Up Close Media Queen: Oprah Winfrey, A Twentieth-Century Life, by Ilene Cooper, provides an intimate portrait of Oprah Winfrey’s life and a rare, comprehensive history of an American icon. I believe this book is related to our diversity topics in the following 3 aspects:
1. Race and Ethnicity. In 1954, when Oprah was born, her hometown Mississippi was among the most segregated places in the United States, even drinking fountains and bathrooms were divided by race, so were schools. The same year, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown v. Board of Education and opened the way to integrated schools. The civil rights movement and the way the society had been evolving in the following 20 years benefited Oprah: she was offered a scholarship and went to a integrated high school and college, she won the opportunity to work as a TV reporter, which was mostly a man’s profession - a white man’s profession. Oprah said she was “born at the right time”, because her success was based on the social trend that minority groups were being included by the main stream society.
2. Gender. Oprah was sexually abused when she was young; she had her first child at age 14(the baby only lived for 2 weeks). Her own experience made the grown-up Oprah actively involved in programs that help abused children and train young girls to be the future leaders. One of the things Oprah had in common with many women was a battle with weight: she honestly talked about her dieting in her shows and shared her pains and sorrows as an overweight woman. This society has been putting too much emphasis on people’s orthopedic characteristics, especially on women’s physical beauty. In order to be “perfect”, women are putting up with increasing pressures.
3. Socioeconomic Status. A black girl born in a farm in the 1950’s, parents never got married, spent early years helping grandma with heavy laundries, Oprah was definitely born in a low SES class. However, she held a firm belief in herself: she believed she “belongs to someone or something bigger”, and she “could do anything”. Her grandma taught her read and found her gift in speaking, Oprah herself at first considered speaking a means of getting attention and love, but later realized it was this belief that triggered all the changes in her later life. What should be learned by all the parents around the world is, an early exposure to literacy, a strong belief of “I can”, plus complete and formal education, would help the children achieve in the future.
The life of Oprah Winfrey is a reflection of American’s diversity. Her story of success exemplifies America’s can-do spirit and the best of its humanitarian impulses.