Oprah Winfrey4

Oprah Defends Herself Against Critics Who Called Her “Culturally Ignorant” After India Special

by Yvette Carnell

The “Queen of All Media” has walked a rocky road after leaving her daytime talk show. First came the ups and downs at her OWN network, and now comes the  backlash from her special on India.

Oprah’s special on India aired in the U.S. back in April, but it only aired in India this past weekend, and most Indian critics didn’t like what they saw:

“It’s all the stereotypes and all the clichés the West has, between the elephants and the palaces and the snake charmers and cows,” Aseem Chhabra, a freelance journalist and columnist for the Mumbai Mirror, told ABC News. “That exists in India, but it’s this imagery of India that some people seem to have, and I think I expected a lot more from somebody like Oprah Winfrey.”

And the criticism didn’t stop there:

“Oprah, your comment about eating with the hand is really not that big a deal to us; we are used to gross Western ignorance regarding our ancient country,” according to “An open letter to Oprah Winfrey from an Indian who eats with her hand” on the CNN-IBN website

 Harpo, the company that produces ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’, responded to the criticism:

The intention of the program was to explore the beautiful culture and spirit of the country. We enjoyed the time we spent there and were touched by the people who so generously shared their stories for the show.

I’m not sure that statement will sooth critics who are calling Winfrey culturally insensitive and obtuse for how she framed her special on India. This is also ironic in the sense that many people around the world would expect much more from a black woman who grew up in poverty than, say, a white journalist. Brown and black people around the world expect more from African-Americans, and  feel, rightly or wrongly, that Oprah let them down.

An interesting question to ponder is whether or not blacks are fully assimilated? There was no real outcry from the African-American community when this special aired, so does that mean that we are the same as middle class whites? Or does it just mean that we just don’t watch OWN?

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  1. I’m sorry, but Oprah didn’t ask such a horrible question. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked it that way, but was it so bad, really? Some of the critics are getting too worked up. I’m sure there are Indians who think that this is being overplayed. Give her a break. She meant no harm at all and likes India’s history and what not. She has promoted a lot of Indian philosophy and things positive about India, and some get her on something like that? Come on! Stop it, I say!

    Basil

  2. I read comments on another website, and a lot of the bloggers concur Indians don’t like blacks, period. Some indicated they had had bad experiences with people from India. So, at this time the jury is out. Oprah maybe receiving flack because she is black….

    • what color are Indians?

      • Brown and not from AFRICA!

        • excuse me….East Indians are largely African colonial ,and early indigenous descendants, the culture originally nappy haired black skinned, the white invaders from the north questionably considered Aryan used war, racism to control the majority populace, with very little else to contribute to the culture.
          refer to the original images of the Buddha, kinky, iron formed hairstyle, jet black skin full lips. exactly African type,identical in style and grooming to Ethiopian antiquities

  3. Must be a slow news cycle to give this story so much attention.

  4. They like many other races come to the U. S and assimilate with white america and look their noses down on black americans, like so many others, they look at the worst of stereotypes and assume the whole race guilty of whatever that type is and are just too damn dumb to realize that’s not the case. Oprah certainly doesn’t have to now down to them for anything, apparently she had an admiration for the people and country or she wouldn’t have done a special on them. If this is their response, screw them, that is, the ones who feel that way, not the WHOLE race. I hate that I feel that way but I also hate that others feel we (black americans) are lazy, stupid, and uneducated, so far from the truth, and my experience with Indians is fairly decent but most act as if they are to good to say hello!

  5. whereDaStoryDoe?

    But where’s the response from OPRAH?!!
    Re: the title!!!!

  6. She asked a legitimate question.

    They do eat with their hands and admit doing so.

    I was invited to an Indian restaurant in San Francisco and they were passing a plate around in true traditional style, and all I could remember is getting food poisoning when I trusted that kind of thing.

    Give me my own plate, knife, spoon, cup, fork, and bowl, please.

    Also, they only shake hands with the hand they don’t use to wipe their butts when they use the bathroom.

    I experienced that when a guest from India came to the US. I had forgotten about it and almost shook his hand with the “wrong” hand and he did not take it … I had to switch hands.

    That is not culturally ignorant; the question was valid.

  7. She asked a legitimate question.

    They do eat with their hands and admit doing so.

    I was invited to an Indian restaurant in San Francisco and they were passing a plate around in true traditional style, and all I could remember is getting food poisoning when I trusted that kind of thing.

    Give me my own plate, knife, spoon, cup, fork, and bowl, please.

    Also, they only shake hands with the hand they don’t use to wipe their butts when they use the bathroom.

