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A Tale of Two Lenses

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Oprah WinfreyTwo stories hit the news this past week that made headlines on Drudge, Fox, MSNBC and the morning show Live with Kelly and Michael. On one side we heard a story of racism, oppression, and bigotry, and on the other we had profiling, misunderstanding and humor. In both cases people of status and wealth were treated in a manner contrary to their status in our society. The difference was how they reacted.

Oprah Winfrey has been a household name for most of my adult life. I remember watching her as she battled weight gain, weight loss, and personal demons which she masterfully turned into healing for herself and millions of viewers. A woman driven to overcome a childhood of poverty and sexual abuse, she rose to become one of the richest women in the world. She is no longer referred to as a person, but a “brand”. I have the utmost respect for Oprah Winfrey as a person, a woman, a proprietress, and an African-American who endured racism and bigotry during some of the most turbulent times of our history during the Civil Rights era of the 60’s. Her view of the world is through a lens I, as a white American woman, cannot fathom, and out of respect for her I would never even try.

Jase Robertson is a white male in his early 40’s living in Louisiana with his family and one of the stars of the reality hit show, “Duck Dynasty”. He appears to be down to earth, devoted to his family and has a wicked sense of humor about himself, his family, and his background. He did not suffer from racism or abuse that we know of. He seems to be the kind of guy who is pretty content wherever he is…whether it’s the woods of Louisiana or the streets of New York City.

Oprah, who even after leaving her very successful daytime talk show, remains driven to achieve, has recently been in the headlines as she pushes her new movie, “The Butler”. During an interview she recounted an event in Zürich where she believes a saleswoman in a boutique refused to show her a handbag because of the color of her skin. In Winfrey’s account, the woman profiled her due to race and assumed she could not afford the handbag and refused to show it to her. The saleswoman tells a different story. This isn’t Oprah’s first encounter where she claims racism when she isn’t served by a retail store. Oprah told a similar story in 2005 when she was refused entry into a Hermes store in France. Oprah accused the store of discrimination after they refused her and her entourage entry into the store during her visit. Of course the store was closed for the day and they weren’t allowing anyone in to shop, but Oprah’s spokesperson was, nevertheless, quoted as saying, “What does Hermes mean in French? Ku Klux Klan?” I can’t relate to this kind of frustration, Wal-Mart is open 24 hours in some areas, but then I see the world through a different lens.

Jase Robertson and his family are currently the talk of the land. To say their show is a hit is an understatement. Their popularity leads to talk of one of the brothers running for political office. Their season premier broke all previous records for a cable show, and they are currently in New York City promoting Duck Dynasty. As Jase and his wife went to check into their hotel, Jase asked an employee of the hotel where the bathroom facilities were located. The employee, mistaking Jase for a homeless person, escorted him outside and pointed down the street and wished him luck. Jase circled back around into the hotel and reunited with his wife who asked him what happened. Jase retells the story with a smile and says he was “facially profiled”. All of the Robertson’s sport long ZZ Top type beards and dress like they are ready for the next big duck hunt. Jase understands he dresses, acts, and talks different from native New Yorker’s. Jase also understands the hotel employee probably didn’t recognize him and made a mistake. Jase chooses not to be offended, but instead looks at the entire incident with humor and humility. In Jase’s words, “He just didn’t know”. It wasn’t racism, bigotry, hatred, or elitism. It was called “being human”. Jase and the entire Robertson family understand the true meaning of loving your neighbor, which in a nutshell means you don’t attack with name calling, slandering, and defaming simply because you have been slighted. It means treating people the way you would want to be treated. Jase understands people make mistakes and those mistakes rarely reach the level of institutional racism. Jase looks at world through a lens of forgiveness and humility.

Oprah, on the other hand, chooses to look at the world through a lens of race and elitism. She wouldn’t even allow the saleswoman to apologize for any misunderstanding; forgiveness is not an act she will allow since it would diminish her rage and her righteousness. Instead of even considering the possibility of a misunderstanding, Oprah simply dismissed the story she created and said she was sorry she even mentioned the city she was visiting. But the story was out there, people’s lives were changed, and whether the events occurred as Oprah said they did or not, the damage to the shop, the saleswoman, and to whites in general was done, in other words, a “drive by” as only an elite, wealthy, “brand” like Oprah could do.
So we have a choice in our lives and the choice is a daily battle within each of us. The choice is to choose our lens. Do we see every offense as an attack on our integrity, our heritage, and our race, or do we see the daily assault as an opportunity to love our neighbor? Take an honest look at the Robertson’s and Oprah Winfrey and you tell me who is living abundantly.

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