February 22, 2016 3:59 pm

Oprah Winfrey in 1989: “I Think a Lot of People Still Use the Slavery Experience as an Excuse”

by Yvette Carnell

In an essay that catapulted him to national prominence, Ta-Nehisi Coates argued in favor of reparations in the pages of The Atlantic. Coates’ essay, although well researched and superfluous, was devoid of any real recommendations in that it only suggested that Congress approve a bill that would study reparations. As I’ve said previously, the essay concluded with a meek whimper rather than a bang.

This may have something to do with Coates being against reparations before he began supporting the idea a few years ago. It is important to remember that among the black elite, Coates was not alone in his disapproval.

In an episode titled “Three Generations of Underclass” (highlighted in Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era (Media and Power)which aired in 1989, Oprah Winfrey questioned whether African-Americans are owed anything from slavery.

“I think a lot of people still use the slavery experience as an excuse,” Winfrey said. “Some people are still walking around thinking that this system–now Mr. Bush owes them something because we were in slavery, is that fair?”

In discussing welfare during the same episode, Winfrey opens up the show by asking guests why they are on welfare, without ever addressing the foundational issues that lead to poverty.

“So, you know, we have all heard stories of how being on welfare takes a hold of some families, about two and three generations of mothers and daughters and sons that get stuck in a cycle of poverty that provides little inspiration to the next generation to to better. People who work and pay taxes have a lot of big gripes about those who spend decades and generations on welfare… Today we asked families–mothers who have raised their children on welfare and their daughters who are also raising their children on welfare–why the cycle gets repeated.”

The idea that America shouldn’t address the material conditions of descendants of slaves isn’t just a line supported by conservatives, or just white people for that matter.

Fifty-nine percent of Black Americans think that the descendants of enslaved Africans deserve reparations, according to a June 2014 HuffPost/YouGov poll. Among black people, that’s a majority by only nine points.


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  • BlackheywoodHeywood says:

    I’m not surprised, she like many other Blacks who make it up the ladder of success often look down, ignore Americas racist, oppressive history against Black Americans,then blame Black Americans not only for our own economic decline they also blame us for the racism that many White and others have for us. Meanwhile they have no end to their sympathy for the Jews. These are the same Black folks who will take the worse element of Black folks and assign that behavior to the entire race of Black folks except themselves. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and self hatred is very real in all levels of economic and educational statures of the Black race, unfortunately. A lot it has to do with religion and many Black folks who are indoctrinated into White Supremacy, many of us are willingly mental slaves. It’s really sad.

  • NathanPretlow says:

    Remember Oprah Winfrey made her money by white people her former show was mostly white.And she had that less theaten white people cross over good negro appeal to make it .She made it to the mountain top but forgot her about less fonunate black people.In Oprah world all black people have to be like Oprah.Sorry Oprah baby most of our black people are not ready to sell out to white people like you have.

  • AlanCarter says:

    No one using slavery as an excuse.  I’m so over slavery, but I’m not over the 151 years  of legal abuses against people of color after slavery.  Unequal
    treatment which happens every day.

  • Watchful says:

    Is Oprah still relevant?

  • V E R R E O S Ins says:

    The U.S. government is reported to have broken almost every single treaty it ever made with the Native Americans.  Some tribes still suffer, others do not.  Self determination is a big deal, as is leadership.  If anyone is owed reparations,
    it would have to the Native Americans who almost got wiped out. 

    Slavery was not a U.S. Government creation.  The only failure of government was not being able to negotiate how to create the country without dictating to the rich white slave owner colonists they must quit slavery.  Jim Crow forward,
    the U.S. government enabled more than neglected discrimination by whites against everyone else.  We’ve all paid for
    that lots of ways already, I’m not suggesting it will ever be right.  But for those who feel getting a check from Uncle Sam
    would somehow make it all right – what would the number be? 

    I see FB postings today saying we blew $1.7T on Iraq, that could be paying for free college tuition for everyone in the USA?  I don’t know.  But I do know when people feel they’ve made it, they tend to expect everyone else should be able
    to do it like they did. When someone makes it big, like Opra, some will claim she sold out, and forgot where she came from.  It’s so easy to criticize.  Bottom line is we need each other, we are stronger together, like any family, we need to
    get off of stuck on stupid, or we can never move forward.  We have institutionalized barriers to success, and we have
    not dealt with the realities of crime, gangs, and police violence/murder, or those murdering police.  Our plate if full, just
    pick any item and work on fixing it!

  • StanselusWoods says:

    When did social services ever tank the economy?

  • StanselusWoods says:

    Well all we have to say to that is, why are our Jewish brothers and sisters getting reparations from atleast 2 nations?

  • StanselusWoods says:

    Oprah’s success is an aberration, for every Oprah there’s millions of Black Americans living in poverty. When people point to those aberrations as a sign that things are just fine, it’s to marginalize and trivialize the valid contempt some have for the current system of economics. A system built on the backs of Black slave labor. I’m sure Oprah can attest that if a debtor was to die, and that debtor has a child or wife, that child or wife is to inherit that debt until it’s paid. This is the Eurocentric way of doing business. So why, when reparations are discussed for black Americans, is it a whole lot of can’ts and shouldn’ts? And cash isn’t the only form of capital. White people get real forgetful sometimes, I call it selective memory.

  • Trueletter son says:

    StanselusWoods cause hey t the grip.

  • CelesteaDeanes says:

    I suggest Oprah isn’t over slavery herself …eating disorders, I dare say, inherited ,are destroying her health

  • QuietMoor says:

    It’s not a “fairness” issue, it’s a “power” issue. It will never be given, we will have to force it.

  • Watchful says:

    Well, there’s at least one political party and candidate that does support reparations for our ppl, but I bet most of those of u who intend to vote for POTUS r even aware of her or her party.


  • Watchful says:


    I had to chuckle a bit at ur comment. : )

  • Watchful says:


    I’m afraid I can’t be ‘so over slavery’ knowing the brutal and vicious form of mistreatment and the 300 years of free labor that my ancestors suffered thru and that white ppl have enormously benefited from. To have that kinda attitude would be to dishonor our ancestors IMO.

  • WillSteen says:

    Ya’ll will believe anything. Oprah never said this, NEVER…stop believing anything and everything you read. Do your own research.

  • Watchful says:


    Took ur advice and it seems she is actually quoted as having said it, albeit, back in 1989. Can u present any proof that she didn’t say it?


  • jcluvstrnity says:

    Watchful WillSteen This is the same story. Breaking Brown let the other site reprint it. We need a date older than this year or a taped conversation of her saying it. I had never heard this before so I would be really interested if you found something dated.

  • Watchful says:


    To be honest, I’m not THAT interested in delving that deep into this topic since Oprah isn’t important enough for me to spend much time researching whether or not she actually said it. I did a cursory search before and came up with the link I posted.  That said, I guess for those that find it that important, they could try and find a video clip of the episode of her show from which the quote was said to have originally been made. Short of that, I’m not sure what other proof or evidence would suffice.

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