Oprah Winfrey: A Billionaire in search of Respect in Switzerland

By Emeka Chiakwelu

Oprah Winfrey just like Coca- Cola needs no introduction; she is a television icon with her TV show that was simply called ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’. For over 25 years the show blossom and has been seen around the world. You can go to the most remote place in China or Africa and mentioned the name Oprah, there is a high probability that her name will ring a bell. There are few people in the world that their names are easily recognizable including Michael Jackson, Pele of Brazil and Mohammed Ali the famous boxer. The point here is that Oprah’s fame and money, just like a full blown pregnancy cannot be hidden.

Oprah has left her days of hosting the popular syndicated show behind and has embarked on a brown new project of television network ownership called OWN. Forbes has acknowledged that Oprah is a billionaire, a wealth accumulation that stands above $2 billion. That is serious money! And most importantly until Forbes Magazine says that a person is super rich that’s when I believed it. You can say that Forbes is an authority in wealth and you can take their rankings and quantification of wealth to a bank.

Then here comes the crust of the matter. Oprah with all her money has not been fully given her due respect in some departmental stores. Recently Oprah made a revelation on Entertainment Tonight of her racism incident in Switzerland, in a trendy upscale boutique called Trois Pommes which is in Zurich. The story was that Oprah wanted to take a look at a bag worth $38,000 but the store attendant refused Oprah to feel and touch the bag. What was store person thinking? Well, nobody can say for sure. But we can extrapolate, cogitate and make an intelligent guess.

Since Oprah is Black, the store attendant may think that she is an African and according to the prevailing world view, Africans are suppose to be poor and destitute, therefore cannot afford to buy an expensive and over priced bag. Let us extrapolate further, the attendant may even think that Oprah is not acquainted to good life because she is Black and may have walked into the trendy store by accident, and maybe she was going to Wal-Mart and mistaken the store as a mini-Wal-Mart.

Trudie Goetz, the manager of the boutique was reported to say that whole episode was just an interlude of misapprehension, her words, “200 percent misunderstanding” and it was not and cannot be categorized as racism, as she mustered courage to explain. But what do you want her to say? To confirm that the incident was racism is not a political correct way to characterize such a delicate episodic incident.

You must remember that two things were at stake – the images of Switzerland and Trois Pommes. Switzerland is supposedly an enlighten society where the color of one’s skin does not define one’s destiny. And Switzerland the beautiful Scandinavian desires greatly to keep her pristine reputation intact. As for Trois Pommes, the swanky boutique cannot afford to be noted as the store that rejected the famous Oprah because she is Black.

The global image of Switzerland as the banking center for the super rich and world elite especially wealthy Africans and Black billionaires maybe soiled. Many crooked politicians, leaders and business executives from Africa maybe hesitant in siphoning their wealth to the banks of Swiss.

Oprah took it well and appeared not to be angry about the incident but of course, she was highly disappointed. From her countenance Oprah was hesitant in narrating the incident, probably she was a little embarrassed about the treatment metered to her in Switzerland but certain things cannot be kept in silence. She understood that the best way to deal with darkness is to shine a light on it.

Switzerland and Trois Pommes must be careful and understand that skin color has nothing to do with one’s bank account. One thing for sure, Oprah will stay away from the store for a very long time. She may now understand that money can pay your bills but it cannot necessarily buy you respect. Oprah and the rest of all decent people are asking for decency as bedrock for human dignity.

Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at AFRIPOL. His works have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Forbes and many other important journals around the world. His writings have also been cited in many economic books, publications and many institutions of higher learning including tagteam Harvard Education.


Source: afripol.org,


  1. Stopped reading at “Scandinavian” desire. Switzerland is not one of the countries considered part of Scandinavia.

  2. You don’t throw a $38K gadget on the hand of everybody entering your store.

    • She asked to see it and the lady told her “You can’t afford it!!”. Since when did rich people start announcing their wealth prior to checking what they are buying. What do you mean by “state that you can afford it”?

Leave a Reply