Tag Archives: Oprah Winfrey

Oprah and Michelle’s Excellent Denmark Adventure, Angela Davis on Women, Race and Class


Angela Davis' essay collection provides useful background information to consider Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey's places in American society.

Angela Davis' essay collection provides useful background information to consider Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey's places in American society.


Billionaire talk show host, reading guru and cultural force Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to Copenhagen as part of Chicago’s official delegation in a last-minute effort to sway the International Olympic Committee to grant the 2016 games to the Windy City. 

In some ways, what is most remarkable about the two black women’s presence is how unremarkable it is at all.  

While there has been conversation about whether Michelle’s husband should leave his efforts to get health care reform passed or what Oprah’s presence will mean to the city’s bid, none of it that I have seen has focused on either woman’s race.

This is not by any means to suggest that racism and sexism have been eradicated in American society, but rather to note that, at least in the case of these two women, some positive change has occurred.

The degree to which Oprah and Michelle Obama can be said in any way to be representative of their millions of fellow black women is of course up for discussion, and Angela Davis‘ wide ranging and informative essay collection, Women, Race & Class, can help inform that conversation.

Perhaps most well known for her trial and subsequent acquittal for her role in the abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley, Davis is a thoughtful and radical historian.  

The essays in this collection begin with slavery and move forward in time, essentially arriving at the period the book was published in the final two entries, which focus on reproductive rights and the obsolescence of housework, respectively.  While nearly all the selections focus on black women, Davis does also have a chapter about communist women covers many white women she deems to be political stalwarts. 

Davis does not shy away from taking on some of the most hallowed names in American history, with Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and Margaret Sanger only some of the most famous people on the list. 

Women, Race & Class is not a polemic, although Davis’ call in one of the later essays to socialize child care might you to leave believe otherwise.  Published in 1983, the work is an attempt both to insert the experience of black women into mainstream historical discourse and to talk about the many hardships black women have endured, including those from their avowed allies.  

In addition to having chapters about slavery, the book includes three chapters about the women’s movement, which repeatedly privileged white women’s advancement over the franchise for all women.   In a similar vein, anti-lynching efforts did not gain widespread support from white people one would have expected to be supportive, she says, because of their accepting of the myth of black men as savage rapists.

The book is neither a litany of victimization nor an endless series of pot shots.  Davis writes at several points in the book with admiration of the actions taken and writing done by the Grimke sisters, and also has much good to say about Wells, Mary Church Terrell and Douglass, among others. 

Beyond this lauding of individuals, Women, Race & Class is based in a profound respect for, and sense of solidarity with, black women who have done the proverbial way paving for Davis and others in her generation.

Davis has continued that tradition, and to some degree Winfrey and Obama are beneficiaries of her efforts.  Whether you find her political actions reprehensible or not, I still recommend reading this collection before following Oprah and Michelle on their excellent adventure to push Chicago past the Olympic finishing line.


Saul Alinsky would have done more than talk about Oprah.


Saul Alinsky likely would have seen Oprah's closure of Michigan Ave. as a chance to make some noise.

Saul Alinsky likely would have seen Oprah's closure of Michigan Ave. as a chance to make some noise.


Here’s a post I wrote for Chicago Now about Oprah Winfrey’s closure of several blocks of N. Michigan Ave. for her season premiere: http://tinyurl.com/mou7pr

Health Care Reform, Muriel Gillick’s The Denial of Aging

Muriel Gillick calls for new medical policies and practices as well as an acknowledgment of aging in this book.

Muriel Gillick calls for new medical policies and practices as well as an acknowledgment of aging in this book.

In addition to deciding whether to  stop helping former automotive giants GM and Chrysler, working to restructure the deeply troubled economy and figuring out how to effectively end two wars, President Barack Obama is tackling our health care system.

It is an ambitious task. 

At more than 15 percent, the United States spends the second highest percentage of its GDP on health care in the world, according to sources.  The upward trend is expected to continue, approaching 20 percent by 2017, estimates say.

