Would Whoopi Goldberg Have Been Punished If…?

Would Whoopi Goldberg have been suspended from the View had she been a white Ashkenazi Jew?

If Whoopi Goldberg had been a white Jew and made statements showing limited understanding of the Holocaust and its dynamics, would she have provoked the same outrage? Furthermore, would the View have suspended her?

Since last week’s incidents, these questions will not stop knocking around inside my head. I have to admit that I do not think she would have been suspended. I believe she would have simply been corrected, with no punitive action applied. We need to ask ourselves why that might be. 

Flexing our mental muscles yet again, if Goldberg had been a Black Jewish person would she have received the same sanction that she did as a Black non-Jewish person?

The reason why these types of questions gnaw at me so much is because I am a Jew of Color, and I have had similarly deeply frustrating experiences–in my case, interestingly enough, attempting to explain the ideology behind the Holocaust to white Ashkenazi Jews. 

Here is a small but telling example. Some years ago, though I lived out of town, I still attended a very liberal synagogue in Chicago. One day I went there for services, and the subject at hand was race. We were given a presentation as well as some information on paper. After that, we were split up into groups to have our own discussion on the topic. I was in a group with four or five other people, all of whom presented as white and potentially of Ashkenazi descent. Most of them were in their early fifties or older. .

When placed into group situations such as this, I always keep in mind the fact that formal education often does not include adequate teaching on race and racialization. Also, one must take into consideration the differing life experiences and socioeconomic backgrounds we each bring to the table.

When it was time for me to speak, I attempted to convey to the group of white Jews that the Nazis had an ideology in which Jewish people were not merely discriminated against because they had a different religion. The Nazis believed that Jews were a separate race apart from the pure “Aryan” German race. Jews were then viewed as a dangerous and treacherous racial element the Nazis needed root out of Aryan society. 

Mostly I was met with blank stares and non-understanding by the white Jews in my group. That is, all except for one man, who nodded with both understanding and encouragement.

Then – and perhaps here is where it completely went off the rails – I told the group that in the United States, our (caste) system is also based on race. Here, race has been constructed based on things like how much melanin one has in one’s skin, hair type, nose and lip shape, and of the course the percentage of non-white “blood” one possesses. And that America’s racialized categories, just like those of the Nazi regime were socially invented and do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Still, only one person understood what I was saying and agreed.

The essence of what I received back from the rest of the group is that they simply do not consider European Jews in a racial way. They had obviously been socialized into the United States’ racial viewpoints. For them, the American racial system is true and makes sense. 

Apparently, in two or three short generations’ time, they seemed quite unable to perceive their own ancestors – and in turn, of themselves – as being racialized. Therefore they didn’t fully understand that what was perpetrated against the European Jewish population by the Nazis, was based on Jewish racialization as the vile other. 

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that race in the United States is most certainly real. But just because something is constructed to be a social reality, does not mean it is true or based on facts and science. 

How many members of the white and Ashkenazi American Jewish population have been equally so inculcated into the American racial caste system, that they cannot conceive of themselves as being racialized as anything other than white? How many American Jews think that the Holocaust was merely about hatred of Jews for being Jewish and being different, and have no concept of the structural racialization their ancestors were oppressed by?

And why did I need to be the one to inform white Jews about this?

If one of the members of my group were on the View, all except for one would no doubt have had similar viewpoints to those Whoopi Goldberg evinced. Is this merely a lack of or failure in Jewish education? Or do we have a bigger problem in our society’s popular teachings about the nature of race? No doubt in the current climate, a serious discussion of these issues in public education would surely be classified by the right as Critical Race Theory and fervently railed against.

American society is so deeply invested in its racial caste system – yes, including some feminists, Jews, and those left of center.  All the members of my little group that day, apart from myself and one other, could only see with their eyes the American racialized reality, essentially identical to that Whoopi Goldberg saw. They were white. I was Black. We were therefore different races. European Jews and Nazis were both white.

If one of the white Jews from my group placed America’s current vision of race back onto Nazi Germany, like Whoopi Goldberg did, would she too have been suspended from the View? I certainly hope not. 

Because people, including Jews, make this mistake all the time. That happens not merely because we live under a racialized caste system. It also occurs to this extent because we don’t have proper universal education on what race is, how it came to be, and damage the racial caste system does to us as individuals and as a country.

Antisemitism in the US is on the rise. But it is for that reason that I believe American society’s – and the Jewish community’s – kneejerk reaction to well-intentioned people’s ignorance should not necessarily be punitive action. Sometimes educating with an open hand and heart proves to be more fruitful in the long run.

And with Whoopi Goldberg’s comments, we missed a crucial opportunity.

Zohara Armstrong is a progressive Jew by choice living in the Chicago area.