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E-Letter To and Catherine Donaldson-Evans Re: "The Cult Of Oprah"?

Your article The Cult of Oprah is a bit much. While we share a small aspect of the theme of your article – that many individuals may be making Oprah a greater focus in their lives than they should, we don't think that her influence or impact in any way will result in people's lives being destroyed; as is often the case when people give unwarranted devotion and unconditional love to human beings who are not worthy of it, and who are filled with self-pride and a callous disrespect for the lives and well-being of those who admire them.

The problem that I have with your singling out of Oprah for your piece, is that you write as if she is receiving a devotion that is unorthodox for one who serves in the entertainment field as she does. Instead of wasting space interviewing some cult expert who sees the next Jim Jones and Kool-Aid tragedy in any religion or movement outside of Christianity, why don't you focus on how so many athletes and entertainers in America receive a devotion, admiration and praise that truly should be reserved for a holy one?

Why the emphasis on Oprah and not the Backstreet Boys or N'Sync? Why the emphasis on Oprah's fans and not on the idiots who imitate the stunts performed on MTV's hit program "Jackass"? Why the emphasis on Oprah's relationship with her spiritual advisers and self-help experts and not the fact that many of these same advisers and experts have advised and counseled U.S. Presidents, members of Congress (Republican and Democrat we might add), and America's top CEOs? Why are they entitled to the benefit of the insight of these individuals when Oprah is not? Why is her association with these individuals and their teachings a threat, when it isn't when these individuals are influencing world leaders?

In that respect, the "Philadelphia-area" cult expert that you reference, David Clark, is ridiculous. He gives Philadelphia a bad name. It is obvious that he operates from a Western, imperialist, White-supremacist mindset that rejects any worldview or religion that comes from the East.

Which explains why Oprah is so threatening to so many like Mr. Clark. Like Hip-Hop artists are doing with White youth, Oprah is "stealing" an entire generation of White women out from under the grip of White men. That is part of the reason for the tension surrounding her growing influence. She is a Black woman who is more respected by White housewives and young White girls than are their husbands and fathers.

A Black woman has invaded White America, from the kitchen to the living room, on the coattails of General Hospital. What a nightmare for White men who are away at work!

Certainly, not all White men are opposed to Oprah, but take an informal poll and ask them how they feel about Oprah's growing influence with their wives and daughters. You may be surprised by what some of these still "Angry White Males," that voted for Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress in 1994, may tell you.

Even Black women are complaining about the intense devotion that Oprah is receiving from White women. Some feel as if Oprah has changed the direction of her show significantly in order to respond to the appeal that she has among White women. They certainly don't worry about her becoming a cult leader, but they do raise an eyebrow or two over some of Oprah's guests and the composition of her audience, at times.

But overall, Black people and women, in particular, admire Oprah's perseverance, courage and business acumen and think that she provides a strong image, in terms of her success, for Black women. The fact that you don't raise that aspect of Oprah's following and appeal exposes the root of the fallacious reasoning that guides your article.

Most people, even those who disagree with her, respect the fact that she is so open with her successes and failures and her enthusiasm to share the ideas, people, and teachings that have worked for her. She is an authentic evangelist in that respect. If she errs, it is on the side of the naivety, overzealousness and being too self-centered in how she counsels others. At times, it seems as if she offers solutions to others not just in an effort to help them, but also as part of an effort to validate herself.

At worst, we think Oprah's understanding of the concept of the "spirit" is off; and at times she does appear to prefer White experts on subjects where Black experts are just as strong or even more knowledgeable, but we certainly don't think that she is actively seeking to deceive people or have them groveling at her feet.

To be totally frank, the worst criticism that we have consistently lobbed in Oprah's direction is that it is unbelievable that after 20 years she has never had Minister Farrakhan on as her guest – and they are practically neighbors in Chicago. But maybe she saw what happened to Arsenio Hall after he had the Minister on as a guest in 1994. No more "Let's Get Busy!" and "Is The Posse In The House?" after that.

But there maybe a ray of hope, that perhaps the head of Harpo Productions may find the courage to book the Minister… this decade. With the ban on the Minister's entry into England having been lifted last week, one can only be optimistic that the "ban" on his appearance on Oprah may come to an end, any year now.

Minister Farrakhan Live On Oprah – now that would cause your resident cult expert David Clark to have a nervous breakdown, wouldn't it?

Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, August 7, 2001

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