Good for Oprah

I usually don't have much to say about Oprah.  I guess my perception of her has always been vaguely negative -- she's given a big leg up to some junk science causes in the past, and some of her recent attempts at charity have seemed to be more about self-promotion than about really helping people (the car giveaway comes to mind).  My real beef with her is probably more petty:  She once inspired my wife, in that way only Oprah seems to be able to do with women, to organize her closets just like Oprah.  What this meant in practice was that I had to go out and buy about 400 matching wooden hangers, and then we had to get rid of all the stuff on our shelves.  Yes, you heard that right:

Wife:  All that stuff cluttering up the shelves in our closet has to go
Me:  Why?  I mean, it's a closet.  It's for storing stuff
W:  It has to go somewhere else
M:  There is no place else
W:  Oprah's closet is beautiful - it has just clothes and nothing else in it.  That's the way our closet should be
M:  But we have no where else to store this stuff.  Why should that shelf sit empty when we have a use for it?
W:  Because it will look great
M:  Who cares?  It's a closet.  Besides, are we really going to take home decorating advice from a woman who has enough money to build a dedicated closet for each pair of shoes she owns?

Anyway, guys out there, you probably know the drill.

But I must say my opinion is changing a bit.  I was deprecating about her book club, because of some of the specific book choices, until I saw the stat that something like half the adults in this country never read a book again after they leave school.  If Oprah can get women as fired up about reading as my wife is about having a zen closet, power to her.

And, I have to defend her in her current endeavor, where she is giving $40 million to start a school for girls in Africa.  Good.  I don't know if it will work, but it is worth a try.  We know that giving direct aid into kleptocratic totalitarian African governments is worse than useless, so maybe education is an answer.

Amazingly, she is under fire for this program, as people across the political spectrum ask why she is giving this money to Africa when everything is not perfect in this country.  This argument strikes me as more Lou Dobbs-type nationalistic xenophobia.  Sure inner city schools in this country suck, but they are better than what is in Africa (nothing) and its not clear that money alone is going to fix government-run schools (besides, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are already taking a swing at that).  I personally would love to contribute to inner-city education, but until there is a framework such that someone other than the government controls the schools, I am not going to do it. 

There is no reason why Africans are less deserving of charity than Americans, and several reasons why they may be more deserving.  Recognize that most blacks in this country, even those in the inner-city, would be in the top quintile of wealth in Africa.  So good for Oprah.

Update:  Andrew Coulson of Cato argues that Oprah misdiagnoses the inner city education problem - its not the kids, its the schools.  I would argue its both.  School choice gives kids a chance to attend a better, more stimulating school.  But it also acts as a sorting process, separating kids and parents who want a good education and getting them away from the cancer of kids that don't.  I think Oprah (and Bill Cosby before her) correctly diagnoses that there is certainly a depressing number in the latter category.  However, all that is peripheral.  Oprah does not owe her charity to the US.  Africa is a perfectly reasonable target for her charity (and why does Oprah catch crap for focusing on Africa when no one gives Bono similar grief?)

  • JoshK

    Don't forget Martha, the other destroyer of men's lives.

  • Agammamon

    Oprah could just point out that she's running up against diminishing returns in the US - 40 mil is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other money we spend on schools.

    On the other hand 40 mil is still real money in Africa - its a far more efficient allocation of the funds.

  • Larry

    I've got ask, "On what did she spend $40 mil?"

    Is most of this money in some kind of endowment?

  • Barbara Meyer

    About the closets - I'm proud of your wife for winning an argument with you - something I don't think I ever did.

  • Craig

    I'd support Oprah more if her new school didn't have a beauty salon in it.

  • Bravo!

    "why she is giving this money to Africa when everything is not perfect in this country."

    Because we have the money and the opportunity to change and we don't. It has nothing to do with "inner city". Russia has such an outrageous rate of alcoholism, for example, that it's brought men's average age of death down to 58. Their divorce rate is awful too. Family life is not Leave it to Beaver and yet their high school graduates still get out of school knowing how to prove Vieta's Theorem and score higher than our kids do on international tests. If it can be done with broken families, divorce, and unemployment in Russia, it can be done here too.

  • The rub is not that she gave the money to someone besides an American group or institution, but that she dissed the inner-city American kids in the process.

    Basically, she said they were too materialistic, as if that were the fault of the kids themselves, and not part of the media-celebrity culture of which she is so prominent.

    She all but said that American kids didn't deserve anything because of this, but these poor kids over here. . . now, they're deserving. Blaming the kids for the scewed up educational system is simply wrong. She wouldn't diss the teachers' unions, nor the politicians that enable them, but she'll kick the kids under the bus just like that.

  • That's why closets have doors.

    PS: Watch out for Rachael Ray.

  • That's the difference with Rachael, looking at her, um, uh, . . I mean watching out for her could get you in trouble with the missus. . .