The story of Oprah Winfrey and the $38,000 handbag still hasn’t died down, with Oprah providing more details of the incident to a Swiss newspaper and Bill O’Reilly, of all people, offering her advice on how to handle racism in the future: “Ignore it,” the Fox News host says.
It seems that the lifestyle mogul is having difficulty garnering sympathy for her tale of a Swiss store clerk who declined to show her a $38,000 handbag— one that designer Tom Ford made for actress Jennifer Aniston—because she said the clerk told her it was too expensive.
While many people have focused their dismay on the mind-blowing price of the pocketbook—MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry called it “one-percenter problems“— O’Reilly had his own advice to offer Winfrey.
O’Reilly said the fact that Winfrey is now “one of the most powerful human beings on the planet” proves that her race did not hold her back from success.
“There is racism in the world,” said O’Reilly, obviously a man who has never experienced it himself. “It’s not going away. And if you can change it, try, but most of the time ignore it. And don’t let it dampen your life.”
The story first broke when Winfrey, doing a media tour to promote her new movie, “The Butler,” was asked if she had personally experienced racism. She responded by telling the story of a recent encounter with a clerk at a shop in Switzerland who had recently refused to show her an expensive bag, even though she repeated her request multiple times.
“That one will cost too much, you won’t be able to afford that,” Winfrey claimed the clerk told her.
The clerk, who was identified by Switzerland’s Blick newspaper as Ariadna N., denied Winfrey’s version of events. The clerk said she showed Winfrey a range of the Jennifer Aniston bags, explained that they come in different sizes and materials and pointed out a less expensive alternative when Winfrey expressed interest in the 35,000 franc (more than $37,000) purse at the top of the display.
“It’s absurd,” Ariadna said of the allegations. “I would never say that kind of thing to a customer.”
But Winfrey gave her own interview to Blick and didn’t back down from her story, though she said she regrets that the incident was blown up into an indictment of Switzerland at large.
Asked whether she might have been oversensitive in perceiving racist undertones in her interaction at the shop, since “in the U.S., black people have to deal with racism daily,” Winfrey responded that she wasn’t being oversensitive.
“I don’t know any black man who hasn’t been stopped or followed by the police at some point because of his skin color, but for women, it’s different,” she said. “What I experienced in Switzerland has only happened to me once before in life. I didn’t want to attack Switzerland. It was an isolated incident. The kind of incident that people with black or brown skin have to experience every day.”
Winfrey pointed out that the reaction to her in stores in the U.S. tends to be very different.
“Believe me, normally people are excited when I come to their stores,” Winfrey said. “It’s very unusual when I’m not practically dragged into a boutique. Dozens of people will be pressing their noses against the windows to get a look at me shopping.”
Winfrey added that she even considered calling Aniston or Tom Ford.
“The woman at the shop said that it was the Jennifer Aniston bag that Tom Ford had created especially for Jennifer,” Winfrey told Blick. “It crossed my mind that maybe I should give Jennifer or Tom a call. I know both of them very well.”
But Winfrey also conceded that she can’t be sure the snub was motivated by racism.
“Maybe she actually just didn’t want to reach for the bag because it was up too high,” Winfrey said. “Who knows? Either way, I had a great time in Switzerland.”