Several organizers of the “BlackLivesMatter” protests have come out to criticize TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey for saying that their movement is “leaderless.”
Oprah made her comments in an interview with People magazine on January 1 as part of her media tour for the new movie “Selma,” a film about the life of famed civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.
The TV mogul was asked about the protests spurred by incidents of perceived police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City last year. Ultimately, Oprah seemed to feel that the protests are unfocused, without a considered cause, and leaderless.
“I think it’s wonderful to march and to protest and it’s wonderful to see all across the country, people doing it,” Oprah said before saying that just protesting isn’t enough to shore up a legitimate cause.
“What I’m looking for,” Oprah continued, “is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say, ‘This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it.'”
But some organizers of the current protests took issue with Oprah’s characterization that they are “leaderless.”
One critic accused Oprah of being out of touch, saying, “Once again a Black ‘celebrity’ shows just how out of touch they are. So, while Oprah searches for an outdated leadership model.”
Another accused her of staying quiet on the movement until she had a movie to sell.
But there is a ring of truth to Oprah’s criticism. Black leadership during the civil rights era were able to put together a sensible list of demands, most wholly in keeping with the American ethos, as evinced during the massive rally held in August of 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his “I have a dream” speech.
The demand for jobs aside, the list of demands issued that day in 1963 were quite reasonable.
But the “demands” being made by the disparate Ferguson/Garner/BlackLivesMatter protesters are based on the fantasy that protesters can force their version of “justice” by misusing the legal system to arrive at their own preconceived notion of what that means.
The differences between the legitimate efforts of 1963 and what is going on in 2014 couldn’t be more stark.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org