Why Was Whoopi Goldberg Suspended?
Since when is it a crime to say stupid things on "The View"?
NYT (“ABC Suspends Whoopi Goldberg Over Holocaust Comments“):
Whoopi Goldberg, the comedian and actress who is also a co-host of the ABC talk show “The View,” will be suspended for two weeks, the network announced Tuesday night, after she said repeatedly during an episode of the show that aired on Monday that the Holocaust was not about race, comments that come at a time of rising antisemitism globally. She later apologized.
In the episode, Ms. Goldberg said the Holocaust was about “man’s inhumanity to man” and “not about race.” When one of her co-hosts challenged that assertion, saying the Holocaust was driven by white supremacy, Ms. Goldberg said, “But these are two white groups of people.”
She added, “This is white people doing it to white people, so y’all going to fight amongst yourselves.” As she continued to speak, music came on, indicating a commercial break.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Kim Godwin, president of ABC News, said that Ms. Goldberg would be suspended for “her wrong and hurtful comments.”
“While Whoopi has apologized, I’ve asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments,” she said. “The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities.”
In a later appearance on Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” on Monday, Ms. Goldberg apologized, explaining that, as a Black person, she thinks of racism as being based on skin color but that she realized not everyone sees it that way. “I get it. Folks are angry,” she said. “I accept that, and I did it to myself.”
She apologized again on Tuesday at the start of “The View.” She expressed remorse over her remarks, saying she realized that they were misinformed and that she had misspoken.
“I said something that I feel a responsibility for not leaving unexamined because my words upset so many people, which was never my intention,” Ms. Goldberg said. “And I understand why now, and for that I am deeply, deeply grateful because the information I got was really helpful and helped me understand some different things.”
Aside from public relations, it’s not obvious what purpose suspending Goldberg serves. There’s no reason I’m aware of to believe Goldberg (birth name Caryn Elaine Johnson) is anti-Semitic. Indeed, she’s long claimed, despite all evidence to the contrary, to have Jewish ancestry. Further, the view that Jews are white people, and therefore of the same “race” as other Germans, is perfectly reasonable.
That Jews would see it as somehow downplaying the Holocaust is certainly understandable. But, again, there’s no reason to believe that was Goldberg’s intention. She simply understood/understands “race” in the American context and from the standpoint of a Black woman old enough to have personal memories of segregation.
The stated reason for the suspension is that she needs time to reflect. But it seems an unlikely outcome. She’s had the situation explained to her, has issued a statement saying the right thing. Either she now understands it or she doesn’t. Either way, she’s unlikely to comment on matters Jewish again after this firestorm.
Now, I could understand firing her. She has a long history of making uninformed comments that are hurtful coming from a place of ignorance rather than malice. (The Polanski “rape-rape” argument comes to mind but there have been many other instances.) While she’s incredibly accomplished—pulling herself out of poverty to stardom as comic and one of a handful to EGOT—she’s a high school dropout who seems not to have made up for it with self-study.
If you want to argue that she’s an ignoramus who shouldn’t be given several hours a day on network television to pontificate on current events, I’m incredibly sympathetic. Then again, as best I can tell, ignoramuses giving uninformed opinions is the raison d’être of The View and has been a successful formula for more than a quarter-century.
This is the perfect example of the Outrage Junkies having their sway.
That is actually, in her case, evidence of anti-Semitism. For years she made the false claim that she chose the stage name Goldberg because it was a family name. It later came out that she chose it because she believed it would help her get ahead in “Jewish” Hollywood.
I don’t for a second believe that she’s Mel Gibson-level anti-Semitic; however, I have definitely detected over the years that she holds some ignorant and prejudicial attitudes about Jews.
No, it’s not reasonable at all to claim that Jews are white. There are Jews of all races and colors. It’s reasonable to observe that Ashkenazi Jews, who were the primary target of the Nazis because those were the Jews who predominantly lived in that part of the world, are white–though even that comes with the important caveat that they were often not considered white at at the time (even in America), and that was certainly the case with how the Nazis viewed them.
The biggest problem with her comments, though, wasn’t that she claimed the Jewish victims of Hitler were white, but that she claimed this made the Holocaust not about race. Color isn’t the only way in which people have historically been differentiated–and persecuted–in a racial way. First of all, apart from their anti-Semitism, the Nazis had an elaborate belief in racial hierarchies, in which they not only considered whites superior to other races (and they definitely hated black people, it should be remembered), but they considered “Aryans” (which to them basically meant Northern Europeans) at the top; they viewed even Slavs as racially inferior. And their view of Jews wasn’t based on religion, but on ancestry; even someone born and raised in a Christian family but who had Jewish parents or grandparents was considered Jewish according to them. So they unquestionably racialized Jews, even if Jews don’t actually constitute a distinct race as we normally think of the term today.
