I’m kind of annoyed at Whoopi Goldberg.
This week, U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a guest on The View, which was interesting because Whoopi, the panel’s moderator/resident adult, has been quite vocally angry at her for weeks.
It started not long after AOC was sworn in as a congresswoman back in January. She had already made some “anti-establishment” moves, including taking part in a climate change protest outside Nancy Pelosi’s office during her congressional orientation, but on Jan. 5, she sat down with Anderson Cooper for an interview on 60 Minutes to explicitly discuss the state of the Democratic party. At one point, she told Cooper it had “compromised too much” and “lost too much of who we’re supposed to be and who we are.”
Whoopi was not into it, saying, “She’s very opinionated, which we like. We like opinionated women. But it is very, very difficult when people make accusations where you say the Democrats have done nothing. I just want to throw this out to you. John Lewis wasn’t sitting still. Dianne Feinstein wasn’t sitting still. There are a whole bunch of people in the Democratic Party who have been busting their asses to make sure that women get what they need, people get what they need, [and] children get what they need.”
Fast forward to this Wednesday, when Whoopi raised her concerns with AOC directly, telling the congresswoman that, while she was “very happy” about her win, AOC quickly “lost her.” “It felt like you were saying to people like me that I was too old and didn’t do enough,” Whoopi said. “And that bothered me because… I love young people, I was once one. But you’re on my shoulders.”
“We are not a moment that is disconnected from our past,” Rep. @AOC says to @WhoopiGoldberg on the progress made by previous generations.— The View (@TheView) February 19, 2020
“We are part of a long movement of ancestors and elders that we should always acknowledge.” https://t.co/oEHVRqDGEK pic.twitter.com/lHY2318jyc
AOC’s response was gracious; she spent the next few minutes explaining that she does think it’s important to recognize the people “who have been in this fight to allow us to have this window,” specifically name-checking Barbara Lee, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters, the late Elijah Cummings and yes, Nancy Pelosi (though she did kind of awkwardly refer to her as the “mama bear of the Democratic party,” which was weird).
But the more I watched the clip, the more annoyed I got.
I do see where Whoopi is coming from, sort of. I’m not the “burn it all down” type, so AOC’s anti-establishment approach does sometimes strike me as… a lot. There was absolutely a part of me thinking, “Are you sure you want to protest Nancy Pelosi? Like, sure, sure?”
But the problem wasn’t really AOC’s actions. This entire conflict is only a thing because Whoopi is taking political critique as a personal attack.
When AOC says that the Democratic party has lost its way, that’s not an unfair criticism of the party—it’s a valid point of view about a political group’s effectiveness. It’s not the only valid point of view, but considering the way this fledgling congresswoman has managed to connect with and inspire young voters—who, all political parties agree, are necessary to their survival—it’s one worth considering.
Of course it’s important for any political or activist movement to acknowledge the people who did this work first. But we’re not talking about Tarana Burke being [inadequately credited] (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/us/me-too-movement-tarana-burke.html) for starting the #MeToo movement; we’re talking about a powerful political party that needs to reflect on itself to identify how it needs to evolve.
We are living in fairly desperate times. We are in the midst of a climate crisis. Though global inequality is falling, there has been a stark rise in in-country inequality. (So: the world is getting richer yes, but the super-rich are outpacing us all, to the detriment of our social programs, labour laws and upward mobility.) Also? Donald Trump might win the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, so the U.S., North America and potentially the world might become some sort of dystopian hellscape. With all that in mind, what is the value of an institution that doesn’t reflect on itself or try to get better?
And this isn’t just about politics. In 2018, Bree Newsome wrote about this exact dynamic in [The Atlantic] (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/02/bree-newsome-generation-gap/552554/), saying, “the tensions between generations of civil-rights activists have centered largely on a debate over tactics.” Younger activists often rejected the respectability politics—“the notion that Black Americans must prove themselves ‘respectable’ to gain equal rights”—that older generations had embraced. For example, they eschewed suits and ties, which they saw as an attempt to look white and wealthy, in favour of hoodies and jeans. And it goes beyond clothing, of course. Bayard Rustin, a civil rights organizer and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., was a leader of the movement—but he was also gay, and King was pressured to freeze Rustin out of his inner circle over concerns that his sexuality was a distraction to the cause. His impact on the movement isn’t well-known, even today. And that’s only one example of queer people being pushed out of the movement.
Newsome’s overarching argument was that both generations need to listen to one another, and AOC made a similar point. I don’t disagree. But the stakes of not listening to youth seem higher these days, especially since so many young people are at the forefront of politics and protests, from Mari Copeny to Greta Thunberg to Emma Gonzalez to our own Autumn Peltier. We can’t simultaneously praise young people for holding society to account while also getting angry when they turn their attention to the things we can be doing better.
I mean we can—that’s what Whoopi just did. But we shouldn’t.
ALSO. Is Whoopi Goldberg the person to be making this point? In case everyone forgot, she defended Mel Gibson after he went on an anti-Semitic and racist rant (“I know Mel and I know he’s not a racist”), Roman Polanksi after people got upset about his child rape conviction (“I know it wasn’t rape-rape. I think it was something else, but I don’t believe it was rape-rape”) and Bill Cosby, even after all 60 rape accusations (“He has not been proven a rapist”).
None of those things discount the work she has done, obviously. But past actions don’t protect against current missteps. This work is ongoing, and we should all be held accountable every step of the way.
And Did You Hear About…
Jezebel staff writer Joan Summers’ piece on Hayden Panettiere’s alleged abuse. Joan does a brilliant job of dissecting the almost breathless coverage of Hayden’s alleged abuse by her boyfriend, Brian Hickerson—and spelling out why, while it’s important to cover abuse, journalists also have a responsibility to be empathetic, not voyeuristic.
This bonkers true crime story about a dad who enlisted his kids to help him rob banks.
The pro-union messaging in Space Jam. (This one is so random and so good, you guys.) (Also if you are not reading Mel, you are missing out.)
The latest edition of the Formerly Very Hot Leading Man Apology Tour, this one featuring Ben Affleck, who was very honest about his alcoholism, career and marriage to Jennifer Garner in a recent NYT profile.
Kelli María Korducki’s super smart article about the proverbial Hot Mess, a successful woman (like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon) who “gets that her success needs to look a little bit like an accident in order not to garner resentment. Her messiness is equal parts internalized misogyny and compensatory measure.”
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