Oprah has no right to criticize American kids

As a woman who’s worth $1.5 billion, Oprah Winfrey can do whatever she wants with her money.

Through Oprah’s Angel Network, she gave 12 homes to victims of Hurricane Katrina, donated time and money to combat AIDS in Africa and gave $1 million to other organizations to help tsunami victims in Asia.

Therefore, it was no surprise when Oprah opened the $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside of Johannesburg in South Africa. Six years ago, Oprah made a promise to former president Nelson Mandela to build the all-girls school. Many students who will attend the school come from families affected by AIDS – an estimated 5.5 million of South Africa’s 48 million people are living with HIV, which affects women disproportionately.

More than 3,500 applications from across the country were submitted, but only 152 girls ages 11 and 12 were accepted. Eventually, plans call for the academy to accommodate 450 girls.

Critics disapproved of Oprah opening up a school in Africa instead of here in the United States. According to Newsweek, Oprah responded by saying, “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools in America that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there. If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

I agree with Oprah to a certain extent. America is a very materialistic society. New gadgets are invented constantly, and old ones quickly become obsolete. It becomes a race to keep up with the Joneses, and if you can’t keep up, then you get left in the outmoded dust. So it isn’t surprising that some children’s way of thinking reflects that culture.

Moreover, education is not emphasized nearly enough in American society. With shows such as American Idol – where if you have a good voice, you can have instant fame – and with music such as hip-hop – which emphasizes getting rich quick, throughillegal means, if necessary – no wonder some children put a good education on the bottom of their list. It is sad, but it’s true. However, Oprah cannot scold a culture for being selfish when she is just as guilty of putting supreme importance on material things.

On her 2005 list of favorite things, she has a Burberry coat that costs an estimated $690. Also on the list are a box of 15 croissants that cost $39.95, a shawl collar robe with a suggested retail price of $145 and a $299 Blackberry.

Oprah loves “stuff” just as much as the next person, and she doesn’t hide it. Along with giving to charity, she has given away cars and other expensive gifts to her fans, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is her money, and she can do whatever she wants with it – but she can’t complain about the problem when she’s part of it. No one recognizes the doctors, teachers and scientists who actually contributesomething to society every day. Many individuals pay attention to people such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and, yes, even Oprah, because there is something about celebrities and that “I can afford the world and do what I want” attitude that generates interest.

Therefore, before she criticizes children for being selfish and materialistic, she has to realize that she helps feed the monster. From her lifestyle to the companies that sponsor her show, Oprah is a part of this “gimme-gimme” society.

I applaud her philanthropic efforts, and I am very happy that girls in South Africa are being given an opportunity to educate themselves and rise above poverty.

But Oprah should be careful. Like the old adage says, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communication.