Just so we’re clear, I don’t watch Oprah. Never have. Most likely never will. The show never did it for me. But a segment caught my eye while I over at Resist Racism. In the following clip, Oprah and guests were discussing a certain skin-whitening cream used by Japanese women. Now, I could get into the interesting commentary my hommie Malik had about how skin whitening coincides with self-hate. But, I think there may be bigger fish to fry in this round. Particularly, while holding up a tube of a popular brand of whitening cream, Oprah jokingly imitated an Asian person as she “read” the label.

Again, I didn’t see the show. But after talking to one of my students who did see it, my suspicions about that the segment were confirmed. It pretty much ended on that note. Anyway, here’s the clip in question:

From what I saw here, I took away a few things. Obviously, there was the offense itself. The audience got a good laugh over it. The guest on the panel found it pretty funny. Even the Japanese woman on the show via live feed giggled (though I think she was a bit more on the modest and polite side). Everybody seemingly dismissed it as a harmless joke.

I didn’t.

Then, there is the question of decency and sensibility almost expected from a powerful and influencial person of color. Regardless of the intention, I thought Oprah’s joke was racist and inappropriate; and ultimately shadowed any possibilities of having real dialogue about ethnicity, the social expectations of beauty (often manufactured themselves), and what our women do to themselves – sometimes to their detriment – to meet those expectations. What could have been a hearty discussion turned into a bootleg Def Comedy Jam for middle-aged white women.

But that’s my two cents. I tend to get carried away at times. I make no bones about that. But what about you? Would you dismiss this as an innocent joke? Why or why not?

Go.

– ACL

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