Oprah Asks "What Would You Do" When Witnessing Discrimination
By Chamandeep Bains
May 6, 2008
Millions of viewers watched as the Oprah Winfrey opened one of her recent shows in Chicago with a clip showing a Texas bakery clerk discriminating against a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. The clip was from an episode of the ABC primetime television series, What Would You Do? which staged the scenario and tested how customers react when someone is targeted by blatant bigotry.
Hidden cameras rolled as each customer reacted to the tense scene and witnessed the clerk refusing service by asserting “…we don’t serve your kind here.” The social experiment hired both the bakery clerk and the Muslim woman as actors who in the course of the scene, encourage the customers to either support the clerk in denying the woman service, or help the Muslim woman to complete her purchase.
John Quinones, host of What Would You Do? tells Oprah, “I've gotten to see very inspiring folks who do the right thing and then others who just walk away from situations.”
One of the men who stood up for the Muslim woman told the clerk directly, “My son just came back from serving in the army for over a year in Iraq and that has nothing to do with her rights. I am deeply offended by this.”
But other customers echoed the clerk’s derisive language. One man said in defense of the discrimination, “She wasn’t dressed right.” When confronted, a man even told the show's host, Quinones, that Quinones was not an American for objecting to the clerk’s actions.
'SHE IS MY CULTURE'
Repeatedly, issues of race, culture, religion, and patriotism were conflated. A young woman, Jasmeen, told the clerk emphatically that “She is my culture,” in defense of the Muslim woman. Jasmeen’s friend, Alison, later told Oprah, “Some of my closest friends are Middle Eastern, and it's horrible to see the kind of discrimination they experience on a regular basis.”
In all, thirteen customers stood up for the Muslim woman and six supported the clerk on a job well done. Twenty-two customers, however, did nothing at all.
What Would You Do? conducted the experiment for five hours, finding courageous customers who stood up for the Muslim woman, and a majority of witnesses stood by idly.
To explain the core principle behind the ABC series, Quinones told Oprah that it’s as simple as putting yourself in the victim’s shoes, “And once you do that, it's hard to turn away from a person in distress, a person in need, a person in trouble.”