Yet we also have a system in which more than 45 million people do not have health insurance-a number that has continued to grow during the past decades and shows little sign of abating.

Statistics like these would appear to indicate the need for a change.  

Obama certainly thinks so.

During his successful campaign, he sounded the call for universal health care.  Since being elected, he has convened groups of “stakeholders” to Washington to initiate conversation; at this meeting, ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has worked on this issue during much of his 50 years in office, received an emotional greeting.

Just this week, Obama took up the issue again, saying the time for health care reform is now.

He faces stiff opposition on a number of fronts, including some within his own party, powerful medical lobbying interests and conservatives who are painting Obama’s plan as yet another in a rapidly emerging long line of costly and long-lasting government mandates.

If he has not done so already, Obama would do well to read Muriel Gillick’s The Denial of Aging: Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life and Other Dangerous Fantasies, a richly informative book that calls for both a confrontation with the inevitable decline accompanied by aging and health care policies and practices that reflect those realities.

Thanks go out to my father, Ed Lowenstein, for lending me this book.

An Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, Gillick asserts in the book’s prelude that the baby boomers’ approaching senior citizen status will force the nation to ask “a question that in the past we have largely shied away from, insisting it’s all a matter of personal choice: What is the right approach to medical care for those near the end of life?” 

The question is particularly urgent both because of the sheer numbers of seniors and because of their increased life expectancy, according to Gillick.

Peppering the book with examples from her clinical practice, the occasional quote from Ecclesiastes, and a fascinating section about her mother, a Holocaust survivor, Gillick calls for a re-envisioning of medical practice based both on the acceptance of people’s aging and eventual death and an acknowledgment of the extraordinary costs associated with end-of-life care.

Estimates vary, but one source suggested that 40 percent of the entire Medicare budget is spent on patients’ final 30 days of life. 

Gillick suggests a different way, heavier on prevention and what she calls “evidence-based care” and taking intermediate, rather than extreme, measures toward the end of many people’s lives. 

In one chapter that was particularly helpful for an ongoing project at work, Gillick advocates for nursing home care to be based on quality of life, rather than quality of care.  She also tackles difficulties with the Medicare system, assisted living and the combination of independence, dignity and connection that lead to seniors having meaningful retirement years.

In short, Gillick calls for a dramatic reordering of our nation’s medical expenditures-a call that is underpinned by a shift away from what she describes as an overemphasis on the importance of individual choice.  

Gillick makes it clear in the book’s finale that the changes needed to achieve greater societal health relate to personal behavior, health care policy and our work force.   While expressing confidence in our nation’s ability to meet the task it faces, she also does not back away from saying that drastic change is needed. 

The work has many strengths. Among the most noteworthy:  Gillick’s clear and unflinching vision based on clinical practice, an informed critique of the current system and her own reflections; and her articulation of the present moment around this issue in American history.

These positive attributes are compromised slightly by a comparatively thin analysis of how “our deep-seated faith in individualism” has become even more so during the past 30 years.  Gillick cites a survey by Daniel Yankelovich and a finding from sociologist Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community to buttress her point, but the effect is not particularly convincing.   I have no doubt that Gillick had more personal, professional and academic resources at her disposal to make a stronger case about the rise of individualism and wish that she had used them because the point is so central to her work. 

That said, The Denial of Aging is an impressive and thought provoking book.  The impact of Obama’s reading list has recently been compared to that of Oprah Winfrey.  Public conversation and policy would be enlivened and enriched were he to read and endorse Gillick’s work.

And the winner is …

Davud Russell tames more than animals. He won the Black History Month Quiz, too.

David Russell tames more than animals. He won the Black History Month Quiz, too.

David Russell!!!!

David took first prize in the Black History Month Quiz.

For his victory, David will get one of the following:

a. A Kombucha drink of his choice.

b. A beer of his choice.

The prize is redeemable within a year at any location in which David and I are in the same place!

