Whoopi Goldberg: All You Can Do Is Be Responsible to YOU

Whoopi Goldberg: All You Can Do Is Be Responsible to YOU

“I’ve always known black lives mattered and that I need to introduce people and make them aware of what’s going on in the real world that they’re in but maybe they are not aware of, or not enough aware of,” says Whoopi Goldberg, influential public opinion leader and media icon. “In this country we need to remind people that black lives matter because it’s too easy to hang black lives, it’s too easy to shoot them in the car. No one freaks out, because it’s like, oh they’re upset again. So we have to say hey, black lives matter, we have to remind people constantly because if you’re not aware of your history in the country you don’t recognize that every time you just watch somebody say, Breonna Taylor was killed in her house and people don’t flip out, there’s a problem. We had nine of those cases prior to Floyd, and then every person who saw that man get murdered on TV began to realize ‘that could be me.’ Suddenly when people saw up in Upstate New York an older gentleman get knocked down by the police and he was white, people went, ‘Oh, that could be me.'”

“I think that we needed this kind of really stupid awful thing to happen for us to recognize that we love our families and so we want to spend more time with our families and kids and telling stories about when they were little kids and how you used to have to eat with your family or you mom or dad or whoever was in charge answered the phone before you got to the phone.  We need to remind them how lucky they are to have phones in their pockets and you can have all these conversations.  There should be something that allows us to say, ‘Stop, we’re not doing this anymore so we’re seeing a lot of the cracks. We’re not that old as a country but still we’re a little dry so things are cracking on the sides and we’re seeing where the problems may be so this is a reset. And as long as we’re resetting, let’s fix a whole bunch of stuff, or at least make the effort.”

She is against simplistic, dangerous generalizations about the American police forces: “Let me be clear, 95% of the police department in our great country are good. We have a lot of people who have been badly trained, or who have no business being police officers. And so what most people want is for everyone to collect up some money and retrain people and train them better. I say, Don’t train them to be good soldiers, train them to be good police officers.”

Over the years, viewers have admired Whoopi’s sharp wit and fierce, brutal honesty. She claims to have used a coat hanger to terminate her pregnancy at age 14.  When she was 18, she gave birth to a daughter, Alexandra Martin, and through her she has three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. She is still fond of admitting to being a “high functioning” drug addict in her youth, and to smoking “a lot of marijuana” before accepting the Oscar out of being extra-nervous.

“I still define myself by the gender-neutral term “actor” rather than “actress” because an actress can only play a woman. I’m an actor – I can play anything.” And she has. In a career spanning close to four decades, she was nominated for best Actress Oscar for Spielberg’s highly acclaimed “The Color Purple,” and winning the Best Supporting Actress for the supernatural blockbuster, “Ghost,” in 1990.

Whoopi is a firm believer in education. the sort of informal transmission of values that goes from one generation to the next: My grandkids are old, in their 20’s and 30’s. My great granddaughter’s six so she and I have been discussing why she can’t really go see her friends the way she used to. And then she confessed to me that she actually liked just hanging out with me. I give her as much information as I think she’s interested in, she wanted to know who George Floyd was and she wanted to know why people didn’t know that black lives mattered, why we had to tell them.

But the current unrest and protest movements are different: “Over the last years people go, oh protests again, but something different happened when George Floyd died, he died and people watched, they saw for eight minutes and 46 seconds how life was leaving a man whose last words were for his mother (Please mother, help me). And suddenly something clicked and everybody saw themselves, how this could be them regardless of what color you were. And because we had a series of crazy murders by police officers, people just said enough is enough, no more, and people started marching. Of course there’s always the element that comes out and takes advantage of things, like looting and vandalism, but 98% of the time people were marching because they want change and change is happening.”

We saw the change of the name of a football team (“Washington Redskins”) and it might not sound like a big idea and people may not understand, but if you’re a Native American those visuals and those names are racist and offensive. And all these folks had said, No, we’re never going to change the name, but then suddenly people said, ‘You know what, ok, we get it, this is offensive and we we understand why, so let us try to make some changes, and slowly it’s happening (the league is now called “Washington Football Team”).

It had happened in the early 60’s, people got tired and didn’t understand why they were seeing other Americans being shot with water hoses, just because they wanted to vote. And people said this is insane, this is America, this should not be happening.  Whoopi refrains from using Trump by name, but she claims that “his insanity with the pandemic, this was avoidable for us if we had another president.  There are all kinds of things that we as citizens have seen in this particular administration that say we need to work on this.  I don’t think this kind of power should be in the hands of one person. f we had a different kind of president, we could have done a much better job, but we don’t.”

