November 17, 2013 – HOLLYWOOD – Oprah Winfrey has said racism is still a problem around the world and the only way for it to end is for generations of racists to die out.
In an interview with the BBC to coincide with the release of her latest film The Butler, the chat show host said generations had been ‘marinated’ in racism.
The 59-year-old added that President Obama was treated with disrespect because of the color of his skin and said she feels fortunate to have been born after segregation ended in the U.S.
When asked if some of the challenges faced by Obama were down to the color of his skin, Winfrey, who had been a high-profile backer of his presidential campaign, said: ‘There’s no question’.
She highlighted an incident in 2009 when Republican congressman Joe Wilson called out ‘you lie’, as Obama gave a speech to Congress.
‘I think there’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs,’ she said. ‘And that occurs in some cases … because he’s African American. There’s no question about that. And it’s the kind of thing no one ever says, but everybody’s thinking.’
Her opinion upset some critics, with a news website dedicated to ‘exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias’ accusing her of ‘playing the race card’.
The News Busters site said Winfrey was narrow-minded for focusing solely on racism against the black community, and added that it was ‘patently absurd to suggest that racism is caused by old white people when racism and religious bigotry cut across all generations and ethnicities’.
While Winfrey may have focused on the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. and under Apartheid, she added: ‘As long as people can be judged by the color of their skin, problem’s not solved.’
Winfrey told BBC Art Editor Will Gompertz that she feels lucky to have been born in Mississippi five years after segregated schools were phased out.
‘If I’d been born five years earlier, none, not any of the benefits that I’ve been blessed to be successful with would have occurred,’ she said.
However, Winfrey said that although films such as The Butler and the Scottsboro Boys have helped show how far the civil rights movement had come, more needed to be done to tackle racism across the world.
‘As long as people can be judged by the color of their skin, problem’s not solved,’ she said.
‘There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.’