Congratulations, David!   And well done to Bob Yovovich, who earned honorable mention!

Here are the answers:

  1. Who founded Black History Month? Carter G. Woodson.
  2. Who was the first African American to receive a PhD. from Harvard University? W.E.B. DuBois
  3. Name two major events in black history that occurred on August 28. 1963. March on Washington, Obama receives the Democratic nomination in 2008, and Emmett Till’s murder.
  4. Who was the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature? Toni Morrison.
  5. Who was Chicago’s first black mayor?  Whom did he defeat in the general election?  What was the voter turnout percentage in the general election? Harold Washington, Bernard Epton, 79 percent.
  6. Which recently deceased Chicago author was a member of the black and gay lesbian writer Halls of Fame? Studs Terkel
  7. How many NBA championships have the Chicago Bulls won?  Name two black players who were on all of the championship teams. 6 championships. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
  8. Which famous black abolitionist was born Isabella Baumfree? What is her most famous phrase? Sojourner Truth. “Ain’t I a woman?”
  9. Who was born 200 years ago yesterday?  Why is his birthday significant in terms of black history?  Abraham Lincoln. He signed the 13th Amendment.
  10. Name three black editors and publishers of The Chicago Reporter. Alden Loury, Laura Washington, Alysia Tate.
  11. Who was the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice? What is his most famous case? How many times did he argue in front of the Supreme Court?  How many times did he win? Thurgood Marshall. Brown v. Board of Education. 32. 29.
  12. Which Chicago female poet became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950?  Gwendolyn Brooks.
  13. Name five African Americans who have won Academy Awards for either best actor or best actress. Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Hattie McDaniel, Lou Gossett, Jr., Sidney Poitier, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson.
  14. What is the one-drop rule and why is it significant for black people in American history? One drop of “black blood” meant that the person was considered black.  It was used as the basis for enforcing segregation’s laws.
  15. True or false: The first black people to come to America were slaves. False. They were indentured servants.
  16. Name two of the three places in the U.S. Constitution where slavery is included but not mentioned by name. Extra credit: Name all three places. 3/5ths clause. Non-importation of slaves after 1808. Fugitive Slave Clause.
  17. Which three post-Civil War Amendments all dealt with African Americans?  What did they say? Amendments 13, 14, and 15.  Amendnent 13 deal with freeing slaves.  Amendment 14 discussed equal protection under the law. Amendment 15 addressed voting rights for black men.
  18. Who was able to vote first in U.S. elections: black women or Native Americans? Black women. Native Americans did not get the right to vote in national elections until 1924.
  19. Which black female talk show host became the first black woman billionaire?  What year did that first happen? Oprah Winfrey in 2004.
  20. What was the inspiration for Jay-Z’s name?  Who is his wife?  The subway lines in Brooklyn.  Beyonce Knowles.

King Tips from Dan Prusaitis

Reader Dan Prusaitis sent the following note:
Donald T. Phipps. I had been reading a lot of Stephen Covey, the Seven Habits guy, and Phipps was a really nice counterpoint to that with his real stories exemplifying various leadership practices in Dr. King’s work, stories that just fit some things that I was struggling with at the time. 
If you didn’t catch it, the Martin Luther King National Memorial Foundation Groundbreaking Ceremony is free on audible.com, and it’s TREMENDOUS.  Many of the speakers pulled it out like I have never heard before.  Oprah sounded like Sojourner Truth. Lots of people have rotten things to say about her but I think she’s a hell of a scrapper.  She was mighty that day in particular, a different woman in fact, and poor George W. had to follow her with his little buzz of a voice.  http://www.audible.com/adbl/site/enSearch/searchResults.jsp?BV_UseBVCookie=Yes&N=0&Ntx=mode%2Bmatchallpartial&D=king+groundbreaking+maya&Dx=mode%2Bmatchallpartial&Ntk=S_Keywords&Ntt=king+groundbreaking+maya