On a January 31 episode of “The View,” what was meant to be a segment discussing book bans in schools — specifically, McMinn County School Board’s decision to ban Art Spiegelman’s iconic Holocaust graphic novel, “Maus” — turned into a controversial discussion about race.
At the center of this was actress and “View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg, who said that the Holocaust was not “about race.” Since the discussion aired, many went online to express their feelings (and there are many, many feelings) and add historical insight. Whoopi responded, and ABC also issued its own response.
Let’s get into all of it.
What did Whoopi Goldberg say about the Holocaust?
Whoopi disagreed with the school board’s decision to ban “Maus,” and later in the segment she went on to say:
“If you’re going to do this, then let’s be truthful about it, because the Holocaust isn’t about race.”
She then elaborated, saying, “It’s about man’s inhumanity to man.”
After some pushback from her co-hosts, particularly Joy Behar and Ana Navarro, Whoopi stated, “But these [Jews and Nazis] are two white groups of people.”
What happened next?
Almost immediately, the incident was documented on Twitter, generating pushback against Whoopi’s comments.
Later that evening, Whoopi took to Twitter to issue an apology over her comments and seemed to walk them back, citing the CEO of the ADL.
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) February 1, 2022
But in an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that same evening, Whoopi appeared to stand by her initial comments.
“When you talk about being a racist, I was saying, you can’t call this [the Holocaust] racism. This was evil,” she explained to Colbert, citing her perspective as a Black person whose experience with racism is based on skin color. “This wasn’t based on the skin. They [Nazis] couldn’t tell who was Jewish, they had to delve deeply to figure it out.”
So, was the Holocaust about race?
First you have to understand that race in 21st century America is not viewed through the same lens as race in early 20th century Germany. So whether or not you believe that some Jews are white (we’ll get to that in a bit), for the people responsible for this genocide of Jews (and Black people, Romani, LGBTQ+ individuals, the disabled, etc.) during the Holocaust, race was the primary factor.
We know this because Adolf Hitler wrote extensively on his beliefs about Jews and the Aryan “master-race.”
On September 16, 1919, Hitler, who was working in the Bavarian armed forces at the time, issued his first thoughts on “the Jewish Problem.”
Per the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “In the statement, he defined the Jews as a race and not a religious community, characterized the effect of a Jewish presence as a ‘race-tuberculosis of the peoples,’ and identified the initial goal of a German government to be discriminatory legislation against Jews. The ‘ultimate goal must definitely be the removal of the Jews altogether.'”
In February 1920, Hitler, now a member of the newly-formed Nazi party, presented a 25-point Nazi platform at a party meeting. Among the points were multiple references to Hitler’s view that Jews were racially different from Germans. For example, point four read, “Only a national comrade can be a citizen. Only someone of German blood, regardless of faith, can be a citizen. Therefore, no Jew can be a citizen.”
In 1925, Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” was published. In it, he expanded on his idea of Aryanism, writing, “Everything we admire on this earth today — science and art, technology and inventions — is only the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps one race [the ‘Aryans’]. On them depends the existence of this whole culture. If they perish, the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them.”
At the same time, Hitler also wrote, “The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew.”
On September 15, 1935, the German Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Race Laws; these laws contained two parts: the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. Once again, per the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “These laws institutionalized many of the racial theories underpinning Nazi ideology and provided the legal framework for the systematic persecution of Jews in Germany. The Nuremberg Race Laws did not identify a ‘Jew’ as someone with particular religious convictions but instead as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents.”
These laws were put into place not only to oppress and single out Jews, but also to prevent miscegenation, or, for lack of a better term, the interbreeding of two people who are deemed to come from different racial backgrounds. Once again, this was all part of Hitler’s eugenics.
All of these statements were made even before the actual beginning of the Holocaust in 1941. However, it is absolutely indisputable that these racist ideologies underpinned Hitler’s plan for a 1,000-year, “racially pure” Reich and spurred on the murder of 6 million Jews.
While Hitler’s understanding of race looks different than the United States’ anti-Black racism that informs Whoopi’s experience of race, the two are rooted in a similar ideology. In fact, during the 1930s, Nazis looked to the United States’s racism as a model for how to persecute Jews.
So: Yes, the Holocaust was about race.
So… are Jews white?
There is no one concise answer to this.
First, it’s necessary to state that Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous and mixed-race Jews exist who are not white by any definition. There are also Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, who are descended from Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Spain and Portugal. (Have we mentioned that the Jewish people is incredibly diverse?)
In terms of Jews who have only European heritage, it very much depends on who you ask and on historical context.
The answer to this question is also girded in the fact that Judaism can be understood as an ethnoreligion, or a religion that can also be unified by a common ethnicity. For Ashkenazi Jews, this often derives from the shtetls (or almost any other period of European history wherein Jews were forced to live in separate communities… so, basically all of European history). The forced separation of the community meant that Jews only reproduced with other Jews. Some also believe that Judaism is an ethnoreligion because of the (unproven) idea that all Ashkenazi Jews can be traced back to ancient Israel.
When it comes to how certain Jews identify today, there are generally two schools of thought within the Jewish community.
On the one hand, there are Jews who identify as white. This can stem from a few beliefs:
1) Their recent ancestors are of European heritage and therefore white.
2) They have light skin and are perceived to have white skin, meaning they benefit from white privilege.
3) The fact that white supremacists don’t consider Jews as white should not affect how Jews self-define.
As Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote in the New York Times, “Being white is not just a matter of identifying as white; it involves being treated as white.”
