Monday, August 12, 2013

Oprah or the Handbag Sales Woman - Who Decides What is Racism?

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#solidarityisforwhitewomen is currently trending on Twitter. I have no idea if the hashtag has anything to do with the Oprah case but it sure got me thinking. Who decides what racism is? Is it the person claiming to have been discriminated aganst, or the person accused of being racist?

During an interview with Entertainment Tonight that included a discussion about how she had experienced subtle or overt racism in her life, Oprah said she had experienced racism as recently as this July. She had walked into a luxury store in Zurich and was interested in a crocodile handbag in a locked case. The price was 35,000 Swiss francs - the equivalent of about $38,000.

Oprah asked to see it but was advised by the white sales woman to stick to less expensive handbags even after Oprah tried several times to see that particular bag.

“No, it’s too expensive,” Oprah said the saleswoman told her. As Oprah recounts the incident,

“I said, ‘But I really do just want to see that one,’ and she said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,’ and I said: ‘O.K., thank you so much. You’re probably right, I can’t afford it.’ And I walked out of the store. Now why did she do that?”

So the Zurich Sales woman who refused to bring down the bag has joined her voice to that of her employer, who had earlier defended her store. They're basically calling Oprah a liar. The Sales woman says;

'I wasn't sure what I should present to her she came in on the afternoon of Saturday July 20 so I showed her some bags from the Jennifer Aniston collection.
'I explained to her the bags came in different sizes and materials, like I always do.
'She looked at a frame behind me. Far above there was the 35,000 Swiss franc crocodile leather bag.
'I simply told her that it was like the one I held in my hand, only much more expensive, and that I could show her similar bags.
'It is absolutely not true that I declined to show her the bag on racist grounds. I even asked her if she wanted to look at the bag.

This of course begs the question, why did you refuse to show her the bag? Why would you tell a customer that a bag was more expensive and so you didn't need to show it to them, but could show them similar ones to a less expensive one. Isn't the whole work of a sales person to sell?

So if a sales person refuses to perform all steps necessary to lead to a sale, there is definitely an element of profiling going on, it could be for class or it could be for racism. That Oprah is black is undeniable, which makes the charge of racism weightier. I don't know what Oprah was wearing, but below is one of the pictures that surfaced of her time in Switzerland for Tina Turner's wedding. She looks very dressed down, still not a reason for a sales person should discriminate.

Some arguments insist that black people, some of us anyway, have chips on our shoulder and see racism everywhere. But isn't it said that beauty is in the eye of a beholder?

If from the outside looking in, I'm to say what I think, it is that the sales woman has not given any good reason for refusing to bring down that bag. There is no major difference in the accounts from her and Oprah. The cost of a bag should not determine whether a sales person shows it to a customer or not.

So while it may look good that these two women, the sales woman and the store owner, both white, are sticking together, I think they should look beyond their empty solidarity and understand that this time they have hurt someone with their actions. Oprah brushed it off when it happened, but it's obvious it stuck with her. I think Trudie Goetz and the sales woman should find it in their heart to apologize.


  1. I also think they should apologize.

  2. Well written.

  3. The one thing that caught my eye here is how slim Oprah looked in the recent O cover photo compared to how she looks in real life.

    1. All magazine covers are photoshopped.

    2. I think we all know that all covers are photoshopped. Oprah's own is very very much so.

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