ADVOCACY FOR AN IMBALANCED WORLD

March 4, 2012


OPRAH WINFREY’S BIOGRAPHY
WHO IS SHE?
*  Nearly almost every US citizen has heard the name Oprah Winfrey either from her well rated T.V. show OPRAH or as a shinning Hollywood star. Yet, a very vital piece of data people aren’t familiar with is the fact that she had to fight with tooth and claw—for being outside the mythical norm—to rise to a popular and wealthy actress. That is the stuff of myth!
WHERE DID SHE LIVE?
*  George Mair reports, “the nearby town of Kosciusko served as part of one of the most important and infamous frontier routes in American history. It was the 449-mile interstate “highway” of the two hundred years ago that led
from Natchezonce the wealthiest city in Americaon the Mississippi River, diagonally north to Nashville, where Oprah would spend some of her most important teen years with her father and stepmother” (5).
WHEN DID SHE LIVE?
*  Sarah McIntosh Wooten recounts, “In the hearth of the Deep South, the tiny town of Kosciusko, [Miss.], is about seventy miles northeast of Jackson, the state capital. On January 29, 1954 most people in Kosciusko were unaware of the birth of the community’s newest resident. They had not idea of the fame she would one day bring to their obscure little town just by being born there. For it was on that day that Oprah Gail Winfrey entered the world” (2).  Next, Oprah’s parents had in mind to name her Oprah, after Ruth’s sister—in—law in the Old Testament. Although, the midwife inverted the name’s second and third letters on the birth certificate, thus that is how she ended up with the name Oprah that it would bring her up wealth and fortune.
*  WHAT DID SHE DO?
Oprah was a prodigious child, Hattie Mae tutored her on arithmetic, reading, and writing by the age of three. She became a great reader from there on. Also, she had great talent for narration, performing and acting in church plays. As an adult, either in Mississippi and later in Milwaukee kids hated her, all through school because she memorized “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Teachers loved her for doing a good job. She was whipped each time she disobeyed the house rules. George M. indicates, “Oprah envied white girls her own age for the fact that they didn’t seem to get whipped everyday but too was jealous of the fact that most white girls looked like Shirley Temple and had lots of store-bought clothes, a pretty room with toys, and a mother who was always nice to them”(9). Hattie Mae had   pigs and Oprah read the bible to them. Also, prayed daily, and slept with grandma on a big quilt. Oprah had plenty of chores during her first six years of life such as: drawing water, feeding, reading bible stories out loud to the pigs, and nurturing cows.  Oprah played with corncob doll and two cockroaches, which she had named Melinda and Sandy. Oprah was thirteen years old when her fourteen-year-old male cousin raped her. In exchange for her silence, he took her to the zoo next day & bought her an ice-cream cone. She admitted later, the sex felt good and from there on out she began to have sex with a variety of men and boys, some of whom were here relatives.  According To Current Biography Yearbook, “During her freshman year at [Tenn.] State University, Oprah became Miss Black Nashville and Miss [Tenn.]. Relying on her poise and talent to compensate for what she has described as her ‘fudge brownie’ skin color, which, she thought, might conceivably handicap her in competition with ‘gingerbreads’ & ‘vanilla creams.’ In 1971 she was […] Miss Black American Pageant. When the local CBS […] offered her a job she turns it down twice [but she was reminded by her teacher that CBS jobs were the cause people go to the college]” (16: 611) she accepted the job with WTVF-TV turning into Nashville’s first Black news evening woman. Also, she was the first woman on that job, for most staff were males.
*  WHY SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT HER?           
Oprah has accomplished a variety of goals in her life, Ray b. Browne reports, “Winfrey’s philanthropic contributions go to a variety of causes, including education, scholarships, programs, for battered women, and most especially, abused children. She has also sponsored a club for teenage girls in the Cabrinini housing project and has setup foundation in conjunction with Hull House called FABL-“Families for a Better Life. [Donated millions of dollars to colleges and universities]” (916). In 1993, she weighed 222 pounds and she didn’t seem to be able to lose weight so she hired a personal trainer by midsummer 1994, she was running 50 miles weekly. Today, Oprah weights under 150 lbs.
*  HOW DID GENDER, RACE, CLASS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, AND/OR ABILITY AFFECT HER LIFE?
*  Oprah grew up in a very complicated epoch where she was surrounded by beautiful, thin, young, White, smiling women that looked like Shirley Temple. She only envied them for their looks but she doesn’t receive discrimination or prejudice from them. 
