Magazine article The Spectator

The Sad Story of Oprah, the Handbag and the Sop Assistant

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sad Story of Oprah, the Handbag and the Sop Assistant

Article excerpt

Listen, this story is moving so quickly stuff will almost certainly have happened in between me writing it and you reading it. I hate the idea that you might be left behind the curve, but I just don't know how to get around that. An outrage occurs and of course we try faithfully to report it, so that you can be outraged vicariously, but time moves on; the outrage spreads out, like a fast-moving conflagration, and begins to affects us all and we all of us feel unclean and traduced. Already, with the outrage I'm about to describe, the Guardian has decided it was not one outrage but two conjoined outrages, Siamese-twin outrages if you like. By the time you read this we could be in United Nations territory. We could. Nobody, but nobody, subjects the US chatshow host Oprah Winfrey to a hideous act of racism and gets away with it.

What happened was this. Oprah was in Zurich for some reason and decided to do a spot of shopping, for accessories and the like.

She went into the expensive Trois Pommes boutique and started browsing the handbags.

According to Oprah, she saw a nice handbag behind the shop assistant's head and asked to look it. 'No, you don't want that one, ' the shop girl allegedly replied, 'you want this one, because that one will cost too much.'

And she showed her a cheaper handbag than the one above her head, the one that cost 22,000 quid. According to Oprah.

Oprah was wounded. She caught the scent of magnolia and heard the ghostly clanking of leg irons from long, long ago.

So she left the shop and went straight onto Twitter, and then the Larry King show, and then an interview outside some Hollywood bash, and then some more Twitter, to rail against this act of blatant racism and to castigate the shop girl. Racists these days don't come right up and call you something horrible to your face, she explained, it doesn't happen like that any more. Instead, you get the kind of thing I suffered in that Swiss shop. White people like that shop assistant - 'They make an assessment based upon my appearance.' The assistant didn't know million quid a year; she just saw a black lady and thought she couldn't afford the handbag as a consequence. It's exactly what the KKK would do if they became involved in selling accessories. Racism.

But maybe worse than racism, according to some woman called Heidi Moore writing in the Guardian. As the world's press got itself indignant and outraged on behalf of Oprah, the Guardian, to its enormous credit, became doubly outraged and indignant. Quite rightly, Heidi maintained, Oprah had focused on the obvious racism inherent in the behaviour of this sick and twisted shop assistant. …

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