Every last man, woman and child in the United States might be well aware of how affluent the former talk show host and OWN network head Oprah Winfrey is, but people living in the rest of the world aren’t quite as familiar with the affable television personality. As such, she’s occasionally victimized by racial profiling as related to people mistakenly assuming she’s from a lower socioeconomic class when she visits Europe, a fact that she was brazenly reminded of last month when an employee refused to show her an expensive handbag.
The incident in question happened in Switzerland. Oprah was on hand to attend the wedding of her friend/ new Swiss citizen Tina Turner when she decided to do a little shopping for a handbag. After looking at several handbags with the store clerk, she asked to see a black one priced at $38,000, but she was refused because, as the sales clerk put it, “you will never be able to afford that.”
Oprah recently told the story on Entertainment Tonight, and almost immediately, the Switzerland Tourism Office reached out and apologized. According to The Huffington Post, the office declared that everyone should be treated the same way and that the sales clerk erred in her behavior. The store’s owner Trudie Goetz agreed too. In addition to potentially losing a really profitable sale, she is also obviously upset at how it’s made her business look, but nonetheless, she still argued the situation was a “misunderstanding” rather than an incident of racism.
Here’s what she told Blick…
"I have to admit that the employee is Italian. Of course, she speaks English, but not as well as her mother tongue. It was a real misunderstanding."
I’m not really sure why speaking Italian could let someone make judgments about another’s wealth without being a racist, but the Italian people have a long, complicated and often disgusting history with racism. Obviously, there are a very sizeable group of citizens who are abhorred by such bigotry, but there are quite a few who are not, as well. Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been compared to an orangutan by other politicians and even been pelted with bananas. Soccer players such as Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mario Balotelli are routinely subjected to racist chants during matches, and it took the former actually walking off the field for FIFA to finally take some action. Maybe this clerk seriously has a problem she needs to work on. Maybe she was just subtly affected by everything she saw growing up. Either way, she needs to get with the program.
The embarrassment and the lost sale are, in my estimation, more than enough punishment for this shop and the clerk. Here’s to hoping others learn a lesson from what happened and keep an open mind with every customer.