*  Violet and Constantine were slaves and were Oprah’s paternal great, great, grand¾parents. They moved to Kosciusko from Georgia in1850. At the end of the civil war, the couple was set free. Later, they moved out from their master’s home, taking his last name Winfrey.  Constantine saved enough money to buy 80 acres of land. He farmed the land to feed his nine children whose one of them was Vernon Winfrey, Oprah’s dad. The Winfrey’s were neither rich nor poor but of a descent socioeconomic status. As Mr. George Mair has noted, “She deeply believed in her heritage and always felt she was a direct descendant of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, but she followed the philosophy of Jesse Jackson, who said you worked hard and achieved” (36).
*  Oprah had her first affair at the age of thirteen with her fourteen-year-old male cousin. At first she was confused but she didn’t seem affected by having sex with multiple partners. She admitted that she loved doing it. The following quote attests of her romantic encounters, “she said that sexual attention from these man was pleasing and she liked it. […] If someone is stroking your little breast, you get a sexy, physical feeling. I can be a good felling, and it’s confusing, because you then blame yourself for felling good, not knowing that you had nothing to do with that kind of arousal. A child is never to blame. [in the years that followed, Oprah became more and more of a sex toy to male family members and their friends. Another cousin’s boyfriend seemed friendly to her and soon was fondling her in the car and at home.”(15)
*  HOW DID GENDER, RACE, CLASS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, AND/OR ABILITY
 INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER IN HER LIFE? WHAT WERE THE EFFECTS OF THESE INTERACTIONS IN HER LIFE?
*  Oprah was a very able being the days when she used to live with grandmother back in Mississippi.
*  Yet, when she moved to live with Vernita, Oprah was rape, although she didn’t seem to have been affected by all the promiscuity going on around in her life; in fact it did because Oprah ran away from her home for a week. Vernita never try to set a good example for her daughter so you might say that if Oprah became successful, it was not due to her mother’s moral character. Uncle Trent got Oprah pregnant but she miscarried it.
*  She lived from age fourteen to twenty-one with father, Vernon. He was a deacon for the Faith United Church. When Oprah moved her dad’s home, Vernon noticed that she was not the same daughter that he once left back in Mississippi 1963. As Robert Waldron observes, “[the parents] were determined to tone down this smart-aleck, overpainted, underdressed young lady. Halter tops, short, tight skirts, and heavy make up were banned, and serious studying, along with extracurricular reading, became the priority. This time, her father demanded chaste behavior and high grades, while her stepmother increased the book- reading quota to five books, with reports every two weeks. [No daughter of Vernon Winfrey was going to be cheap and slutty. Oprah would become a lady, and she would announce that fact to the world by dressing, talking, and acting like one” (24-25). It was the dad and stepmother—the quality control people —who would give the final touch of shape to Oprah so that she could one day become the successful woman that she is today.

In What Ways is This Woman Outside the Mythical Norm?

            She was outside the mythical norm because she was a product of a “One-day fling under an oak tree.” (Mair, 3) Vernita used to sleep around with various men so she never found out that Oprah’s real dad was. However, Mr. Vernon Winfrey is her official dad and the hero, for being the one who one day would shape her daughter for victory. Oprah grew up in a farm with chicken, cows, and pigs so she was not a middle class young girl because she wore clothes her grandmother made. She didn’t’ have a room of her own. Most of the stuff that she and grandmother consumed, they raised themselves. “Oprah would spend her time mostly barefoot on her grandmother’s farm […] tending to the pigs, chickens, and cows. […] Oprah never remembers having a mother around, just grandmother and big Earless” (8) Therefore she had to earn her living by doing all different kinds of activities around the farm. Vernita left Oprah with grandmother when she was a child. Vernita Lee left to Milwaukee to work, supposedly because there was less prejudice and more job opportunities but I don’t think that she ever sent money to grandmother to feed Oprah so “Hattie Mae would make some money by selling pigs and eggs.”(10) In what Ways is She Inside the Mythical Norm? She was inside the mythical norm because she was heterosexual, young, educated, and was an able woman. At present time she would be very much inside the mythical norm because she is very attractive and a billionaire.
In What Ways I am Outside the Mythical Norm?
