Is Oprah Taking One for the Team?

The Double O
Actually, no: Cartoonist Daryl Cagle underestimates white backlash

How has Oprah Winfrey’s standing with her overwhelmingly white audience been affected by her association with Barack Obama?

In her piece for The, “The Trouble With Transcending Race: Why the Double O’s are standing on shaky ground,” Majorie Valbrun expands on what most Black women probably long expected, even before Fordham professor Costas Panagopoulos’s piece, which she quotes, below, made it explicit:

“Ten days after she went on the stump for Obama, Oprah’s favorability ratings dropped to 55 percent, the lowest level of favorability ever registered for Oprah in opinion surveys,” the article states. “Oprah’s negatives also spiked, with one in three respondents (33 percent) reporting unfavorable impressions of her.”

In the piece, titled “Obama supporter Oprah takes a big dive,” Panagopoulos also points out that

The results of a March 26, 2008, AOL Television popularity poll of television hosts reveal Americans may now embrace Ellen DeGeneres over Oprah by a wide margin. Forty-six percent of the 1.35 million people who participated in the poll said the daytime talk show host that “made their day” was Ellen, compared with only 19 percent who chose Oprah. Nearly half (47 percent) said they would rather dine with Ellen, compared with 14 percent who preferred Oprah.

Valbrun then concludes the following:

If some white people are rethinking their feelings for Oprah and Obama, it’s because those people’s unrealistic expectations of the two have been betrayed. Oprah and Obama were idealized blacks. They were supposed to be above reproach, neutral on all matters of race, unencumbered by the tiresome legacy of American race relations, colorblind in their politics. They were not supposed to associate with people like Jeremiah Wright, let alone consider them friends.

There she is…They were supposed to reflect blackness in the way that made white people comfortable, a blackness that lacked any hint of anger, resentment, or dare we say it, “bitterness.” They were also supposed to pretend their blackness didn’t matter. Oprah could be the black girlfriend who white women felt good about themselves for having, Obama could be the black candidate they felt good for supporting.

Whites have long felt comfortable with black people entertaining them. Politics is not entertainment – at least not intentionally. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if the massive white crowds that came out for Obama’s speeches early on weren’t also seeing him as some kind of eloquent performer, and now it’s sinking in that Obama really is running for president and not for American Idol, and that he comes, like all Americans, with some racial baggage. Could this be why so many white people are now asking, more than a year after Obama launched his campaign, if they can really trust him and basing those doubts not on his political record but on the speeches of his minister?

They are going to be writing about this campaign for centuries.



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