Whoopi and the Limits of Friendship

Sometimes you've got to call a racist a racist. Friends don't let friends behave badly.

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Whoopi Goldberg has been engaged in a public battle with fans, bloggers and pundits over her comments about Mel Gibson's rant heard 'round the world. Tapes of Gibson's tirades against his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva keep leaking like the BP oil spill and show no signs of stopping.

Gibson made a number of abusive and misogynistic comments, one of which involved the way Grigorieva dressed. Funny how many have glossed over his obvious hatred toward this woman and headed straight to his racist comments. You know the comment -- the one that follows the misogynistic ranting and includes the verbiage ''raped by a pack of n******.'' People went off ,calling Gibson everything but a child of God. I thought it was interesting that some felt free to use venomous language when talking about him, while condemning Gibson for using venomous language simultaneously.

Despite the hypocrisy, I understood where his critics were coming from; Gibson is a man who had come under fire for an anti-Semitic rant in 2006 against a police officer who was arresting him for driving under the influence. Once is a mistake, but twice? Houston, we have a problem.

Gibson's latest tirade -- which was abusive, sexist, misogynistic and racist -- made headlines and was the talk of the media. I watched the morning shows and actually found the time to catch The View, a show I must admit that I rarely watch, on the day the story leaked. Whoopi Goldberg said a lot of things about Mel Gibson, but a lot of people latched on to her comment that she didn't think he was racist.

Still, she did call him out for his bad behavior. And she talked about alcoholics, whom she referred to as ''drunks'' and how, when under the influence, they will say anything. (After his 2006 DUI arrest, Gibson checked into a rehab facility.) Then she muttered something that sounded like ''ass****s'' and made her now-famous declaration that he is not a racist.

How does she know this? He's spent time with her and her children in their home. I'm not mad at Whoopi for standing up for her friend. I am mad at her for not calling a spade a spade. What he said was racist. If she didn't know him, she would think he was racist, too.

Many of us have friends and colleagues of different nationalities. Black folks are acutely aware of being identified as the ''exception to the rule.'' (File under: ''Wow, you're so articulate.'') These precarious moments crop up in our daily interactions with people. Black folks do the same thing to other groups, too. ''He's white, but he's cool.'' How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that? Let's keep it real. Black people are racist, too.

Actually, we're all racist in some way, shape or form, and not being racist is something that one has to commit to and literally ''unlearn'' every day of the week. In her defense of her defense, Goldberg declared that she's a racist. Well, if she's racist, why isn't Mel Gibson, particularly when he's bellowing hateful language? Gibson isn't any different from any of the rest of us. So, yeah, he is a racist. We've all said some stupid, downright heinous things in our lives to and about people -- it's just that no one was taping it or trying to sell it for safety, money, status, revenge or custody.

The notion that other people don't know someone like you know them is played out. I don't know Gibson, but I can deduce from his much-publicized rants that he has problems with alcohol, women, blacks and Jews. Perhaps Goldberg should have said that what he said is out of character for the Mel Gibson she knows. In her effort to be a loyal friend, she diminished the observations of others who feel that Gibson is a sho' nuff racist, based on his visceral language.

Even the most loyal friend has to check a friend. Sometimes in public. If it's a true friend, then he or she will receive it, learn from it and not repeat it. A real friend is obligated to speak the truth to friends, even if it is a difficult conversation that goes something like this: ''You know I'm black, right? Why did you say those things? You realize you're talking about me when you're talking about them, don't you?''