The Whoopi Goldberg Incident: Answering Racism with Racism

In the wake of some erroneous remarks made in a discussion about the banning of the book Maus in relation to the Holocaust, Whoopi Goldberg has been suspended from the American television show “The View.” The cohost’s exact words were: “white people doing it to white people, so y’all going to fight amongst yourselves.” And: “It’s not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man. That’s what it’s about.”  

Now, obviously her comments were wrong. But there is a lot to unpack here.

To start, race is an artificial construct devised to separate classes of people in society for the purpose of exploitation, control, scapegoating and dehumanization. There is only one race of human beings on this planet. But even though there aren’t different races of human beings, racism does, in fact, exist. This form of social hatred, prejudice and discrimination only works because it builds upon the noxious myth of race.

The Holocaust was of course all about racism. The Nazis deliberately cast the Jews as inferior to the so-called Aryan race. Stereotypes, demonization and even pseudo-science were invented to promote these odious ideas. They held similar views toward the Roma, Sinti and many other ethnic or religious groups and they used this falsehood to carry out some of the most heinous crimes, experiments and murders in human history. Considering its brutal dictates, rampant violence, trains, concentration camps, and mechanized methods of death, there is no better example of industrialized genocide on this scale. Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in the short span of days. At the end of World War II millions would be dead.

In addition to this, Goldberg’s comments appear to make the Holocaust appear like a fight among equals. It was not. The Nazis used their considerable political influence, violence and military might to suppress and terrorize Germany and did the same to the countries they invaded. Millions died in the USSR alone in a campaign of utter annihilation.

But there are a lot of unspoken things in this latest controversy. How is it that a Black woman is censured for making ignorant comments, yet on the same program a white woman, Meghan McCain, was able to spout anti-Asian comments about Covid-19 with no censure from the television network? Anti-Asian hate crimes spiked in the Trump years due to this vicious rhetoric. And in a society where media figures like Tucker Carlson routinely trot out antisemitic conspiracies with barely an eyebrow raised, does Goldberg’s treatment send a message to people of color who dare “step out of line” for lesser offenses?

What’s fascinating to me is the timing of this. Amnesty International just released its damning report on the character of the Israeli state. It basically reached the same conclusions as the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch: apartheid. And yet, the person called out to “school” Whoopi Goldberg is none other than Jonathon Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) whose controversial positions conflate antisemitism with the BDS Movement and anti-Zionism.

To Greenblatt, defining Israel as an apartheid state is tantamount to an attack on all Jewish people. It doesn’t matter to him that many Jewish and Israeli individuals, some of them prominent politicians, as well as Jewish human rights organizations, have agreed with this assessment. In truth, ADL’s history has been one of running PR defense for Israeli apartheid and war crimes far more than countering actual antisemitism in the US and around the world. And this latest “incident” provides a convenient distraction from media coverage of Amnesty’s findings.

Goldberg’s comments were undeniably erroneous, and antisemitism should be condemned as an abhorrent social hatred that has caused untold misery for millions of people. But she apologized for her remarks. Regardless of this, she was still punished. How many white people with enormous platforms like that receive the same censure? From what I could find: zero.

Kenn Orphan, February 2022

*Photo from The Guardian.

1 thought on “The Whoopi Goldberg Incident: Answering Racism with Racism

  1. Mankh

    Dear Kenn, A variety of good nuanced points, and especially the media bias wrt other similar incidents, and i didn’t know of the Greenblatt and denial of apartheid angles which are significant, yet i don’t think Goldberg was totally “wrong” nor “undeniably erroneous”. The first statement quoted is obviously ignorant and insensitive, “white people doing it to white people, so y’all going to fight amongst yourselves.” Yet the second statement, “It’s not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man” is worth addressing and is not necessarily inaccurate for two basic reasons (and btw i am of Jewish heritage). 1) gypsies, gays, and the disabled were also targeted and victimized, so that aspect is not a race issue. It’s been a while since i have seen the film yet “Paragraph 175” shows stories from homosexual Germans who survived; a powerful and poignant film, hearing elder homosexuals speak of their experiences and lost loves. So, Goldberg was partly correct, considering “man’s inhumanity to man” yet the other part of her statement was obviously off. And since not all of her comments apply to “race”, where’s the nuanced discussion? Plus, one would have to research to see if “race” was the actual verbiage at the time b/c a phrase that many are familiar with, as explained in Wikipedia: “Untermensch underman, sub-man, subhuman; plural: Untermenschen) is a Nazi term for non-Aryan “inferior people” often referred to as “the masses from the East”, that is Jews, Roma, and Slavs (Poles, Serbs, and later also Russians). The term was also applied to Mixed race and Black people. Jewish, Polish and Romani people, along with the physically and mentally disabled, were to be exterminated in the Holocaust.” … all of which makes Whoopi’s comments, while obviously the “race” part was insensitive, partly correct because “sub-human/people” reflects “man’s inhumanity to man”. Then again, there’s the Nazi “master race” ideology so some of this has to do with semantics and word interpretations. Am not trying to defend Goldberg, rather it seems to me like a case of right/wrong police when there’s more to the discussion. And as to “Goldberg’s comments appear to make the Holocaust appear like a fight among equals”, in her appearance on CBS with Colbert, she made a point that because of similar skin color, it wasn’t obvious who was who. Here’s some of what she said: “It upset a lot of people which was never, ever, ever, ever my intention… I thought we were having a discussion. … I think of race as being something that I can see. So, I see you and I know what race you are. … This was evil, this wasn’t based on the skin, you couldn’t tell who was Jewish, they had to delve deeply to figure it out. … I did it to myself. This was my thought process and I’ll work hard not to think that way again.” And later on she wrote: “On today’s show, I said the Holocaust ‘is not about race, but about man’s inhumanity to man.’ I should have said it is about both.” That last bit is the essence of what am trying to convey here. Am not historian enough to know all the nuances of the time period and how that gets translated into our current use of language yet i think as you allude to, Kenn, in the latter part of your post, that there is more to the story than Goldberg. And, oh yeah, fwiw, her stage name is Goldberg.

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