Oprah Winfrey delivered a rousing speech on racial and gender equality while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes ceremony on 7 January 2018, prompting media speculation about a future political career, including a possible 2020 presidential bid.
It also prompted the spread of derogatory rumors by her detractors.
One such rumor centered on comments Winfrey made during a 2013 BBC interview in which she was asked whether or not she believes the problem of racism has been solved. Her alleged response? In order for the problem of racism to be solved, “old white people have to die.”
Here’s an example of a tweet asserting that Winfrey said it:
Oprah’s solution to racism; Old white people “just have to die”.
What a horribly divisive message. pic.twitter.com/NOtaft2xxf
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) January 8, 2018
This way of framing Winfrey’s 2013 remarks isn’t new. Among other places, we also encountered it on the xenophobic fake news web site Jews News in May 2015:
Oprah Winfrey: “White older people have to die”
Oprah Winfrey is looked up to by millions of mindless followers.
This clip shows her racist side.
Oprah believes that older white people are the problem with America today, and that they need to die so that racism can end.
And one finds similar statements in sources contemporaneous with the BBC interview, such as this article published in FrontPage Magazine in November 2013:
Oprah: Racism Will End When All the Old White People Die
And if you don’t think that old white people should die … then you’re a racist. Because what could be more racist than planning a post-racial utopia that depends on people of a certain race dying.
Despite what’s stated above, however, Winfrey’s remarks weren’t specifically targeted at white people. She did not say “All old white people have to die,” or “White older people have to die,” or any other fabricated, race-based version of her actual remarks. In fact, she never uttered the phrase “white people” at all.
Here is the full BBC interview:
WINFREY: It would be foolish to not recognize that we have evolved, and that we’re not still facing the same kind of terrorism against black people en masse as was displayed with the Scottsboro boys. It’s gotten better.
Are there still places where people are terrorized because of the color of their skin, because of the color of their black skin? Yes. But there are laws that have allowed us to progress beyond what we saw in the Scottsboro Boys, and beyond even prejudice that we see in The Butler. I mean, his ability to go in… One of my favorite scenes ever — spoiler alert — is him going in and asking for the raise. I think that’s one of the finest acting jobs I’ve ever seen. You know that moment?
INTERVIEWER: Of course. Are you saying problem solved?
WINFREY: I’m saying problem not solved. I’m saying that, you know, that’s the beauty of a film like The Butler, and it’s the beauty of a film like 12 Years a Slave, and it’s the beauty of what we’re seeing on stage with Scottsboro Boys … it allows people to see where the root of the problem started. It allows people to see, “Oh, that’s where it all started, this is how far we’ve come, and now this is how much farther we need to go.”
Of course the problem is not solved. As long as people can be judged by the color of their skin, the problem’s not solved. As long as there are people who still… And there’s a whole generation — I said this for apartheid South Africa, I said this for my own community in the South — there are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.
It’s valid, given the context, to infer that the majority of the people Winfrey was talking about are white, but invalid to infer that her remarks targeted all older white people, or only older white people. In other words, those accusing Winfrey of racism draw a false equivalence between “generations marinated in racism” and “all older white people.”
However contentious and impolitic it may have been for Winfrey to claim that older generations steeped in prejudice will have to die before the problem of racism can be solved, the objection that it was racist of her to say so is absurd.