February 26, 2007, - 12:51 am
By Debbie Schlussel
It’s supposed to be Black History Month.
So why are the most prominent, influential Black Americans focusing on themselves instead of real Black contributions to America?
Take Tyra Banks. The Victoria’s Secret lingerie model is now, unfortunately, a popular daytime talk show host and fancies herself an important Black leader. Her ratings seem to confirm that.
On her show, she marked what she considers the most important moment in American Black history: her 1997 star turn, donning a bikini as the first Black model on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
Banks claimed that this served as an important inspiration for America’s Black women and opened up important opportunities for them they never had before.
Yes, forget about Harriet Tubman. And Sojourner Truth, too. Who needs them, when the newly-minted greatest woman in American Black history is the hostess of America’s Next Top Model, now casting for Season Nine? Freeing slaves? That’s nothing compared to the woman who tells America to “Kiss my fat Black ass.”
Then, there’s Oprah Winfrey. She, too, has Tyra Banks disease. Or more likely, Tyra got Oprah disease.
How does Oprah celebrate Black History Month? She’s celebrating it by showing America all about “me, me, me.” With tonight’s primetime TV special on ABC, Oprah celebrates her new school in South Africa bearing her name.
But the school has nothing to do with Black history and everything to do with Oprah’s ever-growing ego and new brand of acceptable racism.
The school of 152 girls has only one White student, the token who’s been bandied about for all the world to see. Since Oprah personally handpicked the students out of more than 3,500 applicants, that should tell you something about Oprah. And Oprah told us more: “I don’t have to please the White people of America,” she told E! Entertainment upon the opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.
Then, there’s the way Oprah picked the students, aside from the apparent color scheme. Newsweek detailed the “leadership” Oprah employed from the start.
“You’re so skinny in person!” remarked one applicant to Oprah. She was admitted. Ditto for Lesego Tlhabanye, who blurted:
“Do you spend $500 to get your eyebrows done?” Oprah laughed–and admitted her to the school. A girl with moxie is exactly what she’s looking for. . . . One girl, Thelasa Msumbi, held on extra tight [while hugging Oprah], then whispered in Oprah’s ear: “We are your daughters now.” Winfrey smiled. And yes, Thelasa got admitted.
Sorry. That’s not Black history. Or leadership. It’s just Oprah ego-ism.
It’s sad that instead of racism and self-conceit, Oprah and Tyra don’t tell their audiences–Black and White–the real American Black history, which doesn’t include them.
Blacks were among the founding fathers of several western cities, including Los Angeles. Forget Beverly Hills cop. Maria Rita Valdez, a Black woman, owned Rancho Rodeo Las Aguas, which became Beverly Hills. William Alexander Leidesdorff, introduced the first steamboat, hotel, and public school to San Francisco. Bose Ikard helped blaze the Goodnight-Loving Trail that led out West from Texas.
Oprah and Tyra don’t come even close to the heels of these great Americans.
Or to York, Lewis and Clark’s slave and guide, instrumental to their famous expedition. Or Black businessmen Barney Ford and Henry O. Wagoner, instrumental to founding and developing Colorado, according to 1895’s “History of the State of Colorado.”
Or George Washington Bush, who helped the U.S. stake claims to the Oregon Territory by settling Puget Sound. Oprah and Tyra probably remain ignorant of Congressional Medals of Honor earned by the brave all-black Buffalo Soldiers and the Ninth Cavalry, which rescued late General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, when they were trapped during an engagement.
They did these things without affirmative action, government handouts, or minority set-asides. They did this when times were far more difficult for Blacks in America. And they did this without self-anointed talk-show leaders and lingerie and bikini models pretending to be their leaders.
That’s the real Black history. “Knowledge of a proud past will set the stage for a bright future for African-American and … all Americans,” says Charles A. Green, founder of the Old Wild West African-American Hall of Fame. But as late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young (with whom I rarely agreed) observed, “As black people we don’t appreciate our history. We don’t even know our history.”
Just the way Oprah and Tyra like it.
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