    I experienced that when a guest from India came to the US. I had forgotten about it and almost shook his hand with the “wrong” hand and he did not take it … I had to switch hands.

    That is not culturally ignorant; the question was valid.

  8. She asked a legitimate question.

    They do eat with their hands and admit doing so.

    I was invited to an Indian restaurant in San Francisco and they were passing a plate around in true traditional style, and all I could remember is getting food poisoning when I trusted that kind of thing.

    Give me my own plate, knife, spoon, cup, fork, and bowl, please.

    Also, they only shake hands with the hand they don’t use to wipe their butts when they use the bathroom.

    I experienced that when a guest from India came to the US. I had forgotten about it and almost shook his hand with the “wrong” hand and he did not take it … I had to switch hands.

    That is not culturally ignorant; the question was valid.

  9. One thing about other non-white minorities (American Indians, Hispanics, non-white Eastern Europeans, non-white South Americans, Asians, etc), they ride on the backs of Africans and Afro-Americans in order to gain favor of the so-called white power structure. This is so dumb. Instead of coming together against racist white ideology, they tend to back off as if this will improve their lot. They don’t understand that the white racist is still playing the game of divide and conquer.

    • you are absolutely right about most but not all non white minority people regardless of where they are from all have [inferiority complexes] mainly because of the colonial dictators who invaded and ruled their countries in the past.people who look down upon other people usually have low self esteem and do not like or feel good about themselves as a result of the bad [programming they were exposed to and or have received from the so called powers that be,mainly the news and entertainment media whose main goal is to promote white [so called [superiority ] jesus-superman and all of the comic hollywood b.s characters-oh almost forgot super models they have the mythical angel wings and like superior man aka [superman they can fly.if you are mentally [insecure ] and ignorant you will find fault and feel the need to look down upon those whom you may consider [inferior ]

      • Al
        You are why I read the comments of these stories. You are absolutely right. Despite what we see on the news, India is the poorest continent on earth, England treated them like dogs for centuries, and they are black as Africans because they were the original inhabitants.
        How can any Indian with a modicum of knowledge look down on anyone.

  10. First of all many of us don’t watch the OWN network, but this is no reason to include African Americans as a group in the complaint. Other cultures eat with their hands and there is no mention of other groups who eat with their hands by Oprah or the Indian who complains. Although the complaint is in order but while I support the complaint I do not agree with the statement of being disapointed that other African Americans not supporting Indians. Well, we are also disappointed Indians don’t support African Americans in areas of racism here in the United States.

  11. You are so right Benjamin. I worked wiith someone from Afriganistan once. He looked Indian but during a conversation with him he told me his nationality was African. His skin was black, hair straight like the indians. He said and I quote “Truth be told, they don’t like people from my country anymore than they like African-Americans. I appreciate Martin Luther King and all the others that suffered to give people of color the right to enjoy the freedoms that I have enjoyed since coming to America.” Some of them might not admit it, but they know that if they are not white, they have ridden on the backs of African Americans to get where they are. Give Oprah a break! She has put so much into that country. I wish she had put some of her money into my community. Love you Oprah, keep on doing what youi do!!!!

  12. Benjamin, so true, I have experienced this in Grammar school, H.s.., and I had a civil service job for 21 years, I could not get a promotion, because I was black, all other minorities always got promotions, whites thought they were better than Blacks. I know who I am, I kept my head-up, I still was making more money than them because I had seniority. I received my raises because I did the work I was supposed to. I never had a problem training people or relieving people in a higher position than myself and I did not get credit. My blessings come from God, I am home getting my pension. We are judged by the color of our skin; they are all ignorant who do this; I have lived it, I don’t care what nobody say.

  13. While I don’t watch OWN and I never saw the special I don’t understand what’s the problem. Eating with your hands? Seriously! That’s a part of some Indians culture, just as it some African cultures. Also, don’t expect more from Oprah than black folk expect from you when we are portrayed in the news media everyday of our lives as drug dealers, thugs, murderers, gang bangers and every other negative stereotype known to man with not so much as a peep from this man. Righteous indignation crosses all ethnic lines.

  14. Americans have the pleasure of eating and wiping there butts w/the appendage(s) of their choice!

    and then they may freely disparage their neighbors—- spouting off STUPID in ANY DIRECTION THEY CHOOSE!

  15. Benjamin, As a whole, blacks in America are some of the dumbest people ever, we have every advantage in the world but do not make use of these advantages.

    Consequently immigrants from all over the world are able to eclipse American blacks in education, economics and because we have such chips on our shoulders concerning race a leg up in assimilating into the greater community. We generally see everything in black and white, we think all whites are racist and never consider we blacks are just as racist.

