So I will preface this post that in spite of what I say here, I have no intention on “canceling” Whoopi Goldberg. I think she adds an interesting perspective to The View – and I appreciate that she is there. She is a unique character. With that being said, I definitely do not agree lock step with everything she does or says. I really I don’t think I can say that about anyone.
Ok, so we are on the first day of Black History Month, and sadly, I am writing about Black anti-semitism (or rather, anti-semitic views espoused by a Black American at least). Why? Well because there is currently a lot of buzz on social media about some statements made by Whoopi Goldberg on The View the other day. Let me link a few things below:
1. Whoopi’s comments demonstrate how damaging ‘post-racialism’ is
First of all, I really believe that Whoopi spoke out of ignorance, not malice. The initial discussion was about schools banning the graphic novel Maus, which Whoopie disagreed with. She is not denying the Holocaust or how horrible it is. But she frame the Holocaust as a simple and vague ‘crime against humanity’. This does a gross disservice to the Holocaust. Just like American slavery was largely unmatched when looking at the instances of slavery throughout human history – the Holocaust sadly stands out as being uniquely terrible in terms of genocides that occurred throughout human history.
It is interesting because I read someone’s comment that Whoopi’s response rang the same as saying “All Lives Matter” when talking about Black Lives Matter. Which is, curiously, a common response that Conservatives have. And Whoopi seems to be coming at this from the angle of post-racialism; that we focus on race too much. People are people. Except for Black people. Black people are still subject to racism — due to our dark skin. And this is just maddening to listen to because while race is a false construct; it still is very much used as a tool to fragment our society. And it is not nearly as simple as skin color.
But I think that Whoopi has fallen into the trap that so many Black Americans have; that they are the only ones who are subject to ‘real’ racism. While I admit, Jews are not a race — that is not what the Nazis believed. And although they were clearly misguided in regards to race vs. tribe, does it really matter in the end?
2. Does Ignorance Excuse Appropriation?
I really don’t know much about Whoopi’s personal life. But I was surprised to find out that at one time, she considered herself to be a Jew. Maybe she still does. And that is fine if she does. I am not in the business of saying who is Jewish and who is not. But if she does put herself out there as Jewish, then how could she be so ignorant about Jewish history? The Holocaust occurred mainly in Europe. In Europe, for centuries the Jews were positioned as outsiders. They were not just ‘White people’ who happened to attend synagogues instead of churches. No they were subject to very strict social limitations – for thousands of years.
Sadly the way that our media is today, we do not give the most knowledgable people a platform. We give a platform to people who are on the fringes — who spark sensationalism. Yeah, we have ‘cancel culture’ and folks even get fired sometimes (like Roseanne). But then a new celebrity pops up to go fill the void.
You have to wonder though – is Whoopi as ignorant as she seems? I mean she defended Mel Gibson, a very clear anti-semite. She stood by her man, Ted Danson, when he pulled his blackface antics. So it’s like there is a common thread here. This is not a person who seems to seriously take cultural sensitivity into consideration when choosing her actions or words.
3. The Thorny ‘Are Jews White’ Topic
What is very frustrating to me as a Jewish Black American woman, in thinking and discussing anti-semitism, I have a strong opinion (which is backed up by the Torah, so I’m not so radical in my opinion) on what makes a Jew a Jew. And race is not a part of that definition. But anti-semitism, especially how it was perpetrated by the Nazis was based on the falsehood that there is a Jewish race. And too many Jews also buy into that definition. And to me, that is a mistake.
For example, a common battle cry put out there by many Jews is that “Oh, I am not White – I am Jewish”. Well that is an interesting claim to make when there have books published about Jewish assimilation and the transformation of American Jews into just being White Americans. There is something that Whoopi said that I did in fact agree with. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here) if the KKK is marching down the street — and she is standing there next to a Jew. They are going to target her — because how would they know that the Jew is a Jew?
Goldberg is not an anti-Semite, but she was confused—and understandably so. In my experience, mistakes like hers often happen because well-meaning people have trouble fitting Jews into their usual boxes. They don’t know how to define Jews, and so they resort to their own frames of reference, like “race” or “religion,” and project them onto the Jewish experience. But Jewish identity doesn’t conform to Western categories, despite centuries of attempts by society to shoehorn it in.
So getting back to my perspective as a Black woman, it is ridiculous to my understanding of American society, to eliminate White Jews as being the beneficiaries of White privilege in this society. This is especially true if a White Jew doesn’t dress in a garb that is markedly Jewish. And if you propose that there is a Jewish phenotype of sorts – where you can tell a Jew just by how they look, then you’ve effectively co-opted the Nazi’s approach to defining who a Jew is. Why would someone do such a thing?
4. Complete Lack of Communication and Understanding
Before the Whoopi Goldberg fiasco here, I watched this 2 hour discussion on YouTube between Blacks and Jews back in 1969. And I was going to write a blog post just about it by itself. So here it is:
So since we are so adverse to communicating, I’m just going to rapid fire through out some Black and Jewish myths that are simply not true: the Black church preaches antisemitism; Farrakhan is a Black American leader; All Jews are White; Jews control the American media and banks; All Jews are rich; All Black are poor; All Blacks hate Jews. 🙁
Sadly what is not a myth is that it is uncommon today that Jews and Blacks have lives that intersect in any sort of meaningful way. And when that it is the case, that is a ripe breeding ground for bigotry.
And I guess this is where we land. It is disheartening to see yet another Black celebrity in the news, for saying insensitive and misguided comments about Jews. But I will pause and see if she gets the Nick Cannon package of antisemite rehabilitation. But I think it would be an over reaction to ‘cancel’ her. Still, it shows just how much work is left to be done in regards to educating the masses about the Holocaust.