Sunday, September 18, 2005

o week: 4



last time, i considered what i've termed o's "god complex". now, i'd like to turn my attention back to the legends lunch--the thing that sparked o week in the first place. as i stated in my prior post, this legends lunch was conceived when oprah received a 50th birthday gift from cicely tyson; she'd forgotten to invite miss jane pittman to her party. eventually, that idea became the germ for oprah inviting a slew of black chicks over to her santa barbara, ca crib aptly named, "promised land" (i kid you not).

this weekend consisted of a lunch, a ball, and a gospel brunch. as i looked at the pictures, i couldn't help but think about how this event looked like a girlfriends/boule/links/jack and jill event all wrapped up into one...and on crack.** the guest list read like a who's who of the black upper and middle classes. actually, it read more like an, "oprah thinks you rock...sort of" list. but let me slow down just a bit.

on page 179 of the layout--which is next to the list of attendees--there is a photograph of winfrey and maya angelooooooou standing in front of a painting. this painting, called to the highest bidder, is oprah's favorite. she made the following astute observation, "isn't it ironic...that all of these free women are celebrating our lives under the gaze of a woman who is about to be sold into slavery and separated from her young daughter." this quote helps me get to my final point about oprah, and about some other more privileged black folk i've come to observe--albeit from a distance. but to bring you all up to speed, i need to digress just a tad...

in my real life (i.e. grad student life), one of the things i study is race. i'm interested in how people talk and theorize race during certain historical moments, such as the ante and post-bellum period, the jim crow period, and during and after the civil rights movement. i'm interested in tracking what race latches itself onto at these various moments (like freedom, class, and space), in an attempt to understand the varying ways raced subjects relate to and maneuver through the world. i say this not simply to talk about myself and reveal my pet theory on the whole thing, but to consider why ms. o felt the need to make and articulate the above observation.

without getting too much into my possible dissertation topic, i'd like to say this: it's my guess that the reason why some famous black people collect things like slave papers, chains, and/or display artwork such as to the highest bidder on their walls (and make sure you pay attention to these objects,) is because they believe these objects anchor them to a racialized existence that might otherwise escape their cultural memories. the further we are removed from sanctioned discrimination based on race, the more these cultural memories fade. it is my belief that the "successes" of the civil rights movement brought about yet another shift in regard to how race is lived in america. meaning, unlike its historical ancestors (slavery, jim crow), what it meant to be black was not sufficiently (re)defined once the social paradigm shifted. these objects, then, serve as moorings for those who might otherwise very rarely if ever be confronted with racism.

it is no surprise that those invited to the legends party were mostly from the entertainment world. though i agree with the sage jay-z when he said, "all these blacks got is sports and entertainment, until we even," i contend that another reason o's list was saturated with entertainers is because being a model, an actress, or a singer allows you a great degree of visiblity...to white folks. thus, when you go shopping, at hermes for example, the white people don't consider you just another north african nigga black person. there is no doubt in my mind that if winfrey put her mind to it, she could have come up with a list of less visible and/or famous legends whose resumes were/are just as (if not more) impressive than those she invited. but if you want your reading public to give a shit about the 10 page layout on some black chicks you had over for tea and crumpets, at some point your soccer mom has to say, "hey, isn't that janet jackson?" then, said soccer mom pays even more attention to the article your staff writer wrote covering the floral arrangements, how you and gayle protested the first soup bowl because it was "too deep," and how after the two of you couldn't decide which desserts to serve, you decided to include all ten on the final menu. and maybe, just maybe, you reaffirm your uniqueness to your reader, because this group of black women --unlike the other, less recognizable ones--minus the whole black thing, seem just like her.

i buttress this argument by the fact that so many of the less visible names on the list (pearl cleage, suzan-lori parks, darnell martin) have been affiliated with oprah in some way.** i won't do it here, but i truly believe i could prove how each and every attendee fits into some kind of oprah mold. to the untrained hater, one might say, "how in the hell can ashanti and missy elliot be part of the same group as judith jamison and audra mcdonald?" it's because, i claim, there is a politics to something as simple as a lunch, and i claim to understand those politics well. and though i'd love to post yet another entry on why certain legends did not/could not/ chose not to attend the party, i'll leave well enough alone...**

maybe you still love oprah, maybe not. but i hope i've proved why i find her such a problematic figure who needs more critical attention if she's going to continue to occupy such a large space in our collective psyche. but i believe i've overstayed this welcome. so i'm officially done with the long-winded entries oprah.

