19 April 2010

Negro Is, Negro Ain't: On Erica Jong's Version of Oprah

Last week, Erica Jong wrote the most random "book review" (or something) I have ever read in my life.  In her Huffington Post blog, Jong, apparently charged with discussing Kitty Kelley's recently published unauthorized biography of Oprah Winfrey, essentially writes about knowing both Winfrey and Kelley, and admits that she hasn't actually finished the text in question.  (Note to self: Figure out how to get a gig like Erica Jong.)  In this latest version of "I knew [insert famous person] when...," Jong had the following observation about the divine Ms. O:


Oprah seems to have gotten more mistrustful with fame, not less. [Biggie said it best, "Mo' money, mo' problems.] And she seems to have gotten more race conscious than she was when she was younger. You never felt that Oprah was a professional Negro. [How does one feel that another has become a professional Negro?]  She seemed totally unaware of race [Look behind the veil, Erica] -- but what do I know about being black? [Absolutely nothing.]  It's not like being Jewish with a Chinese nom de plume.  [Obviously.]
I believe that racism is far from extinguished [Fire! Fire!] in the world -- despite the celebration that greeted the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.  [Logical fallacy. Perhaps they were celebrating because an idiot was no longer the face of this country.  Just a guess.]  Racism lurks in our country and all over the world. [Stalkers lurk.  Racism doesn't.] But people who have transcended prejudice have a special obligation not to carry grudges. After all, grudges hurt the grudge-holder most. [Really? James Byrd begs to differ.]  We also have a responsibility to set a good example by not holding grudgers. [We also have a responsibility not to write about things we don't know about as if we know about them. #Fail]
(Note to self: If you can amass a large readership, you can publish all kinds of silly crap for the next 30 years.)

(Another note to self: Reconsider your position on the word Negro.  Your support of it seems to make other folks feel like they have permission to use it.)

My apologies for all those bracketed interjections.   I just couldn't help myself.

After reading Jong's blog, I could only wonder: Are there two Oprah Winfreys?  Because the one Jong describes, this professional Negro, I don't know her.

See, if I am not careful, I may become a professional Negro.  I have thought about what it means to be a problem.  I know what the T stands for in Booker T. Washington--without the help of Wiki. I am a Negro among Negroes.  So much so that whenever I read about Chicago Bulls coach, Vinny del Negro, I mispronounce his name.  I know each verse to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" (and that there's an apostrophe in the title).  I can detect an octoroon from 50 paces away.   I know professional Negroes.  And Oprah ain't one.

Professional Negroes do things like show up for rallies in honor  of black people who have been slighted.  White people think professional Negroes are the leaders of the downtrodden black nation; professional Negroes also believe this lie.  Tavis Smiley follows professional Negroes on Twitter.  CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, etc. have professional Negroes on speed dial to explain to their clueless audience the significance of Michelle Obama double-dutching on the White House lawn.   Professional Negroes go to graduate school and write dissertations on other professional Negroes.   Professional Negroes are the only Negroes on your favorite blog's or newspaper's staff; they write editorials on Negroes.

I don't even think Oprah hangs out with professional Negroes.  She definitely doesn't have them on her show.  Oprah likes Chris Rock & Tyler Perry (both professional black women haters), the Huxtables Obamas (professional black role models), Mary J. Blige (professional 'hood chick who came up), Maya Angelou (professional wise black person or something), and Gayle (professional best friend).  None of those folks are professional Negroes.  Jong should not confuse Winfrey's use of one of America's favorite archetypes, the mammy, to hustle her way into a billion or so dollars as professional Negro-dom.   Totally different career path and job requirements.  Negroes seemingly have more Negro pride than that.  Besides, being a professional Negro has never been that lucrative.  Ever.

(Note to self: consider a career change.)

(Another not to self: Stop publicly dissing Oprah. You live in the world, and she's one of its rulers.)

4 comments:

elle said...

This came up in my class tonight! They read Deborah Gray White's Ar'n't I a Woman? and digressed into talking about how "mammy" has been repackaged. But they were absolutely floored when I brought up Oprah. One of my students told me I had to write an article on it. Didn't have the heart to tell her I wasn't the first to make the observation.

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