Apparently she asked to see the purse and was told no; that she couldn’t afford it. Some reports say she left the store without purchasing the bag because she did not want the shop girl to get the commission.
The Swiss Tourism office later apologized to O, saying “we apologize that her feelings were hurt.” Let’s ignore how patronizing that apology sounds for the moment, since I’d wager money Oprah’s feelings were not hurt by the incident. Not when she can pull out her black card, call someone and have whatever purse she wants delivered that same day.
What’s interesting is that O later apologized for how the incident blew up in the media. On the one hand it’s clear she understands how powerful her word is, and that she should be careful. I agree. On the other, it’s totally cool to call a spade a spade. You were in this place, this thing happened, it was ridiculous, and it’s worth sharing. Period.
Now let’s get back to the hurt feelings. None of the stories I read covering the incident reported Oprah saying she was upset. She seemed to be relating what went down without undue embellishments or pointing fingers. I didn’t read of any angst or anger. Why should there be? O knows the deal, and it’s not the first time this type of thing has happened to her. Nor is she likely to be shocked that racism exists in the world. She simply used her platform to make a valuable point: it doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have, racism exists, and anyone can be its victim.
Of course, the shop girl called Oprah a liar, saying it was all a misunderstanding. She later apologized too, but here’s the thing. How can misunderstand going into a store, asking to see something, and being told no? And if Oprah’s lying, why did the shop girl apologize? I suppose the store could have insisted she make a public statement, but I doubt that, since the store has not been explicitly named in any of the stories I read. Nor has the shop girls’ name been released. The best move would be to let it all die a quick death. Hinky.
It just goes to show, judging a book by its cover can bring about serious repercussions. You never know who you’re dealing with. Treat everyone with respect, however, and you’ll get your commission and stay out of the news.
A version of this blog appeared in Diversity Executive magazine online.