    Others go over around or through to make it in this land of opportunity while we blame everyone but our selves for our plight. Until we decide as a people, as a whole to do for our selves to stop holding our hands out for crumbs, The Indians, Latinos, Chinese and everyone else will step on our back as a means of moving up the economic and social ladder.

    Being intelligent is acting white, receiving food stamps is getting over on the man. Having a $65,000 automobile is more important than owning a home. Measuring someone by the car they drive rather than character. I can go on……..

    • Blacks in america have issues. Firstly u call urselves african americans. Lol. Where are the european- american, asian- american, oceanian-american? Yall v an identity crisis! Period. Poverty is wat leads to people eating in one plate , also its just a cultural thng in rural setup to symbolise unity among pipo n no the dnt get sick. From an african – on the continent

  16. I have a special theoretical test I use to determine whether a “black” person, or African American is worth any attention from the African American community. That is. If white people ‘love’ a black person, then something is seriously wrong with that person!

    Test that theory to see if it fits your ideal. Remember how they used to love O.J.? They love Obama enough to sanction his position as the mass-murdering President of the time. They love Colin, and Condo, and Clarence etc. They love Oprah. Do they love you?

  17. Ooooooooooooooh———— Hog wash Oprah has made it to the mountain top, and beyond.

    Ms. Winfrey- can you just tell your dedicated African Americans to stand for something-versus falling for anything. I’m well aware of the fact that you can’t be as honest as you ought to due to your position in America ( thank God for MLk-Malcom-Tubman- and the rest of the Truth Tellers).

    Boycott Christmas 2012

  18. Onesilverbac: You make the mistake of generalizing the black community. You’re wrong on every count when you do such a thing! This is the way “whites” teach everyone to generalize each other’s community, or culture, or nationality, or whatever! It has been a tool long used to abuse and divide. We are a people who are as diverse as it gets, but some of us are so assimilated and without links to heritage that the only link to our community is their color and facial features.

  19. Oprah may have touched on some things about the Idian country that are the usual. There are as many facets to India as there almost a billion and a half people. Their problems at home are the same as ours in many ways and their feelings about each other and us are as far fetched and far reaching as any human with a short attention span and slight world view. Many African Americans “blacks” have never left this country, and many people from India have never left their towns. Their cultures are diverse and in some cases many are worse-off than the most poor and uneducated black here. Oprah probably got her idea to do something to make money there from one of her writers, or producers, or money managers. Who knows what her true intentions are about anything? I stopped paying attention to her more than a decade ago!

  20. I only have this to say. I was asked a question by a young non racist Indian. He asked ” how can Indians hate blacks when we are both considered a minority?” We should be more concerned about the economy than bashing Oprah. She is a black educated women whom has achieved more than most of us will anyway. Now you go make history and leave her alone.

  21. Most ultra rich people of every cloth are out of touch, wish I could afford to be out of touch as well. And everyone of you do also. Don’t tell me how you would be any different from Oprah. If you’ve been as rich as long she’s been rich it’s almost a given to fall out of touch. She can buy and pay for any and everything because of this knowone tells her NO.

  22. Isn’t it true that Indians eat using their hands? So what is the big issue here? I thought they were supposed to be angry if told they were using folks and knives to eat…? Ah, Indians are just Indians. We who live in Africa with them, know them better. If the question was asked by a white man they would go very proud about being asked the question. Relax MS Winfrey!

  23. onesilverbac – When the reparation issue gets to court, I would like to use you as ‘proof’ ‘evidence’ #1 of how we have been so damaged thus are entitled to compensation for the damage.

  24. All I can say is the Indians in America don’t even need to go there, I could care less what the majority of Indians in America think,She showed that country exactly for what it is and how the poor are treated as second class citizens,and that is what alot of them practice over here, or would like to, especially as owners of some of the hotels that they own,they are known as being cheap employers

  25. I am always offended by coverage of Black Africa. I am African-American. So I understand why Indian people of India would prefer you show the positive lifestyle of India’s peoples. Something that does not include animals, poverty and eating with your hand. Something I watch many African-American people do growing up in my country. The people who are critics of OWN has to understand Oprah allows “other” people to make major decisions regarding the content of her show. Observe the back end of the production team. It is predominantly white. This is who you should be angry with and refer to as “culturallly ignorant”.

