Oprah Winfrey 'was victim of racism' in Switzerland

Oprah Winfrey The star made an estimated $77m last year

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US talk show host Oprah Winfrey says she was the victim of racism during a recent visit to Switzerland.

She said an assistant refused to serve her in an upmarket handbag shop in Zurich.

Winfrey, one of the world's richest women, was apparently told one of the bags was "too expensive" for her.

Her claims, made to a US television programme, come amid a political row over plans by some Swiss towns to ban asylum seekers from some public places.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Berne says human rights groups have likened the plans - which include banning asylum seekers from swimming pools, playing fields and libraries - to apartheid.

Winfrey, who stars in Lee Daniels' new film The Butler, visited Zurich last month to attend singer Tina Turner's wedding. The Oprah Winfrey Show is not shown in Switzerland.

Winfrey said she left the shop calmly without arguing, but that the experience was proof that racism continues to be a problem.

"There's two different ways to handle it," she said.

"I could've had the whole blow-up thing... but it still exists, of course it does."

Shop owner Trudie Gotz told the BBC that an assistant had shown Winfrey several other items before the "misunderstanding" over a $35,000 (£22,500) bag, which was kept behind a screen.

Winfrey's claims are a public relations disaster for Switzerland, our correspondent says.

About 48,000 people are currently seeking asylum in Switzerland. It has twice as many asylum seekers as the European average.

Officials say the curbs, which will also see asylum seekers housed in special centres, are aimed at preventing tensions with residents.

The country's asylum laws were tightened in June.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    It's not racism, more a case of a moronic assistant assuming she couldn't afford it.
    In Oprah's case, she should have just got out her black American Express card and said "damn, and I was just itching to use this".
    I generally dress very casually and on occasions I have had the same kind of comments, albeit not for something as expensive as that, but I have easily been able to afford the item.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    I'm white, and while shopping in a british store to look at camera equipment, I asked to look at something that was very expensive, and the staff refused, saying it was ''too expensive to get out''.
    It's not racism, just rude, lazy staff who assume that you can't afford things....it's their loss. I went elsewhere and spent several thousand pounds on camera equipment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    It is only those who wish to bury their head in the sand who do not recognise that this is as rife as ever; colonial history is predicated on treating others as if they were a lower form, it is how Queen Vic was empress of a continent without setting foot on it?As a colonial power we can only take from others what does not belong to us because of our perception of the lowliness of other cultures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    "Richard Dixon
    Throwing Acid in two 18 year old girls faces purely because they are White in Tanzania is Racism"

    Thus far the motive for this attack (according to reports) has not been determined. It is more likely they were attacked because they were women and involved in teaching as in such parts of the world that seems to be the main reason for acid attacks by misogynistic men.

  • Comment number 143.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    I have stopped visiting Europe because of the racist behavior that I have to endure and witness. Nationality and race have been a problem for Europe since time immemorial. Give them enough time when they have accomplished their goals and they will turn on each other. Hmmm...maybe that is already beginning to happen with the collapse of the Euro.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    112. BBC-regular

    I'm a white skinned Mid-lander who speaks no Geordie living in County Durham. The hills have eyes here too :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Welcome to the real world Oprah! Sorry, I don't have enormous sympathy here. People face discrimination far worse than this on a daily basis and that is what we should be focusing on not some celeb. who is a multi -millionaire with all the status and power that goes with it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I am not at all surprised by Oprah's experience and will believe that it happened. I used to go to Zürich all the time and saw that if there was a non-white person trying to get through passport control they were always interrogated at length - even when they had a Swiss passport!

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Nothing about this story sounds right. The firm is unnamed, the circumstances seem contrived, and the whole thing seems illogical. I'm not saying it didn't happen, but it sure sounds ficticious. It's not like Oprah would be wandering around a fancy shopping district in sweatpants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Anyone bothered to check if there have been any other corroborating incidents in Zurich?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Whats all the fuss about, I was told I couldn't afford a car in a showroom in England but because I am white and so was the salesman I cannot use the race card.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Would be nice to expose that shop and that lady and to find out how embarrassed she is :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Good for Oprah. It's good that it happened to her. I don't really see why the shop assistant should be given the opportunity to respond - she clearly gave Oprah a put-down. How does she know how much money any client who comes into her shop has got? It's condescending and arrogant to the nth degree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    If the assistant refused to sell a bag that was for sale on the ground that Winfrey is black, then it's racism, but things are unclear. She quoted the assistant (sotto voce) as saying, "You can't afford it". It sounded more like Winfrey putting words into her mouth. As it would take me three years' salary to buy that bag, I can't say I'm that sympathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    While not overt, the shop assistant's behaviour was racist and she should be dismissed.

    However, Ms Winfrey should have remonstrated at the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Interesting she waited until returning to the safety of USA to raise an issue. If it was such an issue she should have raised it in Switzerland.

    Is it wrong to stop people using facilities they have not paid into (no matter whether an asylum seeker or not). Maybe Switzerland has the right idea?

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    What an absolute disaster for Switzerland!!! Oprah was going to put Switzerland on the map like Detroit, Oaklands, Birmingham, Alabama. The Swiss might speak 4 languages and Switzerland might be picture-perfect but they haven't appreciated loud words coming out of a large mouth.

  • Comment number 129.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I am rather jealous of the Swiss for allowing the public to vote on proposals about asylum and immigration issues.
    Oh that we could have that self-determination in the UK.


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