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Black America, Literature

The Secret

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The Salon article, “Oprah’s ugly secret”, by Peter Birkenhead, paints a creepy image of the America’s iconic black woman. Sure, Oprah is an easy target, she’s rich, black, female, etc. She can do no right, even when she does, but Ms. Winfrey’s endorsement of a book called “The Secret” and Birkenhead’s analysis of it, really opened my eyes.

“The Secret”, written by Rhonda Byrne, espouses the pseudo-philosophy that thinking positively attracts positivity and thinking negatively attracts negativity. The book is based on the Law of Attraction and is touting the Law’s ability to make you rich, thin, successful, happy, not hungry, etc. You just need to visualize what you want and you will get it. And therein lies the problem.

As Birkenhead puts it, “Why ‘venality’? Because, with survivors of Auschwitz still alive, Oprah writes this about ‘The Secret’ on her Web site, “the energy you put into the world — both good and bad — is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day.” “Venality,” because Oprah, in the age of AIDS, is advertising a book that says, “You cannot ‘catch’ anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought.” “Venality,” because Oprah, from a studio within walking distance of Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Projects, pitches a book that says, “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”

Is Oprah really blaming the victims here? Is she really saying the folks of Cabrini Green Projects deserve to be there? By her endorsement of “The Secret” is she really saying the Cabrini Green residents are destined to live in abject poverty because they aren’t thinking positively? Is she really saying folks are poor, hungry, illiterate, victims of rape and genocide, because they’re not thinking positively? Or is she just lending her name to an unfortunately, wildly successful book of “anti-intellectual” snake oil?

One fascinating thing I took from this article is how “The Secret’s” “philosophy” impacts my perception of Oprah’s new school for girls in South Africa. I have always been suspect of the wealth and extravagance of the school, especially because it is located among abject black poverty, but I did not know that the government of South Africa withdrew its support of the school for the very same reason. “The academy is a controversial enough project in South Africa that the government withdrew its support, because of the amount of money that’s been spent on its well-reported, lavish design — money that could have gone instead to creating perfectly fine schools that served many, many more students than the 350 who will be making use of spa facilities at the academy.”

“Oprah’s ugly secret” is one of the best articles I have read about Ms. Winfrey and it really made me think about her motivations. Oprah certainly wants to paint herself as the world’s black goddess spiritual guru, but does she really believe the victim-hating crap in “The Secret”?


http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/03/05/the_secret/index.html

14 Comments

  1. Del

    This is painful….
    I really respect and like Oprah…

    But the school IS troubling and why does it have to be so over the top and only one…I’ve always thought that maybe 6 more very nice, well-equipped, solid schools could have been built for the cost of that one exceptional school where less than 500 students attend! That’s nuts!

    I’ve been fearing that she’s heading towards a “cult of personality” syndrome for some time. She’s SO huge and SO praised and SO rich that she’s about to believe her hype, thus giving herself this goddess status…

    Watch out, Oprah, girl! The air get’s really thin up there and you’ll have to climb back down just the way you climbed up that ladder…

  2. acolyte

    “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”
    The next time I hear someone say that people who are poor or lower middle class do not work hard someone is going to get hurt. There are hard working people of all cadres in life. Not all people are lazy or negative and it is about time Oprah learnt that. Yes through hard work and being in the right place at the right time Oprah is now a billionare but not everyone has the same chances that she has.
    Upward mobility is a luxury in the States from what I have seen, the days of horatio algers allegory are long gone.
    I for one think that Oprah’s Academy is a monument to herself, like some have said; what is the use of having a spa in a school when the money used for that schoool could have built 5 more less prestigous but well equiped schools?Not that I dont appreciate what she had in mind.
    Oprah needs to stop listening to her own hype if she is to remain relevant.

  3. Yeah, well, what do you know. Somebody once said that “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  4. to quote salon.com :” 1) Oprah really believes this stuff, and we should be very worried about her opening a school for anyone. 2) Oprah doesn’t believe this stuff and we should be very, very worried about her opening a school for anyone. 3) Oprah doesn’t know that any of this stuff is in the book or on her Web site and in a perfect world she wouldn’t be allowed to open a school for anyone.”

    Oprah Winfrey used to be a public figure whom I used to respect until i noticed her strange obsession with the superficial things of life : weight problems, fashion, money, celebrities , money and did i mention money.

    While people like Maya Angelou have grown to be highly respectable and amazingly inspirational personalities in their later years Oprah seems to be losing her grip on the things that really matter.

    It is a sad , sad day. Someone please take the microphone from that woman before she leads people down a nasty path!

  5. Capri

    Black looks

    Havent read the secret but I do now believe in the law of nature that every action has an equal and opposite reaction… or something like that.

    Before when I heard someone say that, I always reverted back to the dying children in Sudan. Did they deserve that? And unfortunately no one ever gave me a satisfactory answer until I stumbled upon it myself.