How does she keeping her composure when moderating such a highly politicized show The View.  “Not easy, but manageable,” she says, “Everybody can’t be crazy at the same time. Everybody can’t be losing it at the same time. Somebody has to say, ‘wait a minute, we have to stop and think about this, because if everyone is freaking out at the same time we are going to get nothing done.” She elaborates: “To keep my calm, I chew the inside of my mouth sometimes, because, naturally, I want to scream about what’s happening. But then I realize that I have to be the adult.  This–being mature adult–was never in my playbook; I was always going to be messed-up. And now I find I have to be the adult who says, ‘we have to do this differently, or think about this differently,’ because clearly we’re wrong about this and clearly if we don’t start thinking about the bigger picture, we are really screwed. That kind f thinking circles around in my head every day from 11am to 12pm, during our show.”

Her one piece of advice to younger people: “Be yourself. All you can be responsible for is YOU, there’s nothing you can do about people putting out bad information in shows or social media.  Nowadays, you have to do more work in what you read. Sometimes you have to follow and see does this make sense, does this make any sense at all? And sometimes people just, they don’t care if it makes sense because they want to be angry. And so if you want to be angry there’s plenty to be angry about. So I feel like most of the time I’m paid to put my face on what I say and when people come up and they scream I say you know, you can spend all this time screaming at me but I’m paid really well to do what I do so I don’t really want to engage with you about how you feel because I’m not working right now. So that’s how I kind of…when I go to work I know I’m supposed to be thinking about what I need to talk about.

The public figures she’s rooting for are “the police officers who are doing the right thing, the doctors and nurses that are out there in spite of people screaming at them and saying there’s no virus, those are my heroes now. All the guys and gals that go out and deliver food, all the folks that are trying to keep us on an even keel, those are the people I admire because they’re doing things I don’t do, they’re allowing me to stay home safe while they face risks every day.  I care about those making sure that I do the right thing, making sure I don’t make their lives any harder. People don’t realize that, it’s one thing to say, I’m not going to wear a mask, but all the people you put in danger outside of your own self, you’re endangering other people and their families. I concentrate more on trying to make sure that when people go on line with ‘Fund Me’ that I can throw some cash there, help needy people get through this pandemic.”

Happily single, Whoopi has been married three times, to Alvin Martin for six years; to cinematographer David Claessen for two; and to union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg for one year. By her own values, she had never loved the men she had married: “You have to really be committed, and I don’t have that commitment, I’m committed to my family.” Whoopi has also been romantically linked to some famous white actors, including Frank Langella and Tad Danson.  She has no plans to marry again: “Some people are not meant to be married, and I am one of them. I’m sure it is wonderful for lots of people, but not for me.”

Whoopi’s celebrity status has motivated her to move to Llewellyn Park, a neighborhood in West Orange, New Jersey, so that “I can walk outdoors freely, be outside in private.” Whoopi doesn’t watch much TV, but she is a voracious reader: “I really pick a lot of books based on their covers because an interesting cover will catch my attention and 97% percent of the time, they are the same, if the cover is interesting, the book is interesting.”  I look for what’s going to just take my mind away and allow me to go somewhere, with someone like John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. Or if I’m looking for just something that’ll make me laugh, I can go to Mark Twain. It really depends on the moment in the day that I decide I need something to take me away–to travel far away in my head.”

Meanwhile, she’s excited about the inventive forms of creativity: “Look at Taylor Swift who just released album that she put together while she was behind her doors with Covid-19.  people are finding new ways. Beyoncé’s just done the same thing. There’ve been all kinds of things happening on the internet and people sending things, creating things, YouTube.

She is optimistic that, “eventually, we will go back to normal, or semi-normal. Unfortunately you can’t open movie theaters, and you can’t start filming stuff, because not everybody’s on the same page. But it’s evolving, and once we  decide that this is how we have to bring the country back, people will start recognizing that the only way we’re going to get anything done is by cooperating. It’s going to be awhile, and we’re not really patient society or patient human beings, we like things to move quickly now, but we can’t.  Everybody must go back to pre-cellphone days, when everything was slower, more measured. We’ll figure it out, and for my part, I’d like to figure it out before too many people have to die.”