Oprah apologizes for Swiss racism comments that sparked uproar

Oprah Winfrey attends a screening of Lee Daniels' "The Butler" at The Academy Theater, at Lighthouse International on August 6, 2013 in New York City.
Oprah Winfrey attends a screening of Lee Daniels' "The Butler" at The Academy Theater, at Lighthouse International on August 6, 2013 in New York City.
Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Days after revealing she had been dismissed by a Swiss store clerk while trying to buy a high-end bag, Oprah Winfrey says she’s “sorry” for the media uproar she’s created with her original comments.

“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,” Winfrey said to the Associated Press Monday.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight last week, Winfrey shared a story about visiting a fancy boutique on a trip to Zurich, only to find the clerk refused the multi-millionaire a chance to view the $38,000 purse she assumed Winfrey could not afford.

“I was just referencing it as an example of being in a place where people don’t expect that you would be able to be there,” Winfrey said. “For me, racism doesn’t show up. No one’s going to call me the n-word to my face unless they’re a thug on Twitter or Facebook.”

“I was just saying it shows up for me differently. It shows up. I’m in a store and the person obviously doesn’t know that I carry the black card and so they make an assessment based upon the way I look and who I am,” she added.

Rush Limbaugh gave his take on the incident on his radio show last week, suggesting that it wasn’t her skin color but her weight that had caused the discrimination.

“The salesperson obviously thought that The Oprah couldn’t afford the $38,100 bag. Maybe it’s because The Oprah’s fat,” Limbaugh said, using his traditional name for Winfrey.

“Well, that’s another thing. How was The Oprah dressed?  She didn’t look like The Oprah, obviously.  Was she wearing a jumpsuit with tennis shoes, maybe Air Jordans that were not laced up?  Who knows?  Maybe the judgment that The Oprah couldn’t afford the $38,100 bag had nothing to do with her race, because aren’t the Swiss enlightened in that regard?” he continued.

Oprah cleared up that issue in talking to the AP.

“I cleaned up,” she said. “I washed my hair and I put on my Donna Karan skirt because I know the people in those stores can be very snooty pooty, so I thought let me dress so I don’t get turned away, and it happened anyway, so I guess I didn’t get dressed up enough,” she said.

“I didn’t have anything that said ‘I have money.’ I wasn’t wearing a diamond stud. I didn’t have a pocketbook. I didn’t wear Louboutin shoes. I didn’t have anything,” she added, according to the AP. “You should be able to go in a store looking like whatever you look like and say ‘I’d like to see this.’ That didn’t happen.”

The original Swiss shop clerk has said Winfrey’s version of the encounter is “absolutely untrue,” according to Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, insisting she didn’t deny Winfrey the chance to see the expensive bag.

It’s not the only issue that Winfrey’s been taken to task for by the right-wing media in recent days. She’s also been slammed by conservatives for comparing Trayvon Martin’s death to Emmett Till’s.

Sean Hannity welcomed guests onto his TV show to call her comments “racially offensive,” and “ignorant,” and even to label Winfrey a “hypocrite.”

“I think the reason the Limbaughs of the world are jumping her is because they’re attempting to marginalize her in the eyes of most of us. But you can’t marginalize her brand,” Sirius XM Host Joe Madison said on Monday’s PoliticsNation.