Oprah Winfrey says that President Barack Obama has been the victim of racism and that the ongoing issue of prejudice is a generational one.
“There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs,” Winfrey said Friday in an interview with the BBC. "And that occurs in some cases and maybe even in many cases because he’s African American. There’s no question about that, and it’s the kind of thing that nobody ever says but everybody is thinking it.”
Winfrey pointed to Republican Congressman Joe Wilson yelling "liar" during a 2009 speech Obama was giving to Congress.
The interview was part of a promotional tour for the film “The Butler,” which tells the story of Cecil Gaines, an African American man who served as a White House butler for eight different presidents.
Winfrey took her comments one step further, saying that the issue of racism is largely generational. Specifically, she said that cultural prejudice in the U.S. will largely recede after the last generation of individuals have died off.
“I said this, you know, for apartheid South Africa, I said this for my own, you know, community in the South — there are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die," Winfrey said.
However, Winfrey also made a point to note that there has been progress in race relations.
"It would be foolish to not recognize that we have evolved in that we’re not still facing the same kind of terrorism against black people en masse as was displayed with the Scottsboro boys. It’s gotten better," she said. "… There are laws that have allowed us to progress beyond what we saw in the Scottsboro boys and beyond even the prejudice we see in 'The Butler.' "
Nonetheless, Winfrey’s comments have been heavily criticized by the conservative media.
Noel Sheppard, who is white, writes at the conservative media watchdog site NewsBusters: “Why do folks such as her only see racism through the prism of how blacks are treated? By looking at the problem so narrowly, doesn't it make matters worse?”
And the website Right Scoop added, "Oprah Winfrey is going around the world telling everyone that Americans are racist."
In August, Winfrey made headlines when she told Larry King she encounters racism, citing an incident at a store in Switzerland where a shop clerk refused to show her a purse that cost $38,000.
"I'm in a store, and the person doesn't obviously know that I carry the black card and so they make an assessment based upon the way I look and who I am," later explained. "I didn't have anything that said, 'I have money.' I wasn't wearing a diamond stud. I didn't have a pocketbook. I didn't wear Louboutin shoes. I didn't have anything. ... You should be able to go in a store looking like whatever you look like and say, 'I'd like to see this.' That didn't happen."