    To avoid going into details, you make a classic example of how we as humans react (negatively). From the thousands of things that Oprah has done it has taken one or two articles and/or gestures for you to loose respect or doubt her intensions.

    I dont think Oprah and forgive my language is stupid enough endorse something that might make people have unprotected sex in the name of positive thinking. And neither do I think she’s telling the people from the projects that they deserve to be where they are because they are not positive enough. I do however think… scratch that BELIEVE that if they REALLY wanted to get out of the projects, they would. But thats the other mystery of this world. People can only dream too far of what they can achieve. Strange things happen in this world everyday and we call them miracles. You would be suprised.

    Someone once drew a black dot on a white board and asked the class what they see. Majority said a black dot. Some, a black dot on a white board. No one said a white board with a black dot. And thats exactly how most of us view people or situations. There could be a sea of good but when a drop of bad happens the sea suddenly dissapears. And that is terribly sad.

    Sorry for the rant my point was we still should look into the positive things around us.

    I havent read the book but heard of it and just smiled. I had discovered the same thing in a nutshell not so long ago.

  6. Sokari

    Del@ completely agree with you. Why create an elite school for a few girls when you could have contributed to the education of thousands and thousands of school children. What values will these girls now learn? Frankly the whole project is offensive. As for her statements on poverty Rethablie says it all. She is lost in her power and money and can no longer see the real world.

  7. I’m glad somebody is finally critiquing _The Secret_ and its pernicious pseudo-ideas. Sure it helps to be positive, Capri – but it does not help to have your head in the sand, or to blame the poor for being poor, etc.

  8. You’ve called Oprah a victim hater, but a victim lover is no better. I honestly think she’s calling it as she sees it, and she’s perfectly entitled to her opinion. Quit deify her and you’ll see this opinion is no more significant than that of Mary down the street.
    Re: the luxury school in the Vaal, when I first heard of it, I wondered where all those empowered girls are going to get husbands from. There is no parallel school empowering boys, and gender relations in SA have a long way to go, ostensibly due to disempowered men.

  9. I have not read the book, but from your description I find this an old theme. It is even one from the black churches. It is more about positive living, and not a pull yourself up from your boots straps idea. The black poor in America had in the past a sense of community and dignity. The values stressed were for succeeding, for when that time came blacks would be ready. For example, they were ready in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. I think now the powers have finally succeeded in making many of the poor feel they are intrinsically inferior and there is no way out of the poverty of spirit.
    Oprah made it, because it was expected.

  10. Ken

    Capri wrote “Someone once drew a black dot on a white board and asked the class what they see. Majority said a black dot. Some, a black dot on a white board. No one said a white board with a black dot. And thats exactly how most of us view people or situations. There could be a sea of good but when a drop of bad happens the sea suddenly dissapears. And that is terribly sad.”

    That is quite a leap…if I placed a face (instead of dot) on a white board and asked the same question…would you be surprised when the majority of people say “a face”? You can’t use that experiment to make the leap to negative thinking.

  11. Herbert

    We all are entitled to our opinion.
    With due respect it sounds rudiculous for people to jump into an easy conclusion concerning someone else art work.It is not always easy to read the mind set of a writer.It requires a great deal of analytical work and the ability to read between the lines.
    It is very easy for people to forget where they were coming from but i do not see such trait in Oprah.
    She readily tells anyone who cares to listen how a little poor black girl from a poor neighbourhood was able to beat all odds and made it to the top.This is a clear demonstration of humility and not arrogance.
    She is only human and such is also prone to all human shortcomings.
    Let us encourage her for thinking homeward and respectfully correct her if need be.

  12. Herbert

    We all are entitled to our opinion.
    With due respect it sounds rudiculous for people to jump into an easy conclusion concerning someone else art work.It is not always easy to read the mind set of a writer.It requires a great deal of analytical work and the ability to read between the lines.
    It is very easy for people to forget where they were coming from but i do not see such trait in Oprah.
    She readily tells anyone who cares to listen how a little poor black girl from a poor neighbourhood was able to beat all odds and made it to the top.This is a clear demonstration of humility and not arrogance.
    She is only human and as such,is also prone to all human shortcomings.
    Let us encourage her for thinking homeward and respectfully correct her if need be.

  13. Mike

    I have read Rhonda Byrnes’ book The Secret. The ideas and approaches are not new. She has packaged the essence of many religions into an understandable format. Praying and chanting if done correctly envoke the laws of attraction. The solution to whatever you may desire will most likely come to you in ways that you never expected.
    Unfortunately, many of us do not read broadly. Many of us do not think deeply. As a result you don’t grasp what The Secret is really about.

  14. Shirley Hayden

    The Secret is just that-secret. what do we know of secret societies? How do they function? Who is accepted? At what cost? And more importantly, for what reason? Although she, this time OPRAH-notice the caps, is invited in, I question what SHE is to REPRESENT, and who is she the intended target for.