Whoopi Goldberg: defender of the indefensible?

So, I had been aggressively not following Mel Gibson’s latest spewfest. The truth is, I’ve known what I needed to know about him for some time, and worrying about the particulars of each new episode would be pointless celebrity-mongering.

Then, of course, somebody insisted that I listen to the actual audio. I came away thinking, wait, did he just say “if you get raped by a bunch of niggers it’ll be your fault”? Damn – that’s out there even by Mel’s psycho-nutbag standards.

Then I tripped across this from Whoopi Goldberg:

I know Mel, and I know he’s not a racist. I have had a long friendship with Mel. You can say he’s being a bonehead, but I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist having spent time with him in my house with my kids. I don’t like what he’s done, make no mistake.

Later on, Whoopi clarified, sorta, by saying that “she doesn’t support what Gibson did, only that she doesn’t think his racial comments make him a racist.”

My first temptation is to snark. You know, clearly Mel meant “nigger” in that non-racist way, just like he presumably meant “bitch” and “whore” in a respectful, gender-equity kinda way. But that’s too easy. I mean, is Mel a racist, really? I don’t know. I guess that depends on how you define racist, although I tend to feel that we can infer things about you from the things you say.

However, what makes this story vaguely interesting isn’t Mel. It’s Whoopi, a presumably intelligent woman with an informed perspective on race and gender.

I say “presumably,” though, because Whoopi Goldberg has a curious history. For instance, remember this?


Now, Whoopi argues that she and Danson were misunderstood.

She said that she and Danson, who have been the subjects of much media speculation because they are often seen together, decided to play on some of the nasty letters and comments their relationship has elicited. “We’ve gotten a lot of hate mail. He’s been called a |nigger lover’ and people have said that if we had a kid they hoped he or she died. We decided to go over the top with it. If you think he’s a nigger lover, here he is in blackface. People took offense about it.”

I can certainly make allowances for people who are legitimately misunderstood. Sometimes smart people go about making points in ways that not everybody groks. That happened to Swift in the infamous Irish baby-eating debacle and it’s happened plenty of times since. While I don’t claim to be a Jonathan Swift, it’s happened to me, so I’m willing to take Whoopi at her word.

But then there was the whole Roman Polanski “rape-rape” dust-up.

“I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like “You know what this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail I’m not staying, so that’s why he left.”

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the term “rape” denotes a category of actions that are not all technically equivalent. But we’re talking about drugging a 13 year-old and having sex with her while she’s out, if I understand the details properly. If you want to draw lines and argue that some rape is worse than other rape, go ahead, but if you have this particular act categorized as a yellow-card offense instead of a red card offense, then you’re on your own.

When all is said and done, I can entertain the idea that one controversial opinion doesn’t and shouldn’t define a legacy. But at some point we’re no longer talking about an instance, we’re talking about a pattern. And at some point views go from being unconventional to indefensible.

I don’t know Whoopi Goldberg, and am in no position, perhaps, to write her off in the way that my snarky side would like to. But I will say this: if I’m ever on trial for rape, or domestic abuse, or any sort of hate crime, I’m fine with her being on the jury.

10 replies »

  1. Whoppi is a victim of the same disease that strikes most celebrities at one time or another, a misguided belief that her fame means that the rest of the world cares what she thinks or places any value on those thoughts. I am personnally tired of celebrities who think their talent for acting makes them an authority on everything. Mel may be a racist, but he’s definately a sexist pig. I pity his poor wife who probably suffered silently for years. But then again, look at all of the people, who through their silence have not only condoned his behavior, but apparently rewarded it.

  2. Since she’s paid to voice her opinions every day, it’s easy to see how she might believe people care what she thinks.

  3. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Mel Gibson knows.” Thus begins the Kenneth Turan review on NPR of Apocalypto. The review at (and others of Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ) point out the overwhelming violence of Mel Gibson’s directorial efforts. No one has mentioned blatant misogyny or sexism (or even sex). Maybe things are compartmentalized for him.

    Maybe those parts only come out for the women he “loves.” Maybe Whoppi is not that “lucky.”

    It’s amazing how some people separate the various components of their personalities and only show portions to certain people, therefore convincing people that that’s how they really are. But I bet his ex, Robin, knows this all too well.

    Every time I hear him described as “a devout Catholic,” I cringe (yes, I’m familiar with its history). But with Apcalypto and The Passion, Mel tried to make cautionary statements, not just “entertainment.”

    Turan’s review ends on that note, with the statement, “Mr. Gibson, you’re not part of the solution–you’re part of the problem. A big part.”

  4. I think the South Park episode just about sums up the whole nasty mess. Then again, I think that about a lot of South Park episodes.

  5. thank god for people like whoopi. she is not afraid to speak her mind. who knows what brought on the mel gibson anger? At least she is smart and compassionate enough to understand there are always two sides. don’t be so fast to judge.

  6. I am in no way in agreement on her views of Gibson being misunderstood or innocent, but I can see how you would have a hard time accepting that a close friend was that kind of a vile imbecile.

  7. WORD. While it’s understandable that someone could continue being friends with someone who sports some pretty neanderthal views of a group of which one is a member (or speaks/acts in ways that undeniably give that impression, even if only when stressed or angry or drunk), but using your own membership in the group being assaulted as some sort of vindication of whatever @$$#0!3 thing your friend (or random person whose other accomplishments you admire, which seems to be the case with WG’s and other people’s Polanski defenses), seems to be going a little far. I may forgive my friends’ and relatives’ and favorite artists’ numerous trespasses, because after all I AM Pollyanna, but I don’t feel it’s my job to EXCUSE their behavior. My own preference–if I really do love the person and believe that their heart and mind are capable of better than what their mouth or other parts are conveying–is to remain either vaguely neutral or sort of gently chiding and disappointed in public, then call them out in private for a serious “WTF?” lecture and a firm slap upside the head. I do wonder whether Whoopi did give Mel a WTF call, though. But the Polanski thing kinda makes me doubt it. And I’m pretty certain that raping a 13 year old would spoil me on the friendship for good.