A caste system is a class structure based on strict social hierarchies in which it is extremely difficult or impossible to move up.
Oprah made the controversial remarks after a guest on her Apple+ series observed that many white people do not have power. Winfrey responded to that by saying, “There are white people who are not as powerful as the system of white people that’s been put in place. But they still, no matter where they are on the rung, or the ladder of success, they still have their whiteness.”
Oprah continued, “That’s what the term ‘white privilege’ is. It means that whiteness still gives you an advantage, no matter.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted in reply that Oprah’s comments are “Utter, racist B.S.”
If the U.S. has a caste system, then Oprah surely sits at the top. Case in point: Oprah’s private road on the island of Maui, in Hawaii.
The island of Maui has two lobes, separated by a valley, and is only about 5 miles wide at the waist. West Maui is the smaller of the two lobes. The bulk of the island is dominated by the long-asleep (but still technically active) volcano Haleakala to the east. This part of the island is where you’ll find the famous Road to Hana and South Maui’s glorious beaches. There’s also a national park at the summit.
Partway up the slopes of Haleakala there is a cooler region called Upcountry. Here, Oprah owns a large amount of property and a sizable house. (She also owns property in lush green tropical Hana.) Even though the South Maui resort area and Upcountry are only a few miles apart geographically, getting from one area to the other is not easy. It usually takes more than an hour driving because there is no direct route.
From the bottom end of South Maui, you must drive north to central Maui and then cut across the valley before heading east and winding your way up the side of the volcano. But not Oprah; she owns a private, 4-mile-long road that connects the two regions, cutting travel time to a few minutes.
Many Maui residents have been demanding for decades that the county build a public road to connect the two areas. But for now, the peasants are forced to take the long way around.
Oprah isn’t evil for owning the road, and she has been a good neighbor. In 2019 when brush fires choked South Maui, Oprah allowed her private road to be used as an evacuation route. But the point remains: she has clearly transcended the class system and now sits atop it.