacles known to humankind?
So if you think the idea of Oprah running for president is a joke, or that she’d only run to appease her own vanity and build her empire, the way Donald Trump did, then you might want to do a little more homework. And please, tell me: why exactly do you consider Oprah unqualified?
Watch Oprah’s 2018 Golden Globes speech below.