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I'm torn -- I just don't know how to feel about Oprah. You know; the whole denied-from-shopping-at-Hermes-after-hours episode of last week, which she allegedly described as "one of the most humiliating moments of [my] life."
On one hand, I understand how being turned away from the luxe Paris store -- even after closing hours -- could be contrued as an offensive, racist gesture. Both Winfrey and her companions claim to have seen other (presumably white) customers shopping in the store. And don't forget that ludicrous quote from an anonymous Hermes shopgirl, about the retailer "having problems with North Africans."
What I can't understand is why on god's green earth the people at Hermes-Paris would have been stupid enough to refuse entry to, uh, the RICHEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD. I mean, that takes some serious balls. They had to have known they'd get lambasted for it; they must've also been blissfully unaware of the racist overtones such an act could convey. Turning away a group of black shoppers while white customers freely roam the store? If that was honestly what the situation looked like, Hermes should be ashamed.
But part of me doesn't totally buy it. Like I said -- it's the stupidity factor. It's a sad symptom of our sycophantic celeb-obsessed culture that famous people now expect -- no, DEMAND -- stores to just open for them at all hours of the day or night -- whenever they happen to have a hankering for a new bag, watch or belt. I mean, come on. I find our celebrity culture as ridiculous as the next girl, and it bugs me: the degree of entitlement these famous folks feel; the coddling and bullshit and insane exceptions commonly made for them.
I mean, if the store really was closed, it's slightly obnoxious for Oprah to have tried to get in. Special treatment for special people? I guess she just assumed she was rich 'n powerful enough to be granted her request. Fair assumption; most other stores surely would have accomodated her.
Anyway, the best thing to come out of the whole Oprah/Hermes debacle is the dialogue it's sparked about consumers & race. Oprah has been speaking out -- uh, a lot -- about her experience, and she's promised to explore the issue in a future episode of her talk show. Obviously, African-American shoppers experience loads of unjust treatment, in stores ranging from Pricemart to Prada. There's the oft-noted "clerk trailing 'em through the store" thing; the clerks' unspoken but decidedly racist assumption of having a shoplifter or thief on their hands.
As Bruce D. Haynes, a sociologist at the UC-Davis, noted: "It picks up on every inkling of discrimination that a black person might experience in daily life...Many people are saying, 'I don't have the money, but Oprah represents what I could be'... She's like the black Donald Trump. And if it can happen to Oprah, it could happen to anyone."
Laura Barcella is an Associate Editor at AlterNet.