At this year’s Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey’s presence and words were a balm for the walking-wounded among us; hurting in countless ways from abuse, discrimination, injustice and inequality. Oprah communicated: I see you. I feel your pain. Hang on. Better days are coming. Inspired, and recognising the life-giving phenomenon called hope, America responded. #Oprah 2020 immediately sprung up on Twitter along with #OprahforPresident. I proposed Oprah Winfrey as the leader America needed 16 years ago. It was true then. It is even more so now. In the Christian Science Monitor, in 2002, I wrote, “The Democrats are in a bad way: clueless, out of touch, and about to lose the opportunity to take back the White House in 2004. If the Democrats had even one inspiring leader there’d be protests down Main Streets.” I had just finished my own, losing, race in a Maine Congressional primary. Although I ran as the “yellow-dog” Democrat I was, the corruption and limitations of our two-party system was becoming apparent. Now I’m registered with DC Statehood Green Party.
What surprised me about my call for Oprah’s candidacy were the negative reactions. At the time, I was a professor at American University. My colleagues mocked me. I remember holding back tears, feeling confused and hurt. I was too young and too white to understand how ingrained racism and misogyny are in America—even among educated, white liberals. One example, while many of my former colleagues may deny racism, they have been silent in the face of a bluntly racist university policy they could change if they made even the smallest effort. At American University, employees, and their children, are eligible to attend classes for free. Food service and janitorial staff, however, are segregated on “outside” service contracts and not eligible for this “employee only” benefit. Those who feed and clean the campus, along with their children, are not granted the benefit of a free education in the community they serve. The cleaners and cooks are largely African-American and Latinos. Professors, non “service” staff and students are predominantly white and wealthy. Simple, blatant racism. A majority white faculty, staff and student body do not want majority black and Latino “service” employees, and their children, in the classrooms. If they did, they would change the university policy. I did not understand this in 2002. I did not realise the thought of an African-American woman at America’s helm was threatening to many because it might force them to question their own behaviour and biased policies they benefit from. What I thought was a great idea, Oprah Winfrey leading our country, was frightening to the professional structures I was part of and benefited from. I had stepped outside of acceptable class and race boundaries and I was mocked and shunned for doing so.
After 11 September, when America was in despair, Oprah led the prayer service at Yankee Stadium. With a country in crisis, Oprah’s leadership shone then as brightly as it did on Monday at the Golden Globes. In 2002, I was transfixed by her presence and words at Yankee Stadium that sombre September day. Oprah has been, for decades, a powerful draw to many as she transcends race and gender and exuding a caring intelligence that inspires hope. My friends and I grew up with Oprah in our living-rooms. Oprah challenged us to be better. To read more. To discuss difficult issues. To be more grateful, gracious and spiritual. Oprah asked to create meaningful daily lives filled with mercy and worth. In 2018, after the Golden Globes, I am filled with gratitude that a younger, perhaps better, generation of Americans who did not grow up watching Oprah every afternoon, got a glimpse of what many in my generation already knew—we need Oprah in the White House. This is good news. Still, I wonder will progressives tweeting #Oprah2020 on social media, make real efforts to end racism and misogyny in their own workplaces and communities? Let’s hope so. If you believe an African American woman named Oprah Winfrey could lead America to better place in the world, join me in on a Change.org petition asking Oprah to run. The time for racism and misogyny in our country, communities and workplaces may truly be finally up. Let’s make it real this time.
Run, Oprah, run!
Dr Lori Handrahan’s recent book, Epidemic: America’s Trade in Child Rape, has just been released.