Lessons from Oprah

Oh, Oprah how I’ve missed your show! I know that many people despise Oprah, but I feel like I learn so much from her show. Sure there are the shows that “teach” me how to pick out jeans to best accentuate my butt, and those aren’t too thought-provoking. But then there are shows like today’s episode that really get me thinking and teach me something important.

In 1987, Oprah filmed a show from Williamson, West Virginia about a gay man with AIDS. He had gone for a swim in a public pool and the community was outraged. The Mayor evacuated the pool and it remained closed for sometime afterward (presumably to clean the AIDS out). The man in question appeared on the show along with a doctor specializing in AIDS and many of the town’s members. The words that came out of some of those people’s mouths were downright disgusting and painful to hear. There was talk of putting all homosexuals into quarantine, claims that AIDS patients shouldn’t have the same rights as others, and tons of misinformation about AIDS in general.

The misinformation I completely understand. We were just learning about AIDS and many people were afraid. I get that. Fear and ignorance can make people say and do some really ugly things. It’s just sad to watch. And even more sad to me is the fact that even with more information, many people have not changed their opinions about homosexuals in general. There are still so many people who feel they shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else. There are still people who think that because they are “repulsed” (as the man in the tape said) by their lifestyle, they are less deserving of compassion and love. It got me thinking about what the current state of AIDS would be had straight people not begun to contract the disease. If members of the “majority” had not been directly affected by it, where would we be? I certainly don’t think that the resources that have been put into AIDS research would be the same. Perhaps we’d still be searching for a cure like we are now, but I truly don’t think it would be as big of a priority if it were only affecting gay people. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’d like to think that I am, but I’m just not so sure. And that’s just really, really sad to me.

Recently I read “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett and I had a similar reaction. It’s downright shameful to read about how black people were treated so recently in our history. And it still goes on I know, but to really understand that it used to be sanctioned by our government is devastating. I wasn’t alive in those days, and while I’ve read history books and heard stories, this book just really brought everything to light in a very real way for me.  {If you haven’t read this book, I encourage you to do so} You’d think we would have learned our lesson and begun to understand that we are all just people. That we should all be treated equally and should all have the same opportunities to be successful and happy. But even today, there are groups of people in our society that are shunned and treated as second class citizens. We’ve been seeing a lot of it aimed toward Muslims recently as well. And I’m honestly sickened by it. It scares me.

Recently I shared one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou: “When you know better, you do better.” And I truly believe that! But now we know better. Why aren’t we doing better?

Ok, end rant.