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"You Don't Get A School! You Don't Get A School! You Don't Get. . ."

Steve Gilliard links to an opinion column by Eugene Robinson where he takes to task Oprah for her disparaging comments concerning American inner-city schoolchildren following her opening of her new all-girls' school in South Africa:

There can't be more than a handful of people on Earth who are better at choosing their words than Oprah Winfrey. So I was stunned last week to read a quote from her that was so . . . so totally un-Oprah.

She was talking about the new $40 million school for poor young girls she has built in South Africa and her awareness that some people would ask why she hadn't spent that money to benefit poor students at home. She already gives millions to educate underprivileged children in the United States, and anyway, she told Newsweek, the two situations are different. South Africa has desperate poverty and rudimentary infrastructure. The American educational system may have its faults, but "it does work."

Point made. But she wasn't done.

"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," she said. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

Oh, no, she didn't.

. . .The razor-sharp contrast that Oprah drew between young people in South Africa and those in the United States gets all fuzzy when you read her "What I Know for Sure" column in the December issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

She writes of 10 South African orphans, ages 7 to 14, whom she took under her wing several years ago, hiring caretakers for them, sending them to a private boarding school, buying them a big house and hiring a decorator "to personalize each of their bedrooms." Last summer, she said, she went to South Africa and dropped by the house unannounced.

"I found them all at the homework table off the kitchen, doing their work," she wrote. "That's a good thing. But when I sat them down in the living room for a conversation, everyone's cell phone kept going off." But "the inner spark I was used to seeing in their eyes was gone, replaced by their delight in their rooms full of things."

The girls had "long, braided hair extensions flowing down their backs" and were wearing baseball caps. In general, the kids "could talk about what they owned -- the latest portable PlayStations, iPods, and sneakers -- but they couldn't speak of what they'd done."

Once again, those dastardly iPods and sneakers. But it seems that South African kids, as well as Americans, are susceptible to the evil lure of really cool stuff.

It's funny how the same pathologies that affect all kids whoever they are, whether it's drugs, violence or materialism, suddenly becomes more pathological once poor black kids engage in them, and makes them easier to write off.

But I just like to add what Robinson only hinted at in his column, that Oprah forgot where she came from. What is galling is that she herself grew up at one point in her life, at around the same age as the kids she criticized, in the inner city of Milwaukee with a single mother who was neglectful and allowed her to be sexually abused. In turn she led a life of sex, drugs and petty criminality. Materialism? Fuck, Oprah once conned Aretha Franklin out of $100 so she could stay a few nights at a hotel. She stole from her mother and faked a break-in so she could buy stylish glasses. In short, her irresponsible behavior led her to give birth to a premature baby at fourteen years of age that later died, a fact she rarely discusses for appropriate reasons. After that she was shipped off to Tennessee to live with her strict father, who finally set her straight.

Oprah was lucky, she was one premature death and a deadbeat dad away from being just another stereotype of a black teenaged mother that her core audience of soccer moms won't give two shits about. And now she joining the chorus of those who write off inner-city schoolchildren? It's one thing for those types of comment if it came from some just another white conservative jackass speaking in racial codes. It's a truly sad thing when it comes from someone who has done so much for the poor and minority and has been through the same things herself.