Marina Salandy-Brown writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
How powerful is oratory? Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globe Awards last weekend as she accepted a rare lifetime achievement award has put her on the list of possible Democratic candidates for 46th President of the USA. She called for, “a brighter morning even in our darkest nights.” It touched a deep cord in those attending the event devoted to ending the sexual harassment of women.
Although an Oprah candidacy has been mooted before - even Trump many years ago tipped her as a possible Vice President candidate - and she is perhaps the most powerful woman in Hollywood, with her own television network, billions of dollars in the bank and 2-3million social media followers, it was her call to arms that did it finally. The fact that President Trump has stirred up Capitol Hill with his amazingly unorthodox [even un-presidential] behaviour must also be an element in Oprah’s favour. And, there is the precedence of Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump as former stars of screen and television becoming national leaders, so that Americans do not find the prospect of a TV star being president at all far-fetched. As for breaking the taboo of a black person in the Oval office, well, that happened with Barack Obama. The remaining taboo is for the USA to vote in its first female president. A popular African-American woman, qualified or not for the post, would be a double whammy.
Oratory is much undervalued these days when finger power is the most penetrating way of communicating globally, but the Oprah speech showed just how little has changed in the way human beings react to verbal power. Simple, well-chosen words, well articulated ideas, clearly expressed to an audience one understands can still move mountains. Donald Trump used his own immutable oratorical style to great effect during his presidential campaign and won the hearts of the majority of disenchanted US citizens in his country’s huge underbelly. Barack Obama had done, too, with his simple, well-timed message of audacity and hope. Oprah understood the moment she was in and used it to voice what many people wanted to hear, even though they may not have recognised their desire.
I have often wondered why silver is the element accorded with oratory and not gold. The old proverb says, “silence is golden,” and we speak of “silver tongues.” I imagine that is because it is difficult to be judged, for good or ill, if you say nothing, but then no one would follow. Oratory on the other hand, is a powerful tool of persuasion, meant to stir the human pulse to follow your own. It is not a gift we all possess.
Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican revolutionary who led reputedly the largest worldwide movement of people of African descent ever, in the period around World War I and well into the 1920s [until the US government managed to deprive him of his fire] did it mainly through the greatness of his speeches. “Up! You mighty race”, was a rallying cry.
He exhorted black people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery and to remove the kinks in their brains, not their hair. Garvey spoke a language black people understood when he accused them of being crabs in a barrel and told them, too, that black was beautiful. His religious references in a time of great religious devotion resonated with the masses.
Garvey led millions of people across all of the Americas, Africa, Europe and even the Far East through the power of his words, backed up by tireless efforts to create revenues for spreading and maintaining Garveyism.
Oratory is not just about how it is wrapped up, but about the content of one’s speech. The mood at the Golden Globe ceremony was riding on the need for women and all people who suffer in silence to speak out. “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have,” said Oprah Winfrey, referencing the culture of silencing of women.
It is a culture we are very keen on perpetuating in TT.
Here we may be about to appoint our first female president but the recent demolishing of a female executive at Angostura who dared to allege sexual harassment and the formidable ring fencing of the male accused reveals that we are very behind the curve and that whistle blowers are still at the mercy of those who seek to preserve the status quo. I want to believe that when all those women wore black last weekend that it really was a signal of the death of a period of exploitation that women everywhere have decided is over.