Whoopi Apologizes for Vick Comments, But Avoids Wider Question: Why Do So Many Black Folks Stand By Him?
UPDATE: Whoopi Goldberg clarified her comments about Michael Vick on today's View, claiming that press accounts exaggerated her explanation of Vick's involvement in dogfighting as "part of his cultural upbringing."
"I was not condoning...I did not say that I thought (Vick) was good about what he did," Goldberg said during the show's Hot Topics discussion segment today. "I condemn what he did."
Goldberg said she was trying to discuss the why of what Vick did without supporting him. "If it had been somebody from New York City, my feelings would have been very different," she said Tuesday, calling the 27-year-old Vick "a kid." "Instead of just saying he's a beast and a monster...this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned."
Of course, Vick actually grew up in a housing project in not-so-rural Newport News, Va. And, despite dropping a couple of disclaimers about Vick's activities, she seemed awfully forgiving of his transgressions, generating national headlines on her very first day replacing Rosie O'Donnell. It will be interesting to see how Goldberg weathers a job where her often-contradictory views will be picked apart daily.
Barbara Walters also dropped the bombshell that the show will welcome another person to their panel permanently on Monday (just in time for the start of the syndicated TV season). Have they finally cut a deal with Sherri Shepherd? Did they rethink initing Mario Cantone in as the first View dude?
Here's what I originally wrote about Whoopi, which I think still fits...
I always knew my column could be influential, but I never expect Whoopi to follow my advice on the same day it ran.
But there she was, bringing a bit of heat to her debut on The View by offering a bizarre defense of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick -- who has already admitted that participating in and funding an illegal dogfighting ring was "a mistake."
Here's the exchange, as reported by the New York Daily News:
"Goldberg said dogfighting "isn't that unusual" in the Deep South "where he comes from. ... It's like cockfighting in Puerto Rico. There are certain things that are indicative to certain parts of the country."
Co-host Joy Behar looked horrified.
"How about dog torture and dog murdering?" Behar asked.
"Unfortunately, it's part of the thing," Goldberg said.
"Part of the fun, right?" Behar shot back.
"I don't think they see it that way. I just thought it was interesting, because it seemed like a light went off in his head when he realized this was something that the entire country didn't appreciate," Goldberg replied."
But Goldberg's defense of Vick echoes something I've seen elsewhere in black America: a deep discomfort over the football player's fall, ranging from skepticism about the charges to outright rejection of his guilty plea and speculation about a conspiracy to bring him down.
This first surfaced when civil rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP offered words of support for Vick before his guilty plea, urging against a rush to judgment for a guy who would eventually admit his role in bankrolling a dogfighting ring. Even after Vick pleaded guilty to a felony, the president of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter insisted the quarterback shouldn't lose his place in the NFL.
At least, ESPN writer Jemele Hill had a more thoughtful take, noting that NFL stars accused of murder and driving while intoxicated -- offenses which threatened human lives -- got less condemnation than Vick. But at the core of many of these arguments is an uncomfortable assumption: That people are making too much of Vick's crimes because he's rich, famous, successful and black.
It's something I spoke about last year with University of Florida professor Katheryn Russell-Brown; the rush by black folks to protect other black people, especially black men, accused of crimes or wrongdoing. She wrote a book on the subject, Protecting Our Own: Race, Crime and African Americans, and noted something important:
"This really is a protective mechanism for saving community members. But also at the same time, it's an acknowledgment that the justice system is flawed and black people have been treated shabbily.Now it's about figuring out when it's in our best interests to provide this protective cloak. The cloak makes sense. I think we need to be a little more circumspect, a little more critical about who gets to wear it."
I agreed, then and now. Saying everybody does it or other crimes are worse or the justice system isn't fair doesn't cut it. And I wish prominent mouthpieces like Goldberg would stop wasting their precious media capital on a guy behind the deaths of untold numbers of dogs and who knows what else -- because dogfighting rings are tied to all manner of other organized crime activities.
Whoopi, if you're still reading my stuff, take heed: There are better ways to make the nation forget Rosie O'Donnell than standing up for a dog killer.