The internet exploded on Sunday after Oprah Winfrey, who became the first Black woman to receive the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, gave a damn incredible speech about the #MeToo movement, women who’ve suffered at the hands of awful, powerful men, and where we go from here. “I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon!” she said. “And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, ‘Me too’ again.”
Unsurprisingly, “Oprah 2020” was trending on Twitter almost immediately. And soon, media sites lit up with take after take after take after take after take after take about if an Oprah run was a good or bad thing. Following that came the match-ups between her and Donald Trump as well as comparisons between her and Hillary Clinton. Sheesh, y’all.
This entire news story and all of the subsequent opinions had me sighing for a while — but none of it had to do with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah’s a boss, literally and figuratively. Instead, what annoyed the crap out of me was how it was so painfully obvious that our media and the public haven’t learned anything over the past two to three years.
Let’s talk about the fact that Oprah isn’t running, and as many people have pointed out, lots of women are, particularly lots of Black women. We’re only a month removed from Doug Jones’ December Alabama Senate election victory, a win that happened in large part thanks to Black women who voted for him in droves (98 percent of them who cast their ballots were Team Jones, you’ll recall), and people are already forgetting what it means to give actual support to Black women. As Ashley Edwards wrote on the heels of that election, the burden isn’t on Black women to save us from ourselves, including in the political arena. The same applies to Oprah. We need to do our own work.
Part of that work is electing Black women to office, because there are plenty who have committed to running and many who are in office and need continuous support. California senator Kamala Harris — who people have highlighted as a potential 2020 presidential contender — was just named to the Senate Judiciary Committee; she and Senator Cory Booker became only the second and third Black senators named to that committee in its 201-year existence.
In 2017, Jennifer Carroll Foy was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, Vi Lyles was victorious in the Charlotte, North Carolina mayoral race, and Andrea Jenkins won a historic seat on the Minneapolis City Council, to name a few races. Author and speaker Luvvie Ajayi also made a list of Black women running for office in 2018; almost all of them are Democrats, and many are progressive. Give women like them your dollars, your volunteer time, and your vote.
And moreover, why would Oprah want to run for office when our media and our general public are already so terrible to women in office — especially those who are interested in being president? New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand is the most recent victim of the “oh no, an ambitious woman, so scary!” new cycle after finding herself at center of several smarmy takes for, uh, being a politician. That said, targets of racist and sexist criticism have also included Black women lawmakers like Kamala Harris and Maxine Waters. So when I say we need to support Black women, that doesn’t just mean getting them into office; it means standing by them in times of injustice, calling out people’s biases, and unpacking what a legitimate critique is versus one that’s just thinly-veiled misogynistic or racist hogwash.
But on top of these op-eds and criticisms being problematic, they point to larger questions: What do we actually expect out of our politicians once they’re in office, and why do we think that really rich business people will make our nation better? Oprah sure as hell isn’t the only wealthy anti-Trumper to have presidential talk swirling around.
So, America, we’re 10 months out from the 2018 midterm election and less than three years from our next presidential election. Yes, there appears to be more awareness of what went wrong in 2016 and well before that, but we still haven’t learn enough. I’ve got some suggestions for what we need to do.
We need to stop mythologizing what our politicians should be — and we need to understand that no, they shouldn’t be celebritized like folks in entertainment or other sectors are. Politicians just shouldn’t be “beloved” in the same way. Think of what happened with actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We need to actively support the underrepresented groups already doing the work and who have the experience for office. The shiny new thing isn’t always the best thing.
We need to stop our futile search for the perfect candidate — because she never existed and never will. And if you were to actually sit down and write out what that candidate would even be like, you’d realize rather quickly that your demands are pretty ridiculous and unattainable for any person. (Trust me, I once had to do this exercise for a college class.)
We need to stop treating the women running for office and elected to office like shit. And yes, there’s a difference between giving valid criticism and treating someone like shit.
And we need to stop equating top-tier business success with sturdy political leadership. There’s a gigantic difference between helming a large-scale business entity and committing to public service. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that being “successful” (however you define it) at the former automatically qualifies you for the latter or guarantees you’ll be good at it. Just look at who’s in the Oval Office.
The Oprah 2020 ship has sailed for now, but this was never about Oprah. Unfortunately, that means there’s work for us to do instead of work for her to do. But remember: It’s worth our while.