On the other hand, you have Jews who do not identify as white despite European heritage or fair skin. Some claim that Jews are “white-passing” or “white-presenting,” but not by definition white. This can stem from a few beliefs, like:
1) Jews are Indigenous to Israel/the Middle East.
2) Because of shtetls and their isolated reproduction, Ashkenazi Jews are not ethnically white, but rather ethnically Jewish.
3) Because white supremacists do not believe Jews are white and treat Jews accordingly, Jews are not white.
Additionally, European Jews who do not identify as white point to antisemitic attacks like Pittsburgh and Colleyville as proof of the fact that Jews do not experience white privilege. But Jews who identify as white argue that while they experience antisemitism, this does not discount the fact the European Jews benefit from instances of white privilege in other instances.
Then of course, there are the beliefs of white supremacists. As Jonathan Davis Secord wrote in the Washington Post, white supremacists “have used a distorted historical image of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to glorify an imaginary all-White past — and to naturalize White rule and fear of people of color.”
So essentially, white supremacists believe that European Jews, like people of color, do not fit into the category of Anglo-Saxon, despite coming from Europe.
What have the reactions to Whoopi’s comments been like?
Unsurprisingly, there’s a large range, with some arguing that her comments were antisemitic to others saying that she was simply misinformed. Largely, though, most people have pushed back against the idea that the Holocaust was not about race. What seems to be the most variable factor in people’s responses is their level of outrage at Whoopi Goldberg herself and whether or not they believe Jews are white/can be defined as a race.
Here are a sampling of reactions from prominent Twitter users that span the gamut (note: we are not condoning or attempting to imply these voices deserve equal attention, but trying to illustrate the range of views currently taking over Twitter).
eugenicist typologies, garbage "race science", stuff about the inferiority of our bloodlines and so forth. So yes, the Holocaust was about race.
Which does not mean that we, as Jews, must or should define ourselves as Hitler defined us.
Jews are a people.
— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@TheRaDR) February 2, 2022
I hate commenting on my old employer because I have moved in every way a person can move on.
That being said I am an activist against antisemitism and it is a big part of my life.
The growing threat is real and virulent and everywhere. I am heartbroken about what was said.
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) February 1, 2022
ADL CEO @JGreenblattADL joined @TheView today to discuss why Holocaust education, which has a proven record of reducing intolerance, is so critical as #antisemitism remains a real and present danger for the Jewish community. 📺 Watch: pic.twitter.com/cJtTCrDLXE
— ADL (@ADL) February 1, 2022
Re: @WhoopiGoldberg, once again, the problem of "blk/Jewish" dialogues is that it assumes an inherent mutual exclusivity and does not give space to those of us who inhabit BOTH identities.
— (((Ma Nishtana))) (@MaNishtana) February 2, 2022
The Holocaust was the result of a genocidal campaign to eradicate a whole race of people. Antisemitism is a form of racism—anti-Jewish racism. To deny that the Holocaust and Antisemitism have something to do with race and racism is an absurdity.
— Ritchie Torres (@RitchieTorres) February 1, 2022
What’s happening now?
On February 1, ABC suspended Whoopi Goldberg from “The View” for two weeks. In a statement, ABC News President Kim Godwin wrote, “Effective immediately, I am suspending Whoopi Goldberg for two weeks for her wrong and hurtful comments… While Whoopi has apologized, I’ve ask her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments. The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities.”
Here’s the full note that ABC News president Kim Godwin sent staffers tonight about @WhoopiGoldberg. She said such decisions “are never easy, but necessary.”
“Words matter and we must be cognizant of the impact our words have." pic.twitter.com/vMK5kSPAmj
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) February 2, 2022
As with everything on the internet, there’s not one unified response on Whoopi’s suspension. On the more hard-line end of the spectrum, a #FireWhoopi hashtag was trending.
Ben Shapiro took aim at cancel culture while calling for Whoopi’s firing; others alluded explicitly to the harsher consequences faced by Gina Carrano and Roseanne Barr.
In a sane world, Whoopi wouldn't be suspended. But the Left's standard is that if you say a Bad Thing™ then you lose your job. So they should fire her. Mutually assured destruction until you stop with all of this nonsense. https://t.co/TBD473vrox
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 2, 2022
You all remember when ABC fired Rosanne Barr because of a tweet. So, what is ABC going to do about Whoopi Goldberg and her rhetoric?
— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) January 31, 2022
However, others like journalist Steve Krakauer have noted that suspending Whoopi, while an actionable consequence against her and her statement, doesn’t seem to do anything for anyone else she hurt.
Suspending Whoopi Goldberg for two weeks does absolutely nothing.
She said something dumb and offensive, got called out, apologized… what is a suspension going to do? We need to be able to move on from stupid shit people say.
— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) February 2, 2022
Others, like author Frederick Joseph, have pointed out that this is a missed opportunity to actually educate Whoopi and others about the Holocaust:
Whoopi was incorrect, but her vantage point was that of a Black woman in America who was speaking from a definition of race as she has experienced it. Why not educate her versus suspending her?
Also, Meghan McCain spent years being intentionally racist with no repercussions…
— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) February 2, 2022
And many Jews, like writer Amanda Smith, have made clear that they didn’t ask for this:
I don’t speak for all Jews when I say “please don’t, we didn’t ask for this” but I’m definitely speaking for a lot of us when I say “please don’t, we didn’t ask for this.” https://t.co/uHUOiXqxgx
— Amanda Smith (@AmandaSmithSays) February 2, 2022
Whoopi Goldberg was suspended from “The View” for two weeks for making comments that reflect a dire need to restructure Holocaust education in this country.