Oprah: A New Kind of Me Too

Oprah Winfrey at the 2018 Golden Globes (NBC). Image via screengrab.
Oprah’s awe-inspiring speech at the Golden Globes has taken the world by storm in the past few days, but for actress and lifelong Ms. Winfrey devotee Phylicia Pearl, that moment couldn’t have arrived fast enough. In one of our favorite new stories from Honeysuckle Girl, here’s her take on the Tao of O.

By Phylicia Pearl

When I was in the fifth grade at Saint Catherine Laboure K-8 school, right as the clock struck 2:58pm each day, I would start to pack up my desk only to have Mrs. Diramo, a teacher who had managed to outlive all of the nuns, call me out in front of my classmates.

“Going somewhere important, Miss Mpasi?” she teased.

“No,” I said and slid down in my seat.

Little did she know, I was going to the most important place. I spent every weekday at 4:00 pm with my friend. My mother. My sister. My confidant. My inspiration. Her name? Oprah Winfrey.

On this specific episode of The Oprah Show, Oprah, or Mama as I secretly call her, gave out a brand new Pontiac G6 to every member of the audience. She was wearing a matching red jacket and mid length skirt, an outfit forever etched in my memory.

“They all get cars!” I exclaimed to my 10-year-old sister. At 11, I didn’t know many things in life. I knew how to multiply. I knew that Leonardo DiCaprio shouldn’t have died in Titanic. And I knew this moment would go down in television history.

It took me years to understand why that moment was so powerful. I thought it was the bright red suit. I thought it was the fact that she gave out actual cars. I thought it was the way she tilted her head back, pointed that mic to the audience, and yelled the iconic words “YOU GET A CAR!” But this moment will be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life because it was one of the first times I saw someone like me on TV.

She was a beautiful, curvy, inspiring, powerful, and loud black woman being her authentic self without apology, and bringing joy to so many people. For an hour every weekday, she connected with these people. She took them away from the struggle of their day-to-day lives. It didn’t matter that she grew up poor, or that she was sexually assaulted, or that she opted out of marrying her life partner. Instead, people would remember the great joy she brought them. That is the very essence of “O.” And the essence of a woman – a being that powerfully brings light and joy to others. I thought to myself, if Oprah can do this, maybe I could do it too.

Back then, it was through a material gift—those Pontiac G6s– but during the 2018 Golden Globes we received the best gift of all. It’s a gift that couldn’t have been wrapped, although a Versace dress would make great gift-wrap. Oprah gave us her words. Her soul. Her story. Her light. Herself.

Black women have made valiant strides in the media to garner representation. We have dramas and sitcoms and even sit in news correspondent chairs. But these women are expected to be everything and nothing. They have to be funny and smart and beautiful and strong and powerful, but never too much of one thing. As Shonda Rhimes astutely observed, “You have to be twice as good to get half as much.”

So rarely is a black woman allowed to just be. And speak. And live in the present moment.

Phylicia Pearl in her earliest Oprah-watching days. Family photo courtesy of the author.

Oprah began her Golden Globes speech with her own history, sitting on the linoleum floor of her very humble home, being a young girl in awe of Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Academy Award. For her, this was the moment she saw a person similar to herself represented on TV. For me, and for generations both older and younger, our person is Ms. Winfrey herself. She talked about the resilience of females, with Recy Taylor being her main example. And how this one woman who was gang-raped by six white men would contribute to the spark of the Civil Rights Movement, and years later would make space for hundreds of women to come forward and speak up against sexual assault.

Oprah’s speech was selfless. It lacked ego and the focus was placed on being a voice for those who have felt stifled or like their voice didn’t matter. In a matter of minutes and with a few words, Oprah was able to unite people of different classes, genders, sexual orientations, races, and other labels that have divided the human race for years. But most importantly, she paved the way for young girls to dare to speak their truth in the face of adversity. She was a voice for girls like me, and girls like you.

So ladies, as Oprah said, “You get a car.” But you also get a story. 

She ended her speech with a promise to a younger generation.

“So I want all the girls watching here and 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.”

I hope that when you see a woman like Oprah, filled with power, wisdom, and love, you understand she is your mirror. That everything she encompasses is within you. And that you look at her, and look at yourself and say a new, different kind of “Me Too.”

Watch Oprah’s speech on YouTube here.

Phylicia Pearl is an empowered female from Silver Spring, MD and a graduate of Elon University. She currently travels around the country with Disney’s The Lion King musical. Being the third out of four girls, she is a first generation Congolese-American with great middle child syndrome. She’s always loved stories and lives to be a great storyteller. She loves all things wine, French fries, Leonardo DiCaprio and Shonda Rhimes. Follow her on Twitter at @thatssophylicia.

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