Oprah’s Crucial Error: Speaking ‘Your’ Truth Isn’t a Powerful Tool, It’s a Poison
At the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey gave one of the most powerful speeches ever given at any of these awards shows. It was grounded, emotional, empowering, uplifting, and hopeful. You don’t necessarily have to be black, a woman, or a black woman, to have been moved by her words. Oprah’s story and her message transcend race and gender.
Winfrey began her speech by recalling the moment she saw Sidney Poitier win Best Actor at the Oscars in 1964 when she was a little girl, and the impact it made in her life. She then thanked everyone who helped her become a success.
But when thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press for honoring her with the Cecil B. DeMille Award, she said the following (emphasis mine):
“I would like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press has been under siege these days, but we also know that it is the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To tyrants and victims and secrets and lies, I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this; what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
With all due respect to Oprah Winfrey, this is an absolute contradiction.
She was spot-on about the significance of the press. The “absolute truth” does uncover corruption and injustice. But before going into the women-empowerment portion of her speech, she said that “speaking your truth” is the “most powerful tool” each of us have.
The “absolute truth” and “your truth” aren’t the same thing. In fact, they’re quite the opposite.
Oprah is an incredible woman, but she didn’t coin the phrase “your truth.” It’s been floating around a lot these days — especially in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
But what exactly does “your truth” mean? Perhaps it can be interpreted as “your experience.” If something happened to you, you speak “your truth.” Winfrey spoke “her truth” when she invoked her childhood memory of watching the 36th Academy Awards. The victims of sexual abuse have spoken “their truths” when sharing their allegations against certain predators. I speak “my truth” when writing this column.
However, not only is using the term “your truth” wrong; it’s dangerous.
We currently live in a society so divided, we develop our own perceptions which we call “reality,” but it’s really a mindset of beliefs we label as facts. Some people in this country see it as a fact that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. Other people see it as a fact that Hillary Clinton broke the law with her emails and with the Clinton Foundation. And between the Mueller investigation and the numerous FBI probes, hopefully one day soon the truth will be revealed with tangible evidence (or lack there of) proving definitively that such politically-charged crimes did or did not take place.
But when we rely on “our truths,” we get to choose what to believe.
This is why terms like “allegedly” and “reportedly” are crucial. We cannot nor should not accept something as fact without having proof. And we cannot ignore facts simply because they conflict with an ideal narrative.
Take Roy Moore for example. He was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct and child molestation. The stories of his alleged victims seemed to have been credible, his defense was rather weak and unconvincing, and despite the controversy of the yearbook, it was still documented that he at least knew one of the women at the time of the alleged incident. Sadly, there is no way for any of us prove that the failed Senate candidate is for a fact a sexual predator. The only people who know the truth are Moore and his accusers. Either he was lying or they were.
You can say the same for many of the men who have been accused in recent months from Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose to Al Franken. There are some men who have owned up to their misdeeds like Louis C.K., Mark Halperin, and Mario Batali. Some have denied allegations despite paying major settlements like Bill O’Reilly and John Conyers. And in rare instances, evidence of impropriety emerges whether it’s in the form of a photograph or a stained blue dress. Ultimately, that’s the dividing line between actuality and speculation.
That being said, just because many of these women who come forward with allegations have no evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Sometimes it ends up being a “he said, she said” situation and everyone else is left to pick a side. And once we pick a side, we must be conscious that we’re choosing to believe in a person instead of accepting their position as fact. Because there is a difference. We live in a country with a core principle that we are all “innocent until proven guilty.” While the #MeToo movement has exposed some disgusting monsters, many of these accusations have also been automatic convictions in the court of public opinion.
Can there be any truth in “your truth?” Sure, but often times, fantasy creeps in. There are those whose “truth” says that Trump won the popular vote. There are those whose “truth” says Michael Brown had his hands in the air. There are those whose “truth” says 9/11 was an inside job. Or that Sandy Hook didn’t happen. Or that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.
If Oprah is going to be our next president, then her words matter — just like those of our current president and his predecessors. Part of the reason why “fake news” is a thing is because we’ve let what we want to believe dictate what we call “news” instead reporting actual news. It’s a bipartisan issue — no matter who tweets about it more. “Your truth” is practically a cousin of “fake news” on one side of the family and opinion on the other. In the end, the truth is on its own family tree.
So it’s time for you, and me, and Oprah to let go of “our truths” and only accept the truth. Because finding “your truth” is easy, but seeking the truth is what’s important.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.