Whoopi Goldberg’s Suspension is Ridiculous
Her comment wasn’t anti-Semitic — meanwhile, Ron DeSantis is out here refusing to condemn Nazis in his own state
As a Jew, I know full well how incorrect Whoopi Goldberg’s recent comments about the Holocaust were — that it “wasn’t about race,” but merely a matter of man’s inhumanity to man, involving white people killing white people.
To the Nazis, Jews were a distinct race of evildoers — a biological pollutant — rather than white, despite our recent European ancestry. In that sense, she was flatly wrong. It was about race to the people who perpetrated it. The fact that their notions of race were pseudo-scientific garbage doesn’t change that.
But as a person with common sense, I also know that suspending her from The View for two weeks because of those comments, as ABC did, is performative bullshit, for which there is no justification.
In a week when Florida’s Governor and the heir apparent to the MAGA throne refused to condemn present-day Nazis in his state who hung swastika banners in Orlando, Goldberg’s comments — a naive assessment of Hitlerian race theory nine decades ago — are pretty trivial by comparison.
Frankly, I’m more concerned about how American politicians deal with American Nazis in contemporary America than I am about how a celebrity does or doesn’t comprehend the way that German Nazis in 1930s Germany defined European Jews.
Ron DeSantis is a guy who might be the GOP nominee for President in a few years. Whoopi Goldberg will not be his opponent.
And yet DeSantis, when faced with Nazis in his state, has a spokesperson who questioned whether they were even “real Nazis.” For the Governor himself, the Nazis were not evil or even worth calling out as racists. They were just “jackasses.”
Imagine if Whoopi had called the Holocaust merely the work of “jackasses.”
So, to review, Goldberg said the Holocaust wasn’t about race — a historically incorrect comment — even as she clearly articulated her personal revulsion at the actions of Nazis.
DeSantis can’t even admit that modern Nazis are racists — a word he still hasn’t used to describe them (perhaps because he’s afraid doing so would cause his base to accuse him of pushing Critical Race Theory).
Sorry, but clutching pearls over Goldberg while stomaching DeSantis is inexcusable. One was naive. The other is self-serving. And yet the naive one is the one who gets put in time out.
Understanding what Goldberg said and why
When it comes to Goldberg’s comments, one can be forgiven for not knowing the particulars of Hitlerian race theory. This is especially so in a society where race has functioned mainly as a white aggregator, in which all persons of European descent are placed under one umbrella, distinguished from America’s Untermenschen — Black folks.
That is how race and whiteness have functioned here: to demarcate who isn’t Black, as much as anything, and who will never be treated as badly as Black (and perhaps Indigenous) folks, even if they catch ethnic or religious hell.
I’m more concerned with how American politicians deal with American Nazis in contemporary America than I am about how a celebrity does or doesn’t comprehend the way that German Nazis in 1930s Germany defined and viewed European Jews
As Isabel Wilkerson documents in her book Caste, the lines of whiteness and non-whiteness were far more concrete here than even in Nazi Germany.
When the Nazis were creating the Reich’s racial hygiene laws, they concluded that American race rules were too draconian. The idea of “one drop” or even one-eighth of “Black blood” disqualifying a person from whiteness and making a person Black seemed too restrictive to them.
And so, ultimately, their rules for marking a person as a Jew and excluding them from German citizenship — though rooted in a ridiculous notion of race science — were more forgiving than that.
It was far easier to exclude someone from whiteness in Mississippi than in Berlin.
As such, to Black folks in America, it makes sense that they might look at what the Nazis did to Jews and see “white people killing white people” because in this country, as long as those Jews didn’t have any discernible “blackness” in them, they would qualify for the white club.
None of that makes Goldberg right, but her take on this isn’t for nothing or entirely out of left field. It is the fault of superimposing an American understanding of race and whiteness onto a German template, where it simply doesn’t fit.
But nothing she said minimized the horrors of the Shoah, denied the evil of its perpetrators, or erased the reality of anti-Semitism.
Yes, Goldberg failed to appreciate how anti-Semitism, to Nazis, functions as a racial hatred (as opposed to more ancient versions based on religion and cultural prejudice). But she does not dispute its awfulness or its impact.
Can we talk honestly about “Jewish whiteness?”
But now that we’re on this subject — about whether Jews from Europe are white or not and how we should understand Jewishness in relation to the notion of race — can we perhaps have an honest conversation?
Because frankly, we in the Jewish community have contributed to some of this confusion too.
What do I mean?
Well, consider that precisely because of the Holocaust and the Nazis’ attempt to racialize us, Jews have spent decades trying to make clear we are not a race.
I grew up hearing this constantly: we are not a separate race, and we insisted upon this to make clear that Nazi race theory was wrong.
But in response to Goldberg’s comments in which she classified European Jews as just another group of white people, it’s as if some are now offended that we might not be seen as a separate race. It’s almost like we’re saying, how dare Whoopi Goldberg call us white and deny our racial distinctiveness!
If anything, Goldberg’s comment was partly in keeping with the position the Jewish community had insisted upon for generations, however clumsily she delivered it. Under that view, we are just a different religious and ethnic group.
And yes, in the U.S., that desire to not be seen as racially different did mean matriculation into the club of whiteness, however much our ancestors in Europe wouldn’t have even understood that concept before coming here.
In that regard, Goldberg wasn’t trying to erase our distinctiveness or our history. She was voicing the reality of how whiteness has operated here and how Jewishness has increasingly dovetailed with it, however much it diverged from it in Europe during the Third Reich.
Yes, Jewish whiteness is complicated — it’s also a real thing, for most
Of course, it’s essential to acknowledge the different ways in which whiteness has functioned for Jews in America and how our Jewishness has often complicated our whiteness. And yes, some in the anti-racism community and movement haven’t done a very good job addressing that nuance.
But it is also true that we as Jews of European descent have largely been able to matriculate into the white club and gain access to various privileges and opportunities regularly denied to Black people. We are not in the same boat as Black folks in this country, and we never were.
From the time my great-grandfather stepped off the boat in New York in the early 20th century, he could get jobs that were already off-limits to Black people there. That’s a fact. It doesn’t diminish the anti-Semitism we have faced here — and that he faced, in fact — but it does suggest that we have been able to whiten, however difficult that proved for us in Hitler’s Germany.
With the exception of Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox communities, whose cultural distinctiveness often marks them for particularly vicious attacks, most American Jews of European descent, for good or bad, have become pretty well assimilated and functionally white.
Yes, that membership card can be, and often is, contested. It is increasingly being challenged now — by Nazis like the ones in Florida. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real and operative.
And if we as Jews want to deny our functional whiteness, as I sense some do, to duck the issue of the privileges we receive from it (even as we face anti-Jewish bias), so be it.
But understand: the cost of that denial is being seen as a distinct race after all.
And that has never worked out very well for us.
Whoopi Goldberg understands that now. I wonder if we do?