            Oprah and I resemble each other with regards to our youth in various ways because we both farm the land to feed ourselves. I had to feed the cows, oxen, donkeys, pigs, and chickens. My dad was really poor so he didn’t have money to buy me shoes, clothes, pencils, notebooks; much less he had money to give me to spend in school to buy me some lunch. There was calamity at my home during the sixties and seventies so much was the scarcity of money and food that is very embarrassing to go back in time.  At times I don’t even want to go back to remember because it is extremely painful for me to dig out those memories. Although, my dad only whipped me once in his life time, my mother would whip me many, many, times when she didn’t like the flavor of the truth. My mother lost her parents when she was a child so she was raised an orphan. Her aunt Engracia would soak a lasso to whip my mother for eating the cookies. Then, she would
Pour uncooked beans on the floor so that my mother could pick them up one by one to put them back in the pot. She was very stern and bad mannered to my mother. I am just assuming that the fact that I was whipped so much must have been because my poor mother went through the same aberration.  I was outside the mythical norm because I come from a working class who barely made it in life. In What Ways are You Inside the Mythical Norm. The fact that I was a male, heterosexual, able, young, attractive, and fertile permitted me to be inside the axes of privilege.           
What did You Lost and/or Gained From Being Outside the Mythical Norm? In Other Words, How Have Systems of Oppression Affected You?
             I would say that Oprah lost her virginity at an early age but on the other hand she gained experienced about the biology of sex. She lost self-respect from cousins, uncle and classmates because she loved sex. As Mair reports, “By the time Oprah was thirteen and fourteen, she was inviting nineteen and twenty-year-old young men over to the apartment so they could do “the horse,” which was her name for sexual intercourse” (18) Oprah was pregnant of her uncle Trent, “Oprah said she just named everybody she could think of who have been the father and that Trent may have been the one. For Oprah this experience would be her greatest, haunting shame, and she would keep; the guilt buried deep inside her until years later, when her own half sister, Patricia, would humiliate her by revealing, it to a tabloid newspaper after Oprah had become the famous daytime—TV talks—how host. That revelation, years later, would be a sisterly betrayal that would so stun Oprah that she would take her to bed sick believing all the world hated her for what she had done” Oprah went to a bid of oppression for disrespecting herself. We couldn’t blame her parents for the sanity and well being of her but we could certainly say that she chose her own path. I would say Oprah Winfrey had benefited more from being outside the mythical norm than for not being because she received the support from various high school and university professors as well as coworkers through out her carrier. Many consider Oprah a Black pride.           
What Have You Lost and /or Gained From being Outside the Mythical Norm? In Other Words, How Have Systems of Oppression Affected You? What Have You Lost and / or Gained from Your Experience?           
            Oprah and I resemble each other in the aspect that I lost my innocence at the age of eight years old. My cousin who was fifteen years of age abused me in my dad’s workplace. Immediately after that incident, I took a shower but later on in life, I was very confused, teachers hit me on my hands with a tick wooden ruler and with their bare hands hit on my head, I received various punishments and got kicked out of soccer because I couldn’t assimilate anything, so I didn’t do well in school much less in sports. I flunked first grade and prior to all this my mom had found out that I wasn’t doing well in school so she threatened me by saying “you better don’t come home if you don’t pass to second grade.” I new what that meant because she was not kidding she meant what she said. I knew that I was going to get whipped with a belt really hard.
Eight years later Saulo’s friends and neighbors offensively called me sissy whenever we run into each other on the streets. There were neither friend in my childhood nor when I reached eighteen. I assume that the fact that I was sexually abused as a child was because mom and dad were not educated enough to back me with a daily hint of hope. My mom never found out that I was been raped in 1971 but I told my dad in 2003. For a long time, I have been felling like a bird moving around the wires of a cage; for which I don’t seem to be able to escape. I can’t be a girl, because I am a male, I can’t be dressed in women’s clothes because the institutions will lynch me. What would my church do if all of a sudden they found out that I am becoming a transsexual? You know, I almost have not way to go but to learn to live with my pain for the rest of my life. You might say that for being inside the mythical norm, I have lost more than what Oprah did!
What Privileges and Opportunities Did She Receive From Being Inside the Mythical Norm?
