By now, we’re sure most of you are aware of Oprah Winfrey‘s Pretty Woman-esque ‘you can’t afford to shop here’ (aka ‘we don’t want ya kind here, go-on, git!’) experience that she had in Zurich, Switzerland while trying to buy a $38K handbag.
Long story short, the (Italian) sales associate refused to show Oprah the bag because Oprah is black and therefore obviously couldn’t afford it, saying, “No, it’s too expensive.” Oprah replied, “But I really do just want to see that one,” to which the shopkeeper said, “Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Oprah finished the exchange with a cool “Okay, thank you so much. You’re probably right, I can’t afford it,” and walked out of the store.
Then, during a visit to “Entertainment Tonight”, O recounted the story and the media frenzy-slash-public scrutiny of Switzerland ensued very shortly after. The incident has become modern day evidence of the persistence of racism in one of the most cliché forms, forcing the store’s owner and Switzerland’s national tourism board to issue public apologies to the media mogul. And while it could have stood as a lesson learned for all audiences, the fire lit under the seat of retailers and other service industry businesses to take a real look at their perceptions of and practices toward black consumers may now be quenched by Oprah’s own public apology for the wide upset.
According to USAToday.com, at last night’s premiere of The Butler, O said, “I think that incident in Switzerland was just an incident in Switzerland. I’m really sorry that it got blown up. I purposefully did not mention the name of the store. I’m sorry that I said it was Switzerland.” So she’s sorry for calling the country under fire, but was too nice to name and embarrass the boutique individually. Who should shoulder the blame then, Oprah?