Oprah in the Oval

By Amanda Battle, Contributing Writer

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most iconic women of our lifetime. She represents everything the American dream hopes to portray: someone who rose up from a low-income background through tireless hard work and achieved success. She is a philanthropist, an actress, a talk show host, and has a $2.8 billion dollar real time estimated net-worth. She is now rumored to be considering running to become the next President of the United States.       

On January 7, 2018 Oprah was the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at the Golden Globe Awards. She took the stage at the Golden Globes and gave what is already considered one of the greatest speeches of her lifetime. Much like the theme of this year’s Golden Globes, she focused on the power of women and the importance of their voices not only in Hollywood, but in every industry, in every place, and in every job. She spoke of the importance and power of speaking the truth – whether it be your personal truth; the press exposing corruption and lies; or simply believing others as they speak up. She declared “a new day is on the horizon.”    

Following her speech, CNN was quick to report Oprah is “actively thinking” of running for President in 2020. NBC tweeted (and has since deleted): “Nothing but respect for OUR future president.” Close friends admit she has been thinking of running for months. But is Oprah the right choice?    

Oprah’s presidential run, which is just speculation at this point, would be historic for many reasons. First, Oprah is a woman, and no woman has been elected to serve as the United States Commander-in-Chief in our history. Second, Oprah is black. Only one black American has ever held the oval office. Third, Oprah is not a career politician.

Combined, Oprah would be the first black businessperson to run for President of the United States of America; the first black woman to receive a Presidential nomination from a major political party; and the first woman to win the general election. Her decision to run for President of the United States would shatter many glass ceilings.

Oprah began her acceptance speech by reflecting on the first black recipient of the Cecil  B. DeMille Award, Sidney Poitier. She explained how this moment inspired her in her youth to believe she could chase after her dreams, which she later exceeded as one of the most well-known and accomplished black women on television and in Hollywood. That moment – of watching someone of her own race be recognized, respected, and awarded by the world for his talent – changed her life. It showed her that she, too, could be recognized, respected, and awarded by the world for her talent no matter the color of her skin.     

The United States has never elected a female president – of any race – and that matters. We cannot dismiss this just because Hillary Clinton existed. We cannot dismiss the glass ceiling living above every single little girl and grown woman in this world just because a white woman tried to run for President, got the popular vote, and lost the electoral college. America’s lack of female presidents affects not just America; but the entire free world. Our politics and the identities of our leaders inspire children and adults in every country because the United States is a powerful, rich democracy that influences global perceptions and global decisions.       

At age 21, I served as the president of my university’s student government. Once, I walked across the quad in a white dress and a beautiful black petticoat. A friend stopped me and said, “Battle! You look amazing, where are you going?” I told this friend I was on my way to a dinner event. She said, “Well, you look very first-ladylike. So professional.” I smiled and thanked her.

As I walked away, I thought more about that comment. I was a president, being told I looked like a first lady. Why? Because no one has ever seen what a female presidential figure looks like. We’ve grown up watching women in petticoats stand next to powerful men in business suits, and despite the many adults telling us we can be otherwise, we’ve never seen our outfits, our hair, and our bodies in this role.

Until we elect a female president, girls around the world will grow up being told by every adult in their life, “If you work really hard in this country, you can be anything you want to be – including President of the United States.” But there is not a single example of that ever occurring. We are asking little girls to have faith that they can do what no other woman has done. They will have the courage to believe they can, but they deserve a role model. Some little girls need that role model. Adult women with broken spirits need that role model right now, too.

Oprah recognizes this. She’s lived this as her reality, achieving things no other black woman has ever achieved. She represents hope for all women in the United States, but especially black women, who are affected by sexism and injustice in different and more significant ways than white women.

But is she fit for President? This is an important question to consider. Oprah is more than her identity. If we are going to consider Oprah 2020, we must also consider her political values and qualifications. If she runs we must decide: do we want another businessperson without political experience to run our country? Americans were quick to suggest Trump’s business experience fulfilled what they perceived as adequate qualification: he knew how to run a company, make tough decisions, and wasn’t caught up in the “swamp” of Washington. Oprah, like Trump, is not a career politician. Oprah Winfrey is just as qualified to run for President of the United States than Donald Trump was. However, I suspect her gender may affect how many view her qualification.

I’m not a proponent of presidential candidates who do not have political experience. I believe experience with advocacy and lawmaking is important for success in office. There are legitimate reasons to believe Oprah is not the best choice in 2020. But she deserves the same consideration we have given other businessmen running for President. I worry Oprah will not be rightfully respected for her business experiences as Donald Trump was for his real estate accomplishments. Men and women, Republicans and Democrats: we need to be aware of the ways we perceive gender, and the ways that perception will affect how we evaluate her as a presidential candidate, should she choose to run.

Let’s celebrate Oprah’s incredible Golden Globes speech, not because she might run for President, but because she is the first black woman to win the Golden Globes Cecil B. DeMille award. Let’s celebrate the hope she represents for all little girls around the world. Oprah is a strong, successful, intelligent woman — whether she is in the White House or Hollywood.

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