Let’s accept her apology, take it as a learning experience, and move on.
I don’t watch The View, but I was shocked by Whoopi’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show on Monday, January 31, 2022, when her attempt at an apology for her comments earlier that day on The View went viral. In a discussion about banning the graphic novel Maus, which is about the Holocaust, Whoopi said that the Holocaust was not about race, but rather an example of “man’s inhumanity towards man.”
Whoopi demonstrated a narrow view of racism.
Whoopi insisted that racism is based on skin color, and that the Holocaust was white-on-white hate and thus not racially motivated. Colbert attempted to delicately push back, but Whoopi elaborated on her premise, noting that the Nazis could not tell Jews from non-Jews based on looks. This is only partially true. German Jews – who generally considered themselves Germans first and Jews second – blended into the German community. However, in the early 20th century, there had been an influx of Eastern European Jews into Germany who definitely did not look, talk, or behave German. At the time, German Jews were concerned that their Eastern European brethren would heighten antisemitism in Germany. They were correct. So, yes, many Jews in Germany were recognizable on sight.
All Jews in Germany were easy to find given the complexity of German National Registration System, which existed before the Nazis even came to power. The German Register of Persons (Melderegistar) listed the religion of parents, spouses, and even spouses’ parents. In addition, the separate People’s Card Index identified occupation, knowledge of foreign languages, prior residence in foreign countries, and school/professional performance, including examinations passed – talk about something being on your permanent record forever. Individuals with three Jewish grandparents were Jewish, those with two Jewish grandparents were 1st degree Mischling, and those with one Jewish grandparent were 2nd degree Mischling. The Wannsee Conference (January 20, 1942) determined that any 2nd degree Mischling who looked or behaved like a Jew would be sent to one of the concentration camps along with full Jews and 1st degree Mischlings.
Whoopi showed her ignorance of history and science.
Hitler identified Germans/Aryans as the “Master Race” and Jews as a subhuman race. In Germany, Judaism was not based on religion. Secular Jews were gassed alongside practicing Jews and even Jews who had converted to Christianity. Just because Whoopi only identified race as a Black and White issue, as it is commonly presented in the United States, it does not mean everyone worldwide interprets race the same way. Academically, race is a social construct, because biologically there is no difference between Blacks, Whites, Asians, etc. Hence, the definition of race differs widely among people.
Whoopi proved that she did not understand the Jewish situation.
African Americans face discrimination from certain segments of the American population everyday; because of their skin color, there is no avoiding the consequences of racism. Like Whoopi noted on the Colbert show, in many circumstances, Jews blend into the crowd of average White people. Whoopi, like most Black people, will never be in the situations I have experienced where people make antisemitic comments to my face not realizing that I am Jewish. (My husband who is 1/8 Black – 14% according ancestry.com and 23andMe – has had people make horrible comments about Black people to his face.) Racism toward Blacks is more upfront; whereas racism towards Jews is often less obvious until they are burning down your synagogue. While we are not profiled by the police and other authority figures, historically we have been denied access and membership to Whites-only clubs and organizations. People’s hate toward us is more easily disguised. But for those who hate us, that hate is deep, viral, and deadly. The increase in violence toward Jews in the past few years is proof of the dangers we face.
Forgiveness is in order.
Ultimately, Whoopi apologized, and after an on-air conversation with Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, she came to understand the subtlety of the debate on race and the situation for Jews in Nazi Germany. Whoopi’s debacle illuminates the whole cancel-culture mentality. Everyone at some point has made an ignorant statement or has miscommunicated their thoughts in a manner they later regretted. Let’s go back to accepting apologies and giving people a second chance when they spoke foolishly.
ABC suspended Whoopi for two weeks.
Some may call that censorship, but I see it as a cooling off period for both Whoopi and her audience. While I respect her talent, accomplishments, and work ethic, I am not a devoted fan of Whoopi Goldberg. To be clear, there are no Hollywood stars of whom I would consider myself a devoted fan. I am aware that Whoopi has received her share of criticism from the political right over the years for her political views. Ultimately, given the genuineness of her second apology (after the Colbert show) and her history of support for the Jewish community – she even adopted the name Goldberg because she identifies as Jewish – I am happy to allow her ignorant comments to be used as a teaching moment and move on.