Conversations about race in America
are our third rail. It trips us all up. Whoopi Goldberg proved that
last week on the television talk show “The View” during a
conversation about a Tennessee school district banning “Maus,”
a graphic novel about the Holocaust, from its curriculum.
her rebuke, Goldberg emphatically stated the Holocaust was not about
race. She viewed the Holocaust as a form of sectarian violence when
she said, “These are two white groups of people.”
that evening, in what was supposed to be Goldberg’s public mea
culpa moment, she further
tripped herself up in the controversy by doubling down on her
a Black person, I think of race as being something that I can see.
So, I see you, and I know what race you are,” Goldberg said
during an appearance in “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Goldberg’s faux pas - which itself occurred during a discussion
about education - should have evolved into a prime teaching moment
for America to have a robust conversation about the relationships
between antisemitism, racism and whiteness.
is a social construct and not a biological fact. However, the
deleterious effects of America’s dominant Black/white racial
paradigm exclude other racial groups whose skin color and phenotype
complicate the racist model.
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Goldberg further
expounded that Jews are white and the Holocaust was “white on
white” genocide. She illustrated a hypothetical situation in
which white supremacists would be able to spot her visibly, but not a
the Klan is coming down the street … I’m gonna’
run. But if my friend decides not to run, they’ll get passed by
most times, because you can’t tell who’s Jewish,”
Goldberg said. “It’s not something that people say, ‘Oh
that person is Jewish.’”
lauds herself as a friend to the Jewish community because of her
friendships, associations and stage name. However, one’s
ally-ship to a marginalized community doesn’t mean it should go
unchecked. Since this controversy, many are now querying Whoopi’s
appropriating a Jewish-sounding name. Goldberg is an African American
woman with no Jewish ancestry. She was born with the name Caryn
Elaine Johnson and later adopted Whoopi Goldberg as her stage name
because she identifies with Judaism.
just know I am Jewish. I practice nothing. I don’t go to
temple, but I do remember the holidays.”
this be reversed, many African Americans would want Whoopi to explain
it is true that most Jews in America are Ashkenazic and predominately
white-skinned, how we view race today in America is very different
than how it was viewed in Europe during the Holocaust. As a matter of
fact, America’s racial caste system informed Nazi Germany. Both
white America and Nazi Germany wanted to maintain racial purity.
America’s system of Jim Crow laws on anti-miscegenation,
criminalizing sex and marriage between blacks and whites, laid the
legal groundwork for banning Jewish and Aryan marriages, which the
Nazis called “rassenschande,” which translates to “race
defilement.” The Nuremberg Laws - the Reich Citizenship Law and
the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor - were
racist, antisemitic and separated Jews from society.
it is also true that many European Jews have white skin like their
oppressors, 92% of American Jews describe themselves as white,
according to a recent May 2021 Pew Research Center Poll. From an
American perspective on race, white as a racial category erases
racial differences and the struggles of European immigrants like
Hungarians, Italians, Irish, Greeks, etc. Noel Ignatiev’s book,
“How the Irish Became White,” illustrates how an
oppressed group became part of a white racial class.
privilege that America confers to white-skinned people obscures and
complicates how some whites are harmed by an economic system that
dis-empowers them and their support of public policies against the
best interests of most people, including most whites.
topic of race continues to be a messy one in this country. If
Americans didn’t know the Holocaust was about race, they do
believe Goldberg’s heartfelt apology, and agree that she should
be suspended from the show to reflect. Her confusion is ours, too.
But sometimes, an apology is not enough. We must inform our thinking
and change our actions.