On-Air Holocaust Remarks Lead to Jewish Race Discussion

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A recent discussion on the Holocaust and the Jewish race led to a co-host’s suspension and a larger debate on race itself.

The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg faces a two-week suspension over remarks about the Jewish race and the Holocaust. During Monday’s program, Goldberg said the Holocaust was “not about race” but was instead about “man’s inhumanity to man.”

The comments immediately drew criticism. She released a statement Monday night saying that the Holocaust was actually about both.

ABC News President Kim Goodwin announced the suspension Monday, calling Goldberg’s comments “wrong and hurtful.”

In an apology posted on Twitter, Goldberg quoted the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt.

“The Holocaust was about the Nazi’s systematic annihilation of the Jewish people — who they deemed to be an inferior race,” he said.

“While Whoopi has apologized, I’ve asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments,” Godwin said in a statement. “The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities.”

The Daily Beast, meanwhile, reported that Goldberg’s colleagues on the show are “furious” over the suspension. One of the co-hosts said Goldberg is not anti-semite.

During Monday’s show, Goldberg seemed to stand her ground on her “not about race” position, insisting the “inhumanity” argument. She didn’t budge even when some of her co-hosts said Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” was “white supremacy.”

How did Whoopi Goldberg miss the race aspect? The same way most of us do.

Many years ago, I heard a Jewish person refer to the “Jewish race.” I was surprised by that, honestly, because I didn’t think of the Jewish people as a “race” but as a group united by faith. It’s easy for me, a white guy, to get a race issue wrong.

As a Christian, I don’t see Christianity as a race; Christianity claims people of all races after all. The Jewish faith, likewise, claims people of multiple races.

So some people legitimately have never had reason to think beyond simple skin color in that regard.

Goldberg appeared in a recorded segment on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (recorded before her apology). She made a remark I think is very telling. It might just resonate with many people, regardless of their skin color:

“…as a Black person, I think of race as being something that I can see.”

Therein lies the problem. For many non-Jews — Black or white — race too often is only something they can “see.”

The many discussions about race in this country have boiled down a debate to skin color. That’s not a bad thing in itself because skin color alone accounts for a huge reason people still face discrimination.

But race isn’t only about skin color. The Nazis themselves declared Jews as an inferior race and then tried to systematically rid the world of that race. When you’re talking about the Holocaust, it was the Nazis, the engineers of the Holocaust, who framed the Jewish people as a “race” to be eliminated.

While Goldberg sits out her two weeks, presumably to reflect on her errant statement, perhaps more of us can do the same.

Rosenberg: ‘Jews don’t fit into Western boxes’

Journalist Yair Rosenberg writes in The Atlantic that Goldberg 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,” he writes. “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.”

Unfortunately, that can’t work, he says.

You can’t narrow it to a religion, because people can be proudly Jewish without observing Jewish religious traditions. But you can’t narrow it to a race because people from other races can convert to Judaism. You can’t even narrow it to a nationality because some Jews don’t self-identify as being part of a nation.

So what word does work? I like Rosenberg’s choice (read it here) … and I wish more people could look at it that way.

More than that, I wish people could look at all of humanity that way. If we could stop focusing so much on our differences, maybe we could accomplish more together.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.