Why Oprah says she was a victim of racism in Switzerland

The Globe and Mail

Media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey attends a special screening of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" hosted by O, The Oprah Magazine at Hearst Tower on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 in New York. (Evan Agostini/AP)

The last person you would expect to be subjected to an act of racism was: Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah, one of the richest women in the world, was in Zurich, Switzerland, when an assistant at an upscale handbag shop told her the purse she was looking at (worth over $35,000) was “too expensive” for her.

According to Forbes, Oprah earned $77-million last year.

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During an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Oprah said she tried not to make a big deal out of it.

“I could’ve had the whole blow-up thing and thrown down the black card, but why do that? But that clearly is, you know ... it [racism] still exists. Of course it does,” she said.

Oprah was in Switzerland for friend Tina Turner’s wedding last month when she decided to go out on her own to do a bit of shopping.

In the store, when she asked to see a bag that was up behind a screen, the store clerk point-blank refused to give it to her, saying she “didn’t want to hurt her feelings” and instead showed her other, less expensive bags.

“I didn’t have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear,” she said.

The Oprah Winfrey Show, which went off the air three years ago, apparently never aired in Switzerland.

“This doesn’t happen to me unless somebody obviously doesn’t know that it’s me,” Oprah said.

She walked out of the store and didn’t buy anything.

The BBC reported that the owner of the shop said it was a “misunderstanding.”

Oprah has long shared her opinions on racism, having famously said, “You cannot be my friend and use [the N] word around me.”

She told ET that Paula Deen “was sort of used as a symbol” and said she doesn’t use the N-word because of what it represents.

“I do not run in the circle of people who use the word loosely.”

“For me it’s out of respect to those people who it was the last word they heard while they were being hung, the last word they heard when they were being fired, the last word they heard when their house was being burned. It’s the word heard every day when they were walking down the street and they had to step off the side walk to let other people pass,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism office told The Associated Press “we are very sorry for what happened to her.” The office also posted an apology on Twitter, saying “this person [the shop assistant] acted terribly wrong.”