Oprah and Me

 “You should contact Oprah.”

 I am often told this by well-meaning friends, family and acquaintances when I say that I have a book and/or other creative work to promote/sell. 

Their suggestion stems from the belief that if one only touches the hem of Oprah’s $260 million garment, he/she may not be made whole but may, at the very least, be made very rich.  (Yes, that touch is of biblical proportions.)

When I tell them, “Yes, I have already contacted her,” it’s like we have been stuck in some time warp and they tell me once again, “You should contact Oprah.”  

I want to say, “Did you freaking hear me?” 

I am challenged by the suggestion that I should contact her like she’s The Great Black Hope.  The assumption is that you’re black;  she’s black.  Damn, you are practically sisters — that’s if you believe that race trumps class.  I don’t buy it.   No, sorry, we aren’t even “sistahs”. 

Before I go any further, I must get this off of my chest.  These thoughts are weighing heavily on my B cups (okay A+/B- cups)

I first discovered Oprah while an undergraduate student at a Midwestern university. Back then, she was a local personality who made good.   I didn’t get what all of the fuss was about.  In my popular culture class,  a group of students created a audio-visual presentation about her.  I remember,  like it was a lot yesterdays,  a comment from one of the students:  “She is fat, black and poor…”  I don’t really remember the rest of what was said but everyone seemed comfortable with that depiction and smiled and nodded in agreement. 

It was as if they were all singing from the same song sheet and someone neglected to give me a copy.   

They loved Oprah.  As the only black person in the class of nearly 200, I knew I wasn’t loved.  I don’t remember anyone speaking to me. And my professor decided that I should never work in public relations — just because.   He even became annoyed when I was answering, not asking, what he thought were too many questions.

At the time,  I couldn’t define what she represented and could not articulate why I felt so uncomfortable.   Years later, almost out of the blue, the answer came to me:  “mammy” — a familiar archetype.   Asexual, acccomodating and instructive.  Completely non-threatening.   A warm blanket versus a brick to the head.  Now, Oprah has morphed into “sistah girlfriend” — another relatively non-threatening and asexual archetype.

At the risk of getting a smack down from an avid Oprah fan, I will continue.  

Can you answer this for me?  Why do “we” listen to the advice of an unmarried woman about marriage?  A childless woman about how to raise children?  A chronic overeater, and yo-you dieter about weight loss and exercise?  Why? Why? Why?

Whew!  I feel so much better.  Thank you.

My first up-close and personal encounter with the mighty force called O Inc. was during graduate school.  I called the Los Angeles office of Harpo Productions and a pleasant young woman answered.  After I expressed my interest in interning at Harpo LA, she informed me that although the didn’t have a position available, she said that I should send my resume anyway.  So I did what I was told and faxed it.

When I called to make verifiy that she received my resume, I noticed that her tone had changed.  Apparently there was a questionable entry — an Inside Edition internship.   I could imagine drops of sweats covering her brow and the heard the “Oh my Lawd” in her voice. 

 “Oprah hates the tabloids,” she said, the hand-wringing audible.

I didn’t  understand why she was fretting so much.  I never thought much of the internship.  All I did was read newspapers from throughout the country and clipped articles that I thought would make good stories for the show.   And Inside Edition was no Jerry, soon to have his own villa in the underworld, Springer.   Adjacent to Maury Povich’s of course.

No problem.  I told her that I would delete the entry from my resume.  This wouldn’t be the last time I would have questionable entry.   Years later, I would have make a similar decision about another entry — “extras casting assistant” for a feature film directed by a famous rapper.   One of my duties included auditioning  strippers.  No person should have to be subjected to looking at that much naked behind.   I wish I could deleted my name from the movie’s end credits.  

Over the course of two years, I  continued to call Harpo LA from about a possible internship.  Every time ,the woman would  tell me that there weren’t any positions available or that she lost my resume which I resent numerous times. 

Anyway, I thought if she couldn’t or wouldn’t give me an UNPAID internship at Harpo, then maybe she would take a look at a video I produced, The Root of It All, a documentary about black women and hair.  It was my first “real”  video — my very first work was “How Ken Met Barbie”, a silent, in-camera edited film about how two unbelievable beautiful plastic specimens met and fell in love.

Much to my surprise, she told me to send it over and she promised to take a look at it.  I did.  Months passed.  I touched base with her here and there.  When I had just about given up on receiving any real response,  I got a letter stating that she and  the staff , not the mighty Oprah, had enjoyed viewing the video.  Great. Just Great.

My next encounter was with O,The Oprah Magazine.  I must admit I actually like the publication.  In the magazine, Oprah actually SHARES the spotlight with great writers who touch in interesting subjects.  I even had a subscription which I chose to cancel because it wasn’t delivered on time.  

By the time I reached out to O Magazine, I had written a book, a memoir, Bearing Witness: Not So Crazy in Alabama .   And as instructed by my caring friends and relatives, I sent an advance copy of the book to an editor at the magazine.  When I called to follow-up, I was able to get through to the editor herself who was kind.  She had received the copy but had not read it.   Once again, I didn’t hold out much hope. 

In a move to get the ball rolling, I sent the editor a postcard about readings I was having in town.  Our “relationship” went something like this:  I’d call personally inviting her to an event.  She’d promised to make it.  I’d call again inviting her to the next event.  She’d say she was sorry and that she would try to make it the next one.  The next event rolls around and once again, she’s a no-show.  I wanted to ask, “Why do you do me the way you do?”  I felt so pathetic, so needy.  I finally grew a backbone and stopped calling.  

The next encounter with O Inc. turned out to be my final one. As luck would have it, my “publisher”  (much too long of a saga to get into right now) knew a producer from the Oprah Show.  In a newsletter the “publisher” sends to his journalism school alumni, he mentions the producer.   I decided to take matters into my own hands and dash off an an email telling her I would be at the Harlem Book Fair and inviting her to stop by.    She did so accompanied by her cousin.  The producer bought a book for her cousin who took a photo with me. 

As she walked away, I said, “Hey, I hope you enjoy the book. ”  

She turned around, looked at me, “umphed” under her breath and continued on her way.    I won’t repeat what I said under MY breath. 

So I know you are asking yourself, “Given your feelings about Oprah what’s up with your attempts to get on her show on in her magazine?”     

I had convinced myself that was strictly business.   I don’t have to love you to use you.    If I got the opportunity to sit on the great white couch of the Great Black Oprah,  I would appropriately sublimate my feelings, my beliefs for the almighty dollar.  I’d work it like the rent was due…because it was. 

Perhaps my lack of success despite my attempts is that our union — her power and influence with my need — was never meant to be.  I am not mercenary by nature and can’t lie or hide in my true feelings to save my soul.

And I know this to be true:  God is my source and supply.  And despite some reports to the contrary,  Oprah is not God.    

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