CNN's Erin Burnett, covering the story of the Swiss store that told Oprah Winfrey a purse she wanted to see was "too expensive," offered a cringe-worthy assessment of the situation. Burnett first falsely suggested that Oprah herself was trying to play the race card and then compared Winfrey to a hooker.
Burnett's remarkably tone-deaf commentary can speak for itself. At the beginning of the segment, she played a clip of the Entertainment Tonight segment during which Oprah first told the story.
In the clip, Winfrey says, "I could have had the big blow-up thing, and thrown down the black card and all that stuff, but why do that?" Burnett then picks up the interview with filmmaker Safiya Songhai.
Oprah's made it very clear. She thought this was an act of racism; she was subjected to racism. She says, look, I could have thrown down the whole black thing, but I chose not to.
"The whole black thing," Burnett says. Winfrey could have "thrown down the whole black thing." Except that it is obviously not what Winfrey said. When Winfrey says "thrown down the black card," she makes a gesture as though she's putting down a credit card. Because that's what Winfrey means: she could have laid down the exclusive black American Express she carries to show that she could afford the purse, but she didn't. Winfrey even accentuates "card" — "I could have thrown down the black card" versus "the black card" — but Burnett doesn't pick up on it. Because to Burnett, Winfrey is being overreactive in suggesting it's about race.
In fact, Burnett has a theory for why Winfrey didn't get service. Maybe, she implies, it was about class. And she has a movie clip to make her point.
Yes, Burnett says that it may not have been about race — it may instead have been like the scene in Pretty Woman, when a prostitute is turned away from a high-end store. "It's sort of like that moment," Burnett says. She continues:
They didn't want a hooker in their store, and they knew she was a hooker. But you look now, and they say, well, was it just that they thought she couldn't afford it. And if so, even if it wasn't overt racism, did they say, well, because this woman's black, she can't afford it.
This is literally what Burnett says. The most generous assessment of that statement is that perhaps the store wasn't being racist, they simply thought that because Winfrey's a woman who's black, she can't afford it.
Which is the definition of racism.
It's easy to see how race played a role in Winfrey's experience. Burnett tries twice to suggest it's not, first by implying Winfrey threatened to play the race card (which she didn't), and second by saying that it may have just been because they assumed Winfrey was poor because she was black (which is racist).
There's a reason that Winfrey is the most powerful woman in media.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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