By now, it’s pretty clear the 2018 Golden Globes will go down in history — and for good reason. It was a night dominated by the voices of women, as actresses floated down the red carpet in black gown after black gown, no longer being asked, “Who are you wearing?” but rather, “Why are you wearing it?”
Their answers — which all, in some way, led back to the Time’s Up initiative, which aims to eradicate gender inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace — were impassioned and thought-provoking. And as a woman and a mother, the symbolism in all of this touched me on a deep level.
There were plenty of other moments that found their way into the headlines this morning, too. There was the jaw-dropping moment when Debra Messing called out E! for not paying their female hosts the same as their male ones. And I cried all the tears when Sterling K. Brown, who stars as a transracial adoptee-turned-foster dad on This Is Us, became the first black man to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV drama.
In that moment, all I could think of was my own son, who just like Brown’s on-screen character, is black and adopted at birth. The possibility that the actor radiated in that moment touched my heart. But what happened next truly blew my mind, both as a mom and as a woman.
But it was toward the end of the evening, when Reese Witherspoon handed the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement over to Oprah Winfrey that I really lost it. In true Oprah style, I was captivated right away — but especially by the story she told about watching the Oscars as a young girl in the midst of the Civil Rights era:
“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards,” shared Winfrey. “She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’ Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”
As I listened, I thought about my own four children and the many instances of racism and exclusion they have faced already simply for being born black — like the time my son was called a “cute little thug” when he was just 2 years old or the day a young man drove by our house and yelled the N-word at my daughters.
But I also thought about the moments of victory and progress. I recalled the glimmer in their eyes when we watched, yet again, their favorite movie: Hidden Figures. Or the excitement in their voices whenever we find a doll or action figure that has their same brown skin, curly black hair, and deep brown eyes. Or the time in November 2008, when my oldest was born and President Obama made history as the first black President of the United States.
That wasn’t the only moving message Oprah wove effortlessly into her speech, though. She also took a moment to acknowledge the cause for wearing black last night in the first place — and the countless women who have suffered, and continue to suffer, abuse or harassment, both in the workplace and at home.
” … I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue,” Winfrey continued. “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
It’s one thing for my children to hear a rousing, soul-stirring speech from a celebrity we all admire; but to witness it coming from a woman who looks like them is something else entirely. Oprah doesn’t just embody extraordinary accomplishment, as a woman who literally “rose from nothing” to become one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. She also represents the possibility and commitment to the rising of all women; and does so as an unapologetic black woman.
But the lines that really got me right in the heart were the ones about the seismic cultural shift that’s been taking place in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. The one that’s forced us to shine a much-needed light on something we’ve been ignoring for far too long.
“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” Winfrey declared. “And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”
Soon after, Oprah concluded with one of the most Oprah-esque — and empowering — lines of all: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
It certainly is.
Her speech was met with cheers, applause, and a standing ovation from the audience. And from my own living room in St. Louis, Missouri, there may have been some tears.
Thank you, Oprah; for instilling a message of hope, healing, and promise upon us all. One that has inspired little girls everywhere just like mine, and will not leave the hearts and minds of women any time soon.