She isn’t even running.
Just like many other media-loving Americans, I was watching the Golden Globes on Sunday night when Oprah “The-closest-thing-we-have-to-royalty” Winfrey accepted a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in front of the who’s who of Hollywood. The speech brought down the room, reminding everyone why the program’s host Seth Myers had earlier joked about Winfrey becoming president.
It was indeed presidential. Moving forward on the momentum of the evening’s focus on the #MeToo campaign against sexual assault and harassment, Winfrey’s speech told the stories of Recy Taylor, Rosa Parks, and her own mother struggling in a system built on racial injustice. She centered black people and, especially, black women and girls, and it was glorious. Even the room full of celebrities was brought to its feet.
But almost immediately, in the wake of celebrating Winfrey’s speech, people began spewing disdain at the idea of this black woman business and media mogul becoming president. There were social media posts of her in photos with Harvey Weinstein, somehow suggesting she had co-signed his predation. (Please, someone, name one person who hasn’t likely taken a photo with an abuser or predator. Just one.) Others argued she didn’t even write her speech. There were posts making fun of the idea of her as president, dismissing her as just another celebrity, and ridiculing anyone who could take such ambitions seriously.
And underneath all the wisecracks, thinkpieces, and tweets seemed to lie an almost gleeful desire, on the left and the right, from black folks and white folks, to take down one of the most successful Americans in history. It smelled like misogynoir, the particular combination of sexism and racism that aims to undercut black women no matter their station.
So I came up with a few points that anyone who dares weigh in on the possibility that Oprah will ever be our commander-in-chief should review:
1) Oprah’s been talking about sexual abuse for years. She’s a voracious reader. She could’ve easily written that speech. Arguments about whether or not she did, though, seem spurious and like an unnecessary dig meant to undermine her and deflect from what she was saying.
2) OK, fine, it’s good to want a “qualified” presidential candidate. But where were all your complaints about Bloomberg, Franken, or all the many millionaires in Congress?
2b) Not all of our highest office-holders were in elected office or politics before their current position, including our current president. Some were doctors, in the military, professors, actors, businesspeople, etc.
3) She doesn’t have a political platform. She doesn’t have a policy platform. She ISN’T EVEN RUNNING. So all of you talking about how you need someone with good policies while dismissing Oprah as a potential idea of a candidate is suspect. As I told someone yesterday, I would vote for Big Bird if he was campaigning on single payer and restorative justice.
4) I don’t know if I’d vote for Oprah in a primary. I sure as hell don’t know if I’d want her in this job—first, because it’s a terrible, awful job despite the perks and all the time allowed to golf. Second, because I see the way people have leapt to tear her down before she even tries to run. Who needs all that? And third, because Oprah has said and done some things I don’t agree with, and I’d need to know a lot more to know whether I could support her.
5) People learn to be president on the job all the time. And, unlike our current president, Oprah is an actual genius. If you think she can’t do a job that Reagan, Bush, or Trump has done, then there really isn’t much to talk about.
If you don’t get why all these posts about how the only American black woman billionaire isn’t qualified enough for a position are triggering to me, then you’re missing all the ways that black women are told, on a regular basis, that they aren’t good enough. Fine, make a case about qualifications needed for presidency. But don’t center that conversation on a black woman.
The presidency isn’t how black folks will get free of racism. But it might be a way we get freer. And a black woman is as sure a bet as any.
Khadijah White is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. She is currently writing a book on the rise of the Tea Party brand in news.