Oprah’s Blackest Moments

Oprah Winfrey recently announced plans for retirement in 2011. The talk show host may have a stronghold on white, suburban housewives, but The Root contributors remember moments when Oprah kept it real—black.

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Getty Images

I remember the early days, when Oprah was just starting out. At the time, this was a big, big deal. You just didn’t see a black woman hosting a daytime talk show. And there she was, big hair and big personality, storming the airwaves. My earliest memory of her was when she had a number of white supremacists on her show. One of them—a fairly swarthy-looking sort—was blathering on about white power, yada, yada, yada. Oprah stopped him mid-sentence, asking him, “What are you doing up there with the white power people? You look like you’ve got some Negro blood to me.” For a long time after that, Oprah could do no wrong in my book.

—Teresa Wiltz, senior culture writer and interim managing editor for The Root

Who was that guy that faked that memoir? James Frey. Oprah lost all decorum. It wasn’t like her neck was going side to side, but that was the only thing missing when she let him know that you don’t mess with the O.

—Terence Samuel, deputy editor of The Root

Am I the only one who remembers Oprah in the ‘90s? She wasn’t always the suburban darling who we know now. I remember Tyra Banks getting so much flak when she launched her talk show, as if it could never measure up to Oprah’s mega success. Tyra’s too loud. She’s too around the way. Her segments are too cheesy. It was as if Banks’ excessive personality and pop-culture presence made her “too black” for Ms. Winfrey’s kind of crossover success. Has no one seen Oprah on that episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? She made an appearance on the show—just like another present-day media mogul—donning big hair, bad fashion and dishing sassy one-liners. Now that O is retiring, this could be Tyra Banks’ shot at taking over the throne of daytime talk. The two may have a lot more in common than we think.

—Saaret E. Yoseph, assistant editor for The Root

I’ve never known a world without Oprah on TV. I’m 24, and her show is 25. I didn’t watch Oprah much growing up, but I do remember watching Kim Wayans on In Living Color and Debra Wilson on Mad TV, always making jokes of her weight, her tearful episodes and her suspected attitude problem. And don’t forget the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, when Oprah invited the Banks family—sans Will—to the show. Those are some of the funniest Oprah moments—and she wasn’t even there.

—Erin Evans, copy editor for The Root