  26. Almasi Sidu Jitu

    Ophra was culturally insensitive. She was taping and could have edited the footage through Indian technical advisers who would’ve been able to advise of the impact on the sensibilities of Indian citizens. But this isn’t the first time Oprah has shown a cultural insensitivity. She built, equipped and financed a school in Africa for girls only. This discriminatory educational institution ignored the cultural realities of the West African nation that the school was built in because it was designed to educate girls, not “children” in that country thereby creating a earning disadvantage in favor of girls. It ignored that many, if not most, of those girls will marry and have children with (two important cultural values throughout Africa) the boys which Oprah so no importance in educating. She also ignored the male dominance of almost all black African societies. Many wives earnings are controlled by their husbands in an unfair paternalism, so Oprah educated girls who will wed uneducated boys who have the weight of cultural superiority behind them. A clear recipe for resentment and domestic violence. Oprah could’ve begun a transformation within African society by educating “children” to practice fairness and societal upward mobility. Instead she chose to export militant feminism. As an African descendant, I’m more concerned with this aspect of Oprah’s cultural insensitivity than her ignorant handing of her show about Indians.

    • Discrimination? First of all, Oprah – a woman with no children – built a school. How many people even attempt to do that?
      Second, Oprah said she did it as a promise to Nelson Mandela.
      Third, she built a school for girls because it is still traditional for males to get the education first, then MAYBE females get an opportunity to get to an education.
      Fourth, if those girls have any sense once they graduate from the academy and then from college, they will marry someone who is their equal.

      I can’t believe how some of you folks try to castigate Oprah for almost every positive thing she has done or has tried to accomplish. Oprah’s educating of African girls will cause a pattern of domestic violence to develop? Oprah is what ails society? Please!

      • Thank God Oprah built a school for girls. When you educate the mother you educate an entire generation.

        That is what is wrong now with African-American families, they lack strong, intelligent, educated mothers. Now we have teen girls dragging around babies. They don’t know anything and they teach their children…NOTHING!

        We have become a dumb, immoral race and it is getting worse.

  27. when the media come to Texas (for the first time) they want to see longhorns, oil wells , cotton, cowboys and what ? I don’t get the anger or attitude.

  28. Of all the comment, Almasi Sidu Jitu is the one that I found most relevant. I see Oprah and Obama as products. I see them as a vision power brokers produced to suggest that the rest of us just don’t work hard enough. Power brokers have also suggested that colored peoples are so different that we cannot work together, and I saw vestiges of that in the 60s when a native of India treated black members of the Bayview Hunters Point Community as if we were a plague, citing racist literature that was prevalent during that era.

    Keep your head up Oprah! You and I are like Malcolm and Martin; we see things from different place on the same mountain, but we are both chasing the same prize and we will share it as my father and mother taught.

  29. shiela hudson
    July 28, 2012 at 8:13
    Observe the back end of the production team. It is predominantly white. This is who you should be angry with and refer to as “culturally ignorant”.
    What a completely ignorant statement!
    Responsibility for all shows (Good or bad) on OWN is Oprah!
    Good or bad.

  30. Why do I keep wasting my time?(smh) I saw nothing in this article that supported this “eye catching headline” that Oprah was forced to defend herself. And then the conversation morphed into Oprah not doing this, and not doing that. Black people, please stop being so easily manipulated by people who consider themselves the professionals. What I find is Ms. Yvette and Dr. Watkins will continue to report the most negative non productive articles that they can release on a daily basis. Shame on You!

  31. I’m 81 years old, don’t watch OWN, not fully assimilated–nor wish to be, my children and grandchildren are not fully assimilated. Being middle class for an African American is not the same as being “fully assimilated.” We often embrace two cultures–our own and the one that allows us to earn a living; we speak two languages: Black English and the English we need for success at work. And, yes, I have seen older African Americans and a West African eat with their FINGERS. The well-educated West African explained to me that the rules of etiquette of his country dictated how the fingers (of the right hand, of course)were to be used for different foods. And older African Americans, like their African ancestors, recognized the body politic and used one wash cloth for the upper body and a different one for the lower body. If you don’t believe that concept has affected the way we use the knife, fork and spoon, just compare our use of those instruments with that of European nationals. You’ll see the difference.

  32. Indians have been kissing the asses of whites forever, so whatever they’re so butt-hurt about means nothing to me. Indians have a disdain for black people but will curry favor with Brits for that money they receive from British government every year.

    And what was so bad about what she asked?

    They do eat with one hand and wipe their asses with the other.

    Are they too ashamed to admit that? Too primitive?

    Cry me a river, Punjab….

  33. What is the problem, really? My grandma use to eat collard greens and cornbread with her fingers and it was no big deal. It makes me think that the Indians are somehow ashamed of their tradition. If that’s what you do then so be it. Why all the animosity toward Oprah because she asked the question and don’t think that she knows everything because she is rich and famous. Don’t take your culture so seriously, after all we all have perceived idiocyncrises in every culture. Lighten up!

