Whoopi Goldberg, in her first day as permanent co-host of The View, raised eyebrows when she seemed to defend disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who last month pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges. “For a lot of people, dogs are sport,” Goldberg insisted. “Instead of just saying [Vick] is a beast and he’s a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned.”
When co-host Joy Behar inquired which culture is okay with torturing dogs, Goldberg clarified her point: “He’s from the south, from the deep south. . . . This is part of his cultural upbringing.”
In the first place, Vick grew up in Newport News, Virginia — one state down from the Mason-Dixon Line, not exactly “the deep south.” In the second place, the actual deep south is perhaps the most canine-friendly region of the entire country, with hunting dogs especially beloved.
In the third place, you don’t have to be a mind reader to surmise that the culture Goldberg is really referencing, albeit euphemistically, is black urban culture. Dogfighting is a part of the hip-hop milieu. It’s featured prominently in Jay Z’s video “99 Problems” and on DMX’s album “Grand Champ” (signifying a dog that’s won five fights). DVDs of dogfights are, according to MTV, sold alongside hip hop mix tapes. Pit bulls, known for their fighting prowess, are the dog of choice among celebrity rappers. Even the name of Vick’s dog kennel, “Bad Newz Kennels,” which specialized in raising pit bulls for fighting, features the z-for-s spelling popular in hip hop circles.
So what are we to make of Goldberg’s empathy for Vick? The most likely conclusion is that it’s driven not by cultural understanding but by racial solidarity. There remains, even in 2007, a reflexive tendency among prominent blacks to circle the wagons when “one of their own” comes under media fire. The fallacy here is that skin color makes a sociopath like Vick one of anyone’s own — except perhaps other sociopaths. (If you doubt Vick is indeed a sociopath, consider this lovely excerpt from his indictment: “In or about April 2007 . . . Vick executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in ‘testing’ sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.”)
To be sure, not all black celebrities have rallied to Vick’s cause. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has called on Nike to drop the line of sneakers endorsed by Vick. But such voices have been few and far between.
Michael Vick is a sadist, plain and simple. The fact that sadistic elements pervade hip-hop culture is sad, and a cause for concern, but in no way diminishes his individual guilt, or the evil in his soul.
–Mark Goldblatt is author of Africa Speaks, a satire of black urban culture.