There are many reasons I am immensely inspired by Oprah Winfrey. Her tenacity, her resilience and her capacity for empathy being a few. But it was her acceptance speech at The Golden Globe Awards on the 7th January 2018 that completely took my breath away.
Oprah won the Cecil. B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. It goes without saying that as the very first black woman to receive this award, she is making history. It goes without saying that Oprah, a woman who has endured prolific sexual abuse and inequality continues to inspire generation, after generation, by her extraordinary ability to overcome. But it was less-so the win and more-so her speech about abuse, equality and power that brought everyone to their feet with a roaring standing ovation.
Oprah spoke about the significance of Sidney Poitier picking up his first Oscar in 1964 and subsequent win of the very same Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globe Awards two decades later and its significance to her as a young girl at the time, who had never seen a positive black male role model celebrated in that way. She spoke about how her Golden Globe award would be equally significant to many young girls (and indeed boys), today.
The linear of her speech was flawless, but it was its theme that really hit home. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague recently. We ended up talking about abuse and the #metoo campaign. He talked passionately about how important the movement of the campaign is and that not all men abuse, that the majority of men don’t abuse and it was a shame that, that had perhaps been forgotten about.
Statistically of course he is completely right, the majority of men DO NOT abuse.
I listened intently and responded by saying that I felt the #metoo campaign isn’t about the incredible men, the men who empower, support, inspire and protect, it isn’t about the men who don’t abuse. But that it is about those that have and do. It is more-so about the victims of abuse, giving them a platform to break their silence, to raise awareness of the issues so that it can finally be resolved. I also feel the campaign is also about anyone who isn’t directly involved, but by default become complicit by remaining silent. The ones that become complicit by behaving in ways that have become acceptable, fiercely embedded in our popular culture, institutions and industries, so much so we may not even be aware of and perpetuate.
I explained that I didn’t think that men, the decent men have or should be forgotten about – but that the spotlight simply wasn’t on them. That in order to breakthrough and uncover the magnitude of claims and cases of abuse, (or any form of inequality), first we have to raise awareness and to hear people’s stories and more-so to believe them.
It reminded me of similar conversations had around diversity, in the same way that not all people are racist or homophobic for example, I often hear a common rhetoric “there is only one race, the human race” or “all lives matter”, similar to the equally common rhetoric; “not all men abuse”. All of course are true statements, however when we start to focus on the “majority” during any form of quest against oppression or injustice, we lessen the impact of the cause. When we focus on the majority, we deflect from those who are sharing their truth, those who have been abused and /or are experiencing oppression. Oprah’s speech referenced the huge importance of not shaming and being willing to listen. Sometimes all we need to do is listen. To accept any shame, anger, or guilt. To accept what is and what has happened, to experience the discomfort that hearing stories surrounding abuse can often bring up. Perhaps this goes some way to enable us to start to fully understand how prolific abuse of power is, to empathise and truly breakthrough to making long-lasting change.
Oprah used her award win as an opportunity to educate. She spoke of victims of abuse including Recy Taylor, (who died just 10 days prior to the Golden Globes), stories from victims who are not heard due to the paralysis of fear and the power of control, she used the opportunity to encourage women to acknowledge the power in sharing their truth, she used the platform not to rant or to shame men, but to include them, to empower and to motivate everyone - the powerful majority, to take responsibility so that no-one has to say #metoo again.
2018 has been billed as the year of the woman and boy, what a way to start!
“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again”
A version of this article was first featured on novareid.com