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
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.
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