            Oprah was always surrounded by a lot of good people throughout her life. Although, she was Black American, poor or working class, and female, she managed to unwrap the invisible package of gifts that God gave her. Everyone seems to be able to enjoy Oprah. Sara McIntosh Wooten believes “ [She] was a ‘wonderful student’ and an ’excellent speaker.’[…] Oprah began to learn more about her heritage as an African American. Through the words of Harriet Tubman, abolitionist Sojourner Trut, and poet Margaret Walker, she discovered the courage and dignity of others. These African –American women, along with writer Maya Angeolou, became her heroes.” (35) There isn’t any doubt that if she was a victorious female was because of her intelligence and highly literate. One of her biographers recounts that during her last
Senior year of high school, she was elected the vice president of the student council, the slogan with which she won said “Vote for the Grand Ole Oprah,” (36) suggesting her ever-lasting common sense and originality. She was invited as a guest to attend to the White House Conference on Youth in Estes Park, Colorado. She was picked up by her grades, leadership skills, and community service. Again, I will endorse Oprah’s successful carrier with the fact that she didn’t pay attention to jealousy from other Black American girls, the Grand Oprah disliked rivalries therefore she ignored but you only are able to handle people’s anger with love, compassion, and humbleness. Oprah was popular for being nice. The following quote might serve to illustrate the purpose, “[although African Americans back in Tennessee State University had become dissatisfied toward the slow pace of progress toward equal rights. The Black Power movement, which promoted change trough violence, had gained strength. Many young African Americans were angrily protesting their unequal treatment for jobs and other opportunities. Winfrey’s problem was that she didn’t feel the anger of other African Americans her age. Her high school experience in Nashville had been extremely positive. Other blacks had felt the humiliation of treatment as ‘second-class citizens,’ but for Winfrey’s perspective, hard work had brought her success, regardless of her color.
What Privileges and Opportunities Have you Received from Being Inside the Mythical Norm?
I have had several problems for not being white. When I first move to Portland in 1989, I had more problems in my immediate life than what I do today. I come from a Mexican ethnicity; males back in my village are all the same. Every one is same color and everyone is an offshoot from each other, we are all like one family. They all help each other and when one doesn’t have food to eat the neighbor brings food for you to eat. There isn’t almost no criminality maybe one murder once every five years or so.  I move to the United States and everything changes, people here are completely ignorant of other races so White think that they are the only ones on this planet and that no others should live “here” that everyone should be exterminated but that is not a healthy way to handle life. Over across the bridge is Oregon, there has always been so much prejudice toward minorities even when that land and parts of Vancouver Washington belong Mexico; Mexicans are still treated like animals. I have never been able to keep a job for a very long time. The only job that I was able to keep for two or three years was UPS but that was because I had union. But one day a coworker called me “fucking Mexican why don’t you back to your fucking country.” He then hit me on my face with a mask that I was wearing to protect myself from the trailer’s dust. Eventually, I walked out from that job. Next, I got a job working for Avia-the shoe company. One day, a coworker was driving a forklift and was not paying attention when he smashed the forklift against the pillars of the building, injuring himself on the face, feet and legs. I don’t remember how I got him to sit in a chair to give him CPR while the ambulance could come. On the next day, the office manager called me to the office to acussed me of “horse running” and said that he didn’t have any more job for me because I wasn’t supposed to help the man that was lying almost dead in the ground. It has have been very hard for me-here-in the US. You might say that because I am a man, heterosexual, somehow literate, able and fertile that I have the world on my feet that is not truth, I have to struggle like any other man or woman if I ever want to be able to get to the top.
  
Works Cited
Brown, B. Ray and Brown, Pat. The Guide To The United States Culture. Bowling Green State University
             Pop Press. Wisconsin: 2001.                                                                                                      Mair, George.  Oprah Winfrey, “The Real Story” 10th ed.  A Birch Lane Press, 1994.
McIntosh, Sara Wooten.  Oprah Winfrey “Talk Show Legend” Berkeley: Enslow Publishers, 1999.
            Waldron, Robert.  Oprah!  New York:  St. Martin Press, 1987.
Moritz, Charles, ed Current Biography Yearbook.  Wilson Company New York, 1987.
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed.  Notable Black American Women. Gale Research, 1992.
The Gale Group “Black America’s Top Philanthropists” Jet Magazine 29 Dec. 1997, Vol.93 pages 61 (3).
            Infotrac database. Clark College Vancouver Washington, 10 20 2003.
“Winfrey, Oprah.” Women In The World History. A Biographical Encyclopedia. 2002 ed.































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