NOTES:

girlfriends, the boule, the links, and jack and jill are organizations whose membership lists are full of names of the black middle and upper classes.

cleage's first novel, what looks like crazy on an ordinary day was an early o book club pick; parks wrote the screenplay for while martin directed winfrey's version of their eyes were watching god.

legends unable to attend: katherine dunham, aretha franklin, nikki giovanni, lena horne, toni morrison, rosa parks, and alice walker. if you like, i can include the list of folks who did show. but i'll only do that if you're interested.


language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison

10 Comments:

Blogger a. said...

I want you to outline your "oprah molds".

More interesting than the women who attended are the women who did not.

18/9/05 18:11  
Blogger RoRicka said...

this is the best analysis of oprah (and her legends lunch) i've read. i'd paraphrase and quote my favorite parts but the whole damn thing is great.

if i was someone who could be deemed legendary in many respects that was not invited publically into the oprah fold, i would be flattered.

18/9/05 18:46  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Ingeniuous, from first word to last.

19/9/05 00:03  
Anonymous studpoet said...

damn summer! the only thing that angers me about reading your website is that i can't actually speak to you in person!

i loved the critique on oprah! i do think that her position in society is both problematic (as you have pointed out) but also a symptom of a failed civil rights movement (which is problematic for poor blacks).

but she is also a symbol of black success and power. she would be part of dubois' talented 10th (regardless of how we may feel about it). as you know, dubois was an elitist who loved black people but believed that most blacks needed leaders--that chosen 10th.
oprah would be one of those and her voice in the midst of the white wilderness gives credence to our issues.

the question is, does she really voice our issues (blacks in america)? she is very adept in putting the issues of people of color around the world--particularly women from africa. but is she ready to tackle our "elephant in the middle of the room" i.e. racism? i would argue no, because white soccer moms don't want to believe that they are racist (shit most white people don't want to accept it).

oprah is problematic on so many levels yet at the same time is in many ways a strategic genius.

anyway...damn i wish i could elaborate more but hey one day when i'm in the chi go shopping for pumas and talk about it!

peace

19/9/05 09:20  
Blogger simone said...

i know you said you're done with writing about oprah, but i'd love to hear about the politics of inviting ashanti to a legends lunch along with judith jamison.

it struck me as "off".

i'm also finding there is a politics to almost everything, which i hadn't grasped before.

19/9/05 13:39  
Blogger summer m. said...

@a: oh...that's a whole other post. i'd love to combine the molds i believe oprah has along with why some people didn't show up, but i'm gonna refrain from doing it now. you're not the only one who wants to know, so maybe i'll sit down and organize my thoughts about it in a week or two.

@roricka: thanx. i appreciate that.

@ dr. nick: thanx soooo much. it feels good to hear that from you.

@stud: i'd love to take you up on your dubois point, but it definitely needs to be an in person convo. you've given me some stuff to think about and response to...unfortunately i ain't coming to mn anytime soon. if you're ever in the chi, we can discuss it over tea.

@simone: since you and a have sort of requested that i articulate what i think the politics of this was, i may post something about it in a week or two.

19/9/05 16:38  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Summer, I dunno why you'd value anything I say when I can't even spell "ingenious" correctly in a blog post. But I'm glad you got what I meant!

19/9/05 21:07  
Blogger summer m. said...

@nick: you've read my blog long enough to know that i can't spell, nor do i proofread.

i just got mad respect for you b/c i think you're smart...and cute, too.

19/9/05 21:18  
Blogger Harold Gibson said...

start a rumour tuesday...summer gives up the gay for nick. She will be sharing the intimate details on her podcast.

20/9/05 21:46  
Anonymous ASB said...

What a shame that you have no respect for legendary African American women. Just goes to show why the black community still cannot unite -- there is always at least one of us who wants to bring others down. Jealousy is ugly on you!

5/12/05 22:32  

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