Dear Oprah: This is a letter that I have wanted to write to you for the past 25 years. The timing has never been right because you were a constantly moving target during all that time. Just when I was ready to take aim, you changed directions, remaining elusive on your ever-growing world stage, a stage that you designed and that you re-created at least once every five years.
So now that you are leaving the one-hour day-time television talk show and going 24 hour network-wide, here goes:
“Thank you,” from a black woman, for taking on the role as the country’s mammy.
That’s right, I said it.
You are our super mammy – and I’m not mad at you. In fact, I praise and honor you.
Yes, and on behalf of so many of us who have had a chance to lay down this mammy burden, I want to thank you.
Legendary in the South, perpetuated in literature, infused throughout popular culture (see early Hollywood and mid-century
television) and cultural references and embedded in the psyche of America – if not throughout the rest of the Western world – mammies have made this a safer place for all black folks striving to survive.
Need evidence? The best-selling fiction on the New York Times list for 2010 is The Help, now at 87 weeks. These dignified, proud and wise black women find ingenious ways to overcome intractable folkways, mores and outright racist treatment suffered in the 1950s-60s Mississippi. In their roles as maids and comforters to the white families who employed them, they made it safe for the rest of the black community to survive.
So along comes Oprah, who, for the past quarter century, has made it safe for black women (and their men) to continue to thrive in America.
Large and in charge; wielding a gentle but persistent hand; able to ‘whip’ all into shape; the white woman’s comforter; the white man’s confidant; and foil for the rest of the black women who needed the space to get on with the heavy lifting (in the fields, at the office, in our own homes, with our backs strong for our men) – that’s Oprah.
Thank you, Oprah, for giving the rest of us sisters the time, space and the luxury of knowing that you were the go-to person who relieved us of that surrogacy that had become a 300-year-old yoke thrust on black women
I want to thank you, Oprah, for deflecting the disparaging eyes of the dominator away from us, at least for a while. You have managed to dazzle and dim the critical and dismissive generalizations, not allowing the damning stereotypes to stay attached to your kindred.
I want to thank you, Oprah, for placing yourself in the eye of the storm and holding back the destructive winds against your sisters (and brothers) for, I hope, another quarter century.
Twenty-five years is a short time in our stay here and so we must leverage the time bought by your sacrifice. We owe you.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.