In 1995, Oprah’s net worth ballooned to $340 million, allowing her to qualify for Forbes annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans. She had already been the richest woman in entertainment for several years, but the Forbes list put her in a new category, along side the big boys like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Stephen Spielberg. Even though she was dead last on the list, it didn’t matter; she was on the Forbes 400. One of the 400 richest people in the richest country in the history of the World. The only black and only performer to make the list that year.
You could tell she had a new confidence, and she even started dressing more business like and got a new hair style:
At one point she jokingly refered to herself as “Miss Forbes list” and at another point she clapped her hands together and said “y’all know I got a lot of money”.
Even a highly intelligent relative who had nothing but disdain for daytime talk shows and rolled his eyes whenever I mentioned Oprah, suddenly had a new found respect for her, simply because she made that list. At the time it was unimaginable that a mere daytime talk show host, let alone a black female one, could make that list. Even better, with Oprah’s hot new contract, Forbes predicted she’s become a billionaire (unheard of for blacks in those days).
Every year when the leaves changed colours I would bike to the local corner story to get the annual Forbes 400. “Is Oprah a billionaire yet?” I asked the clerk in 1996, “no $415 million”
“Is Oprah a billionaire yet?” I asked in 1997. “no $550 million”
“Is Oprah a billionaire yet?” I asked in 2002. “no $975 million”
At this point Forbes was just being stingy. Round up to a billion already, you’re killing me.
Finally in 2003, Forbes made it official. Oprah was the rarest of creatures: A black billionaire and for three straight years she was the ONLY black billionaire (especially in the United States).
However in the years since black billionaires have become more an more common. No longer the unicons they were in 2007, there are now roughly half a dozen black billionaires in America alone.
Sadly, instead of making our elite more integrated, the rise of black billionaires has meant billionaires are less elite.
In 1982 only $90 million made you one of the 400 richest Americans and roughly $2 billion made you #1, but today you need over $2.9 billion just to make the Forbes 400 and over $200 billion just to be number one.
A new generation of blacks had finally reached the promise land, only to find that the promise land has moved and they’ve been priced out.
And for the first time ever, even Oprah, whose $2.6 billion fortune has stagnated since ending her hugely successful talk show ten years ago, failed to make the cut. Luckily, this rare failure has been eclipsed by the news that Donald Trump has also has been priced out of the Forbes 400 this year. It’s the first time in a quarter century either of these two iconic names (which had become synonymous with wealth itself) have failed to make the rich list.
End of an era indeed.