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BOOK REVIEW:

Bits and pieces : my mother, my brother, and me

For all her candor, no-holds-barred way of expressing herself, we may think we know all there is to know about Whoopi Goldberg. How wrong could all of us be, as you will discover in this autobiographical memoir. This remembrance is primarily about Whoopi's immediate family (her mother Emma Johnson and her brother Clyde Johnson), and all they meant to each other. It is an homage, a paen, especially to her mother, definitely in charge of Whoopi and brother Clyde. She led by example, not putting up with any nonsense, and doing all of it with an abundance of love, kindness, wisdom and magic. The three of them were a core family and a team, with the indomitable Emma Johnson as leader. She was a one-of-a-kind woman whose calm, kindly, wise comments to her daughter had the power to stop the very young and the older Whoopi in her tracks. 

There were several family secrets about Mom, and ones that she took to her grave, such as it was. However, Whoopi cautions readers, “ … [I] know you’re going to look ahead, but come back here." Readers should pay attention because you will miss Whoopi’s calm, cadenced written anecdotes that replicate her vocal speaking manner. In person and in writing, she is a masterful storyteller

ET was another force to be reckoned with, and not the film character. Whoopi is talking about Elizabeth Taylor, whose potency and influence were more than an equal to the fictional E.T.’s. Whoopi’s initial connection with ET was at a big froufrou gala, and it was something else. When Whoopi did not respond to ET’s hand wave and verbal, “Psst.” ET finally said, “Didn’t you hear me pss-ting at you?” To which Whoopi responded, “Yes, but I didn’t think you were actually waving at me … Because YOU are a big-ass movie star.” ET said, “Why, hell so are you!” And thus began the start of a beautiful friendship with ET sharing solid showbiz advice with Whoopi. We get to read all about it.

Beyond being women of color, Whoopi Goldberg and Michelle Obama have had similar family experiences. Their two families were exceptional because of the consistent, secure, dependable base of love each of these women, and their siblings, felt. For Michelle Obama the presence of her father, Fraser Robinson III, who passed in 1991, is with her every day. (Until Marian Robinson's recent death, Michelle had the living presence of her mother.) Whoopi Goldberg wrote this memoir, “Because the two most magnificent people I’ve ever known were my mother, Emma, and my brother, Clyde, and they had almost everything to do with how I became the person I am.” And now they are departed.  Each of us should be that fortunate to have had that solid, ongoing, secure base of acceptance and love.

In the things she said, decisions that she made, Emma Johnson, “ … taught me to make choices on my own that nobody else could make for me. Then I had to live with however those choices made me feel. I had to stand up. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know what I was doing.” Also, there was insight that came from Emma Johnson in very unique ways. “There was no way to predict what my mother would say or do in any given situation.” Including when mom met Sidney Poitier and President Barack Obama--and Whoopi had never, ever seen this part of her mother's persona. 

When confronted with implicit racism and stupid comments that irritated Whoopi, the practical advice from two people is solid gold for all of us when others make thoughtless comments:

From Emma Johnson, “You have to understand. They don’t know anybody like you. They can’t imagine that you know about art, music, world history … anything. This is not your problem. This is a look inside what’s lacking in their world, not yours.” And the clincher line, which every adult should think about, “You have to try to be a little more understanding of their ignorance. You can spend the whole time being pissed off at their inabilities or just help them understand how it all works and why they shouldn’t talk to you in that manner.  My mother felt that getting angry was not going to help.” This advice was echoed some years later by Julia Walker, her hair stylist, “They don’t know any better. They don’t know anyone like you. They don’t know they’re saying something stupid. Julia would tell me to adjust my attitude and not to give it so much attention. They can’t really get to you because you’re the talent.” Insights into the behavior of others and how not to allow their ignorance to get inside your head and heart, and prevent you from moving forward.  More solid gold bits and pieces from Whoopi, her family, dear friends and colleagues that she shares with us. Throughout this memoir, be prepared to laugh out loud and maybe shed some tears of joy and amazement.

 
 
 

 

 
 

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