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”?