Let me disclose this upfront: I don't like Oprah Winfrey. I'm freaked out by her show's apparent assumption that we are all victims (of violence, our own overeating, etc.) in need of salvation. (For more reasons, read this [subscription required] clever analysis in the New Republic.) I admire her, though, in the same way that I admire certain bomb-throwing, self-promoting pundits: I wouldn't want to debate them, befriend them or deal with the moral dilemma of being them. That being said, I can get behind Oprah's giving the cold shoulder to certain rap stars. Recently a handful of rappers have criticized the talk show host, claiming that she isn't giving rappers a fair shake. But AlterNet's lead story yesterday quipped back in Oprah's defense, arguing that she isn't blindly targeting rap music; rather, she's refusing to give rappers who degrade women time on her stage.
Ice Cube complained that despite doing a show on "Barbershop," in which he starred, Oprah has yet to invite him to appear on her show. In an interview with FHM, Ice Cube offered: "Maybe Oprah's got a problem with hip hop." Ludacris complained that while promoting his movie "Crash" on Oprah's show, she criticized the content of his songs and left his response on the cutting-room floor. And in a statement so psychologically transparent, one might expect it from an embarrassed 13-year-old, 50 Cent said he "couldn't care less about Oprah or her show." So there.
Oprah recently defended herself on MTV, saying, "I respect other people's rights to do whatever they want to do in music and art ... I don't want to be marginalized by music or any form of art ... I feel rap is a form of expression, as is jazz. I'm not opposed to rap. I'm opposed to being marginalized as a woman." (This is a perfect example of the high level of production and expert forethought that goes into anything that comes out of Oprah's mouth, the James Frey incident excluded. You've gotta admire her ability to set the terms of the debate, as much as it's unsettling.)
In Yvonne Bynoe's AlterNet piece, she chuckles at the sense of entitlement exhibited by Ludacris, Ice Cube and 50 Cent, asking, "It's Oprah who has issues by refusing to celebrate black men who've made millions by demeaning black women?" Bynoe argues that Oprah has had rap artists on her show -- just cleaner, suburban-mom-friendly ones. I had a great laugh when John Legend and Alicia Keys were offered up as examples of "rappers" who have appeared on the show. But Sean "Diddy" Combs, Eve, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott (all undoubtedly rappers, though some have turned into Hollywood actors or entrepreneurs) have made appearances.
There's no denying Oprah has made a concerted effort to support black artists (as she does at her annual Legends Ball). Bynoe sides with Winfrey, writing that "she is choosing not to support black entertainers whose work denies the humanity of black women." At issue is the "successful subset of these genres" (read: not all rap music) that present black women as "bitches, tricks, 'hos and chickenheads."
As the AlterNet piece argues, there is no shortage of media outlets for rappers. "But Oprah is virtually alone in her ability, through her selection of guests, to provide the world with a broader view of black Americans and their achievements," Bynoe writes. "For black women, who are so commonly equated with the stereotypes of half-naked, gyrating women found in rap music videos, an opposing portrayal is welcome."