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American chat show superstar Oprah Winfrey says she’s sorry for causing a controversy but she is not backing down on her belief that she was a victim of racism in an upscale Zurich boutique last month.
The billionaire entertainer on Monday returned to the incident in July when she visited a Trois Pommes shop while she was visiting the Swiss city to attend rock star Tina Turner’s wedding.
“I am so sorry that became such a big story,” she told Access Hollywood in a video posted on its website.
She made similar comments to other media during the Los Angeles premiere of The Butler, a film in which she starred.
Winfrey said she did not want to “cause a scene” after she walked out of the store but the incident popped into her head when she was asked last week by the Entertainment Tonight TV show in the US about her experience with racism.
“I was asked . . . had I ever experienced racism and that was the first thing that came to my mind.”
In recapping her contention that she was discriminated against because a saleswoman refused to show her a handbag because it was too expensive, she rejected the contention from Trois Pommes manager Trudie Goetz that the incident was a misunderstanding.
The incident, known in the Swiss press as “Täschligate”, has caused a media storm in Switzerland and around the world.
“Maybe she just didn’t want to reach for the bag,” Winfrey told Access Hollywood, referring to the saleswoman and a 35,000-franc ($37,700) designer crocodile handbag in the shop.
“You see, I just assumed that the bag was up there — it was not locked in a case,” she said.
“I said, ‘May I see it?
“She said, ‘No, let me show you others that are less expensive”, and I said, ‘No, I want to see that one’.
“And then she said, ‘No’. Then I said, OK, and left.”
Winfrey said she washed her hair and put on a Donna Karen dress “because I know people can be snooty-poops out there in those stores.”
She said, “They can treat you like you have no money so I purposely dressed up, but it still didn’t work.“
Winfrey maintains she did not want to cause a scene, noting that that kind of situation “happens to people every single day”.
She also told other US media that she finds that racism is not usually blatant.
“Nobody is going to come and call me the N-word to my face, unless they are a thug on Twitter or Facebook,” CNN reported her saying.
“It shows up for me differently, it shows up (when) I’m in a store and the person doesn’t obviously know that I carry the ‘black card’,” she said, apparently referring to an exclusive credit card used by the rich and famous.
The incident has caused some soul-searching in Switzerland even though the saleswoman maintains she did not say that Winfrey could not afford the bag.
Switzerland Tourism felt obliged to issue an apology to Winfrey.
“No apology was necessary,” she told Access Hollywood.
“That was one person and one person does not indict a whole country.”
She added that she had “a great time” while visiting Switzerland.
“I did Tina Turner’s wedding, I hiked every day.”
– The Local