  34. Indians want white people to see them as they’re equals, not as the Other.

    So they adopt this sense of superiority with blacks as if they’re better.

    Too bad they’re wrong because they’re seen as ass-kissing sand niggers like anybody else who isn’t white.

    too bad so sad :(

    • Why should they cultivate this sense of superiority, though, when all they have is arguably the richest esoteric and philosophical tradition(s) in the world?

  35. Almasi Sidu Jitu

    Oprah was insensitive. This was taped and should have been edited by Indian technical advisors who could have given insight into Indian sensibilities. Oprah has a history of such “Ugly American” superiority. Oprah founded, equipped and financed a school for girls in Africa. “Children” weren’t her concern, just girls. Her cultural ignorance didn’t allow her to consider very important African cultural realities: such as; 1) Who will these girls grow up and marry? Marriage is a cultural imperative amongst both Christian or Muslim communities of Africans. Oprah, by educating girls while leaving the boys out opens these girls to difficulty in marriage from now resentful husbands. 2) In many African communities wives’ income is the husbands, so they will have to give their “educated incomes” to their spouses. 3) Oprah had an opportunity to start fundamentally change African paternalism for the better, but she chose radical feminism over the national upliftment of African peoples. She could have lifted the standards of civilization within a people but went for a militant lesbianist exclusion of boys that will not even succeed because of the reasons stated above. Fuck the Indian insensitivity issue. Oprah is undermining black people with an American Eurocentrism that seeks to instill metrosexualist values. As a black man, I’m more concerned with this betrayal by Oprah.

  36. Does anyone have something Interesting to say?

  37. People need to stop acting as if Oprah cannot be allowed to make a mistake. Even if Oprah was a bit insensitive on some point/s, anyone who saw the special show she did had to notice how respectful and kind Oprah was to the Indian people she interacted with. She and her staff obviously interviewed Indians and used guides while visiting that country. No one is perfect. Oprah did the best she could at the time.

    I am proud of black leaders like Oprah (and President Obama for that matter) due to both of them being trailblazers in their own arenas. Both Oprah and Obama are smart and relatively decent human beings when one compares them to some of the many other rich, out-of-touch and greedy people who do not show any concern at all for others.

    • I admire and support President Obama and will vote for him again, but two decades of Doprah Dimfrey has left its mark on Chicago, our lads and men. Please, let Ms. Dimfrey’s attentions move on to India and away from her endless bile against our men and boys. Lads, as we have all noticed, have been moving on to hyper-masculine high-risk traits and behaviors as a result and men have been moving into the shadows or into prisons and we all wonder why. Our lads will recover and overcome in time, but was it really necessary to have so many lost and shot and locked up for the likes of Ms. Dimfrey? I am happy she has made a buck, but her body count has frankly been appalling.

  38. WoW! People will do anything for media attention. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey would not do anything intentional to offend a cultural. She did nothing wrong. Much ado about NOTHING!

  39. Many people miss the boat

    @Onesilverbac

    Your whole statement is an example of that which you complain about. (How can you own something that you pay on? Referring to your statement about owning a home and reference to a car.)

    African Americans, just like many other races, have bought into the American Dream fantasy. If you’ve ever “owned” a home, you know that you will end up paying nearly 3 times what you originally borrowed with a conventional mortgage loan. That’s not ownership. But people believe what they are told and buy into dreams and concepts that were never theirs. That’s the real problem with African Americans.

  40. Where is/are my comments????????????

  41. Poor Oprah,

    There are likely precious few Black American staffers with editoral authority on these types of specials. Oprah is delegating this stuff and frankly, the varied ethnicities of so-called ‘whites’ is bound to miss the mark.

    We would need to know if Black Americans had editorial authority and input into this.

    In any event, Oprah has never struck me as especially culturally fluent when it comes to Black American culture let alone India.

  42. Sheila Hightower-Allen

    Must be a slow news cycle to give this story so much attention…I totally agree. So they eat with their hands and she asked about it! Really???

  43. onesilverbac: First of all you should never criticize something you don’t understand. If you notice, no one even responded to your comment about, african Americans being the dumbest people on the planet. And why are you even on our website?, WITH THESE UNINTELLIGENT COMMENTS, we don’t care about your opinion of our people, WHO GIVES A SHIT WHAT YOU THINK? AND WHATEVER COUNTRY YOU ARE FROM, I BET YOU, THERE IS ANOTHER COUNTRY THAT THINKS YOUR CULTURE IS JUST AS DUMB! SMALL MINDED MORON!

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