Oprah is a feminist icon a black woman that was born in poverty, became an Academy Award nominee, a billionaire talk show host, and a heroine for all women across the globe. Oprah is a woman that doesn’t just talk she takes action. Oprah must be commended for starting the all girls school in South Africa. Some people have been critical saying Oprah should of made the school in the United States. I find some of the criticism unwarranted because Oprah is using her money for good. Every single African girl at Oprah’s leadership academy comes from a poor background but are intelligent, hardworking, and desire a better future. Oprah is providing these young South African girls an opportunity of a lifetime.
However, recent news reports indicate that there are allegations of child abuse at Oprah’s Leadership Academy. In the past ten days Oprah has already visited South Africa twice to deal with the growing controversy. A female employee at the school has been accused of choking a child and there have been allegations that children were fondled by adult employees at the school. Also another child ran away from the Academy.
Oprah knew opening the school would be a lot of responsibility. Schools always have problems no school is perfect and Oprah’s is no different then any other school except its more high profile.
The South African media have been paying close attention to Oprah’s school. One of the complaints is the girls have few opportunities to talk or have visits from their parents. Another complaint is that Oprah is too strict with the girls. The girls have limited access to e-mail, use of cellphones, and have to eat nutritious meals all the time. Oprah has stated that if parents think her school is too strict then they are free to take their children out of school. I think there is nothing wrong with the nutritious meals aspect that just makes sense. Kids that eat right have more energy, can concentrate on their studies, and have better health.
Oprah’s message is her school is about obtaining an education it is not a “badge of honor” it is not a place to “hang out” it is serious business. Education is a very serious issue especially in South Africa where black women are often at the bottom of the social ladder. Education is very important and is a tool people from lower class backgrounds have utilized for centuries to advance upwards in society.
I have visited some internet message boards and the negativity is not only disgusting it borderlines on sheer jealousy. I think some of the anger directed at Oprah is due to the fact the most powerful woman in the world is a black female. Oprah has more influence then the Queen of England, Condoleezza Rice, and Angela Merkel the chancellor of Germany combined.
Even though South Africa is the richest country on the African continent there are still disparities in the incomes between whites and blacks. Although apartheid ended thirteen years ago people shouldn’t be ignorant that all of the social and economic problems in South Africa have ended over night. South African women and girls are still devalued in South Africa in the public and private spheres. South African girls are still vulnerable to sexual, psychological, and physical violence from white and black men. South African girls also do not have the same employment and educational opportunities as white South African women.
I believe Oprah has good intentions but I don’t believe for a minute that she’s entirely altruistic. Oprah is a business woman and Oprah’s school is a part of her “business” and “brand”. Some people have wondered why Oprah would chose to create a school in South Africa?
The first reason is obvious its Oprah’s choice she has a right to do whatever she wants with her money. The second reason is also a bit more subversive. Why would Oprah open a school in the United States? How much media exposure would Oprah actually receive from that? Schools open and close in America every single day it wouldn’t be worldwide news.
Oprah is an egomaniac just like any other celebrity Oprah wants as much media exposure and attention as possible. Although Oprah complains about the press she also utilizes the press to advance her own agenda. It is obvious Oprah’ s mission is to increase the exposure for her brand and product. Unfortunately, the South African girls are not viewed as people but as a form of real life product placements for Oprah. Oprah is basically using the South African girls to make money that’s her ultimate goal.
Oprah’s image is of the universal mammy figure she is now the savior of these young African girls. Oprah is cognizant of the fact opening a school in South Africa will guarantee her maximum international press and exposure not just for the school but also for her “brand”. Oprah also benefits from the “positive” publicity and gains more press and of course more revenue for her “brand”. People in the Western world can say “oh look at Oprah she’s doing so much good helping those poor unfortunate Africans.” The school only cements Oprah’s image as a “universal mother figure” but also it cultivates Oprah’s “ego”. Oprah is kind of like the female Booker T Washington creating her own “institute” for poor blacks. The school also is a symbol of Oprah’s wealth but it also is a way to “cement” Oprah’s status as a great philanthropist.
In the Occidental world South Africa is still framed as the “other” as the “third world” even though compared to many countries in the world South Africa’s economy is actually not “third world”. Oprah’s school is still promoting the “noble savage” stereotype. Oprah is viewed as the rich western woman “civilizing” the poor South Africa girls and being the “perfect” den mother.
Oprah unfortunately does have a Western paternalistic attitude towards the South African girls. The message Oprah is sending is that she is the “rich great black hope” from the “West” and she can “liberate” and “save” the young South African girls. And only Oprah’s “way” is the “only” way to improve these young girls lives. Oprah doesn’t even take into account the cultural differences and values of South Africa. For instance, family is very important in South Africa.
Couldn’t Oprah relax the rules a bit? Why can’t the girls see and talk to their parents a little bit more what harm can that really do? I think the girls should be allowed to see their parents more often if they are homesick. It doesn’t mean that Oprah’s heart isn’t in the right place but Oprah is also all about maintaining control.
However, I question how can Oprah run her multi-million dollar talk show, the O magazine, and also run the all girls school? Shouldn’t the all girls school be a higher priority for Oprah? After all Oprah is the one that personally selected the staff to look after the girls. I also have enough common sense to know no matter how well you screen employees something horrible can still happen. No school is perfect and all schools have problems.
The Western media has not questioned Oprah’s “imperialistic” attitude that is also taking place. Yes Oprah is providing a school for disadvantaged South African girls. Oprah needs to understand that “money” doesn’t solve everything. The all girls school clearly requires more of her attention. One of the reasons people criticize Oprah is because they are cynical of Oprah’s image. Oprah has crafted and created an image now that she is some kind of deity. Oprah definitely has a healthy ego but she is not Jesus Christ she cannot save the world. In some people’s eyes though Oprah is the closest human being to “being” God. People are influenced by Oprah and in some ways that’s a good thing because she encourages people to help others. However, I think its also damaging when Oprah promotes this “Jesus Christ” like atmosphere around herself.
The one hundred and fifty young girls at Oprah’s school are young lives hanging in the balance. Why was it necessary for Oprah to have all the Western media present when she opened the school? Why does the West ignore the problems Africans have with obtaining education in general? Why just focus on Oprah’s school isn’t that ignoring a larger problem? Why was Oprah on the cover of People’s magazine right after the school opened? Oprah does indeed have a God complex.
The question remains how much of a role does Oprah actually have at the school? Oprah appears to me to just be trying to sell the school as a product. And what about the real social quandaries still taking place in South Africa? It is also very unfortunate the media ignores the serious issues of poverty, racism, sexism, that exists in South Africa. The South African government appears pathetic they have the resources to assist young black girls and women yet simply aren’t doing enough to help young black girls. Why isn’t the South African government helping black girls and women? Why does it take a foreigner to actually realize that due to patriarchy and male domination the key to African women emancipation is through education? It is simply ludicrous and abhorrent that the South African government isn’t doing enough to help black women. I believe this is disgraceful and totally unacceptable.
Why doesn’t the world press question the role of the South African government? South Africa is not a poor country. South Africa is an extremely wealthy nation with an abundance of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, and a thriving tourist industry.The South African government should be doing more to help young South African women. Isn’t the South African government a bit embarrassed that a foreign celebrity has “created” a school for South African girls when it should be the government’s job to do this? The South African government should be distributing the wealth more to improve the standard of living of African girls and African women.
Oprah has indeed taken the first major step she’s not just talking she’s taking action. The question is the all girls school just for Oprah to make herself “feel” better and promoting her business or brand? Or does Oprah really care to be a bit more realistic and flexible with the girls? Kids of course need structure but they also should not be bored and miserable. I hope Oprah cares enough about the girls to treat them as “equals” and not just part of “products placements” for the “brand” of Oprah.