What Oprah’s Story Has Done for the International Image of the Black Woman

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Just last week I found out that Oprah is now 59. I sat there with my mouth agape. This news next to a photograph that swore to my eyes she was 40. Then the last 20 years flashed before my eyes and I thought, Wow, Oprah. Here is a West-African woman who is intelligent, gorgeous and—of course—wildly successful. Not because of her over $2.7 Billion net worth, but because she is gleefully “answering her calling,” and changing the lives of others. Here is a woman running an empire, making it known to the world that they can take all their stereotypes about Black women and throw them in a bonfire.

It is almost unbearable to imagine a 14-year-old survivor of molestation having a baby, and losing that two-month-old baby after running away from an abusive home. It’s staggering to see that 14-year-old then traverse a course that would eventually have her known as “the world’s most powerful woman.”1

Oprah rose to fame and fortune when her gift for talking took her national talk show into millions of American living rooms in 1986. She then played her cards very carefully, strategizing and plotting for a secure future with a strict adherence to the advice of her instincts.

The perfect statistic: An impoverished Black girl from rural Mississippi, born to a teenage mother and an “absentee” father; raped repeatedly and abandoned emotionally. Instead of pity for her former self, Oprah has said, “from an early age I knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”

Oprah traced her African roots to a group in what is now Liberia; cultivated a relationship with Nelson Mandela, building a luxurious school for South African girls and helped get half-African President Obama into office. She has repeatedly held up her roots with fair critique, openness and class.

A careful activist, Oprah’s list of accomplishments is daunting, but her expressed principles are more impressive. From the beginning of her career, she wanted to use her platform to be of service. She says, “The key is not to worry about being successful, but to instead work toward being significant—and the success will naturally follow.” She consistently advises disciples to “follow your instincts,” as she says she always has. One of the benefits of such a rough youth is the sharp survival instinct that she honed. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Oprah found a way to know and feel God from within, owning her power and letting that connection drive her passions and her purpose.

Oprah experienced the same low self-esteem that leads millions of Black women into abusive relationships, recalling two instances in which she—on her knees—begged the man she was with to stay with her. I bet they still can’t believe who she became. Many of us, who’ve been without fathers, experience the often-silent trauma that is seeking acceptance from men. “The most influential woman in the world”2 was once right there, even once writing a suicide note to her best friend because of a traumatic heartbreak. But she refused to stay there.

She instead employed The Secret: positive, powerful thinking. Oprah is a thorough embodiment of the power, beauty, love and heart of the Black woman.

1. TIME. March 12, 2001.
2. Tamny, John. "The American Spectator".


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Ololade Siyonbola is the author of Market of Dreams, President of the Yoruba Cultural Institute, and co-founder of Exodus to Afrika International, a New York based initiative providing housing and work resources, and cultural training, to Diasporans traveling to or relocating in Africa. Learn more about Siyonbola’s work at www.siyonbola.com

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