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Whoopi Goldberg’s Harmful Ignorance

Probably everyone knows the general story. I do not know it firsthand, I have never watched “The View,” except for a few times when Hillary Clinton was on, during her campaign. Panelists come and go from there. I knew that Goldberg (her birth name was Caryn Elaine Johnson) had been on the show for a few years. I know that they discuss various things, some political, some social, or lighthearted, from a female perspective. I know that Sharon Osbourne was fired from the show, though I don’t remember exactly why, but there is that precedent.

Goldberg has been a comedian, and then acted in some movies, and since then has been a public figure who comments on various things. I never disliked her, I did not know much about her, though I assumed she was on the liberal side, though sometimes unconventional, she did defend Bill Cosby to some extent.

So there was a discussion on the show, apparently about racism, and about the attempts in some areas to ban “Maus,” a book about anti-semitism, and Goldberg said that the Holocaust was not about racism, “it was about man’s inhumanity to man.” This was disputed by other people on the show, and has caused a furor. Goldberg apologized in a rather tepid way, and then appeared to repeat the essence of what she said, that since the Nazis and the Jewish people were both White, this hatred and murdering was not racially based.

She got suspended for two weeks. Some said it should have been worse, she should have been fired. Some said that she didn’t say anything wrong.

I can only speak for myself here, but I think she should have been suspended for longer. I read today that she is furious at the suspension, and might leave the show; but one never knows whether to believe the stories one reads about somebody’s state of mind. I do think that if she is indeed angry at being suspended, then she is very ignorant, and unwilling to do what the high management person who suspended her, said that she should do, reflect on all of this.

Now this has led to a discussion on whether being Jewish is a matter of race or religion, or both. I do remember my mother wanting to emphasize to me that it is a religion, there is no Jewish race. Both of my parents lived through the era of Nazism and the Holocaust, and of course they abhorred the contention that Jews were somehow of a different race. And we all know of people who have converted to Judaism, including some famous movie stars; and some people who have converted from Judaism to another religion. Even so, many Jewish people have descended from a few thousand years of ancestors who were Jewish, and lived in a specific part of the world.

But the crucial point is that the Nazis saw the Jews as a race, and the Aryans as the master race. They actually described Jewish people as subhuman, the “judenrats” that they drew horrific cartoon pictures of in newspapers, preparing and brainwashing their followers to view them as undeserving of any human empathy, and to be exterminated. Hitler wrote about his goal to annihilate the Jewish race in his book written in the 1920’s This was a major part of Nazism, by no means just some ancillary part.

And they killed six million Jewish people, in ways and methods that one can barely bear to even contemplate. Torture, experiments; and the pace grew faster; until when they realized they would lose the war, they tried to kill as many as they could each day. We will not revisit that here, it is the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of humanity.

The Nazis also killed millions of Slavs and Gypsies, also for racial reasons. This history, apparently completely unknown to Goldberg, makes her comments more than just stupid, but insulting, hurtful, and even worse, because those who believe her, are essentially denying the Holocaust, and the perverse psychology which imbued Nazism.

Now, I will say something which some might disagree with, but I think is important to consider. I think that Goldberg said this in the first place, because she wanted to emphasize her view that the only group that suffered from racism, is Black people. Why would someone go out of their way to claim that the Nazis killing six million Jewish people was not about racial hatred? The progress of this horror went from forcing them to wear stars identifying them; to isolating them in ghettos; to taking them to concentration camps; to making work slaves of them; to killing them. The Nazis meticulously searched for evidence that someone was Jewish. If it was “just about man’s inhumanity to man,” why were they specifically rounding up Jewish people to be mass murdered?

Goldberg then went on the Stephen Colbert show, and said something about how that if a White person who hated Blacks saw her, she would try to get away from him right away; whereas that if a Nazi were out there, he couldn’t tell if someone was Jewish, so apparently it would be less dangerous for them. She said that the Nazis “had to do the work” to find out who was Jewish. She may not have meant it in that way, but it is an awful turn of phrase, like saying someone “has to put in the work” to be successful as an athlete or student.

Here is the significant problem: anti-semitism did not go away after Germany was defeated in World War II. It never goes away. Anti-semitic hate crimes have risen immensely in the last few years. Mostly because of Trump, virulent and dangerous anti-semites feel that they have been given license to say anything they want about Jewish people, and they do, in all the old ways, and even new ones. Maybe Whoopi Goldberg is unaware of that, but it would be pathetic if she were.

And again, whether she meant it or not, her statements would be an argument for removing anti-semitic attacks from the legal definition of “hate crimes,’ since she thinks they are not directed against Jewish people as a race, just examples of general “inhumanity.” And by extension, she would be saying that anti-semitism is not racism. She thinks is is just religious bias? Did the Nazis tell the Jewish people that if they converted, they would leave them alone? No, the opposite; they did everything to try to discover if someone had Jewish parents, and if so, they would kill them as well as their parents, as their goal was to kill every Jewish person in Europe, and they murdered and tortured and experimented on half of them, killing six million of them.

I think that underlying some of this is, “which group has the greater right to victimhood status?” Of course, this would be a dreadful way to look at things. But was Goldberg, consciously or unconsciously, trying to argue that Black people should be the main focus of looking for and combating racism; and that Jewish people don’t need any help because hatred of them is not about race, it is something else; and besides, they can’t be so easily identified by people who hate them?

Should all of the implications of the comments by a person who seemed like a generally decent person, and for which she has apologized, be ignored, or attributed to ignorance and a propensity to opine about things she knows little about, which does not make her very unusual in this celebrity and social media world? Perhaps. But Jewish people well know that every day there are some rich and powerful and influential people who do everything they can to find reasons to expand the group of anti-semites, with the end being to isolate and kill them.

Bannon hates Jewish people, he said that he didn’t want his daughter going to school with them. Trump said that at least some of the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville were “good people.” DeSantis refuses to condemn Nazi groups. Jewish people never feel completely safe, and are always concerned about another rise of Nazism, even in this country, where Father Coughlin would deliver anti-semitic screeds on the radio in the 1930’s, and even people like Lindbergh and Joseph P. Kennedy seemed to have at least a tolerance for Hitler.

No one says all the right things; and I am sure that I occasionally might say or write something which someone would take offense at, because people are very quick to take offense at all sorts of things. No one wants to be so worried that somebody or other might object to something you say, that you are afraid to say anything but innocuous phrases.

But when you are on a daily television show which millions of people watch, you simply should not talk about cultural or political matters which you know nothing about. It is the height of arrogance and foolishness to do so.

We like to say “do better” as an encouraging term, but it should not be a bland cliche. Individuals with a major media forum, who have the power to influence many people, absolutely have a serious responsibility to read, and learn, and do some research, before tossing off any comment that they feel like making. And one of the worst things about all of this, is that you know that some people will use it to advance their calumnies and libels against Jewish people. There is a price to pay for blathering on about something you obviously know nothing about, even though it didn’t seem to be a matter of importance to you.