08 November 2007

"Oprah doesn't give a damn about culture..."

I hate Oprah Winfrey. There are very few people that I truly dislike; only 4 out of all the people I've met. I've never met Oprah but I dislike her. She may be a wonderful person, amiable, well mannered, humble (hah!), but the role she has in society and her public actions make me sick to my stomach nearly giving me nightmares.

First off, the least of my concerns, is that she has far too much money. I don't know how anyone can feel good about themselves and their lives when they hold more wealth than some entire countries. Bill Gates and that IKEA guy are very much in this same boat. Oh sure, they donate large sums to various charities (which are rich in their own rights), but the simple fact that while millions around the world go hungry working for pennies an hour Bill Gates can hold however many billion dollars he's worth is immoral. I doubt that Bill Gates or Oprah donate truly significant portions of their wealth. The day that Bill Gates donates half his net worth to a truly worthy cause will be the day I reconsider respecting him. Until then, he and the wealth bracket he represent are greedy, immoral leeches, their parasitic jaws engorging themselves on the downtrodden, poor and impressionable.

My biggest concern has been reignited just lately, in the wake of the scandal, as it were, at Oprah's South African school (Which is named after her. Conceded? You decide.) When I first heard about this, as when I first hear about all seemingly good acts, I was critical. Nothing is so simple that it can be praised in totality. Oprah considers herself a saint, with a dream for bring salvation to Africa. This paternalistic attitude is eerily reminiscent of colonialism which considered the "other" to be in need of help, to be civilized. In her latest press conference Oprah says that she's considers these girls, "...her children." Oprah may be "african american" but this doesn't make her African or even really give any tangible connection to Africa at all, though however one decides to interpret descent is one's own choice. In her actions and rhetoric I see nothing further than wanting to civilize the savage Africans, bring "modernity" to them through "education." By educating she spreads western capitalistic, materialistic values. She throws radically different notions of culture and societal expectations into the minds of children without any cultural sensitivity to what is important to them. This is representative of a Neo-Colonialism that is manifesting itself in seemingly good "humanitarian" organizations that want to do something. That something being conceived within a US/western/industrial notions of culture, success and morality.

This rant is not to say that social problems should be ignored. AIDS and hunger in Africa are big problems, civil strife often displaces many. But Africa is not all strife and death and misery, there are beautiful places where people live on arable land and produce enough to feed families and trade in markets. People have lived in African for millions of years, certainly this fact deserves some credit. If we truly respect and want to help people in Africa then we need to consider them on their own terms. Let aid be distributed by Africans within Africa. Where do people in the United States, humanitarian workers, get off thinking that they know how to solve problems in tropical countries better than those who have survived there for years? Historical and cultural considerations are vital if any solution or, dare I say, progress is to be made. Oprah doesn't give a damn about culture, she wants the girls to go off, leave their families, live confined and cut off from the world on the school campus, assimilate to US western values, probably go to university in the United States where they are likely never to return to their home. How noble. She wants, more than that, to see her name and let people know that she "cares." I think of Victorian aristocrats feeling cultured after they have traveled to the deepest jungles in Africa and bartered with the savage.

It sickens me more that some people blindly support her and agree with her that she is truly noble, going out of her way to help the meek, saintly almost. Such blind and, essentially, ignorant support and devotion reeks of colonialism and will only cause more hurt than it did in the past.

No comments: