Oprah: inner-city kids want iPods and sneakers, not education

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

I was watching Paula Zahn last night (By the way, is Asian eyelid surgery really still news anymore? They spent a whole segment on it!) and they had a panel discussing the recent opening of the $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Oprah recently gave an interview to Newsweek and explained why she decided to do this project in South Africa instead of in the States:

“I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there,” she says. “If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

Sigh… her remark frustrates me on so many levels. Please excuse the incoherent rant that is about to follow.

First, I hate this hypocritical assumption that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have/buy nice things. I recently read a really great blog post that broke it down nicely, but unfortunately couldn’t find it anywhere (if anyone knows what I’m talking about, please post a link).

All of us, regardless of our income/wealth level, spend money on things that we really can’t afford. We all aspire to own objects that are out of our reach. This is not some kind of “inner city mentality.” It’s a mindset that we all buy into, pun intended.

Also, don’t we all go for the instant gratification over the long-term gratification? Can you really blame a kid for wanting an iPod more than something as amorphous as “education?”

Is it any different from giving into that craving for a piece of chocolate cake (instant gratification) instead of denying yourself so that you can stick to your diet (long-term gratification)? You’d think Oprah would know a thing or two about that, considering how much time she devotes to discussing her “struggle” with her weight.

Between this and her comments about hip hop, I feel like Oprah is setting a dangerous example for her demographic (i.e. white soccer moms and their families) to believe in these essentialist notions about young black and Latino youth.

“Even Oprah thinks that all they want to do is buy sneakers. If Oprah says it, it can’t be racist!”