Yair Rosenberg had the best take on the overall thing (not surprising given the topic): https://newsletters.theatlantic.com/deep-shtetl/61f992de9277230021ae11f7/are-jews-a-race-whoopi-goldberg-holocaust/
Every Jew I’ve seen, left, right and center, observant and not, have been united in saying this is a dumb suspension.
This is a truly moronic decision by ABC. The national sport is no longer baseball, it’s taking offense. I’m a Jew – not offended. She wasn’t preaching hate or Holocaust denial, she was just ignorant, FFS.
@Kylopod: It took me a long time to understand that “race” is a construct and not a biological fact, but discussions like this one explain the concept perfectly. Are Jews a race or not? It depends on who you’re asking…
@Michael Reynolds: “The national sport is no longer baseball, it’s taking offense.”
Somewhere along the line, this entire country lost the ability or the desire to say “What the hell does this have to do with me, and why should I care?”
@wr: When I worked at the Census in 2010, we came across respondents who identified their race as “Jewish.” Most of us had a laugh at it, but there was this one guy in my unit, an eccentric middle-aged biker dude who was himself Jewish, and he insisted without a trace of irony that Jews were a race. I asked him what he considered people who converted to Judaism, and he replied that they weren’t part of the Jewish race.
I second the recommendation of the Yair Rosenberg piece linked to by SKI above, but putting aside for the moment the confusing and inconsistent ways in which Jews have historically been categorized and how they don’t fit neatly into a typical Western box for group identity, part of the problem is that the word “race” itself hasn’t always been used the way we use it today. In older documents, you’ll come across weird terminology like the Italian race or the Chinese race. The word in many older contexts was probably closer to what we would define as an ethnicity. Now, whether Jews constitute an ethnicity is itself complicated (they’re usually classed as an “ethno-religious group”), but there are definitely ethnic subdivisions among Jews, Ashkenazi being the most common in the West.
(For that matter, equating Jews with Ashkenazi Jews is itself a trope.)
The problem there, though, is that we don’t have any readily available word for persecution of people based on ethnicity (ethnicist?), and we tend to fall back on the all-encompassing word “racism,” which gives some people the mistaken notion that you’re calling whoever is the victim of racism a member of a disparaged race–whatever that means.
From the comments on this thread, not the entire country. For instance, I don’t care enough to say anything one way or the other.
Great paragraph on the complex issues of “Jews and race” and honestly “Nazism and race.” Also pointing out there are Jews from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds (as we think of them today. One example who was recently mentioned on another thread is Michael Twitty, host of “High on the Hog” and “The Cooking Gene.” And when in doubt there is always Sammy Davis Jr).
@wr: You beat me to that punch. This is a great example of how “race” is a social construct and defined different from society to society.
The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer raised a good point about this on twitter:
For as much as I believe that race is a social construct, that still isn’t a mainstream view–especially when people think about it primarily in terms of skin color. This has been an arguement that has been raised here on many occasions against “it’s a social construct.”
This from Goldberg…
… is an excellent statement in this genre. She’s not being evasive and she’s focused on her opportunity to grow her understanding. Well done.
This on the other hand is uncalled for…
Whoopi Goldberg is in the business of putting her opinions out in public on a daily basis. I’d ask that you reflect, James and commenters here, on what it entails to put that many of your own thoughts into the public square without making the occasional ignorant, inartful, hurtful, or harsh misstep. The self-educated should all do so well as Goldberg has.
Goldberg was mostly right…that’s what makes this so stupid.
Judaism is NOT a race; religion is an artificial construct. (yes – I understand race is, as well)
When someone converts to Judaism they are not changing races.
And the Nazi’s referring to Judaism as an inferior race was just another means to denigrate them…by referring to Judaism as a race, today, is to simply promote Nazi propaganda.
Anyone surprised Fox News and the other right wing entertainment channels are spreading Nazi propaganda?
Yes – Anti-Semitism is still hate, and it’s wrong in the worst way, it’s just not racism.
That’s an excellent point that’s been on the tip of my mind, but I wasn’t sure quite how to articulate it.
But I think, also, that the difference between the Nazi view of Jews and the way anti-Semitism is incorporated into white supremacy today is a matter of degree rather than kind. Among white supremacists, Jews have long been seen as the shadowy cabal pulling the strings and propping up “degenerate” races. This was a recurring theme in Nazi propaganda (as in this cartoon), and it still comes up today; it formed the basis of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting (the man was upset over the so-called “caravan of migrants,” and he blamed it on Jews), and it’s used in a more understated way by many on the right who promote the so-called replacement theory.
There’s an alternate idea that you find in certain strands of black nationalism that posits Jews as the ultimate white oppressors, who ran the slave trade, who injected AIDS into black babies. So we get this from both sides, so to speak. We’re always thought to be secretly oppressing someone, that’s for sure.
When you use the same word for a faith and people, you’re going to have this problem. That’s just the way semantics work – when the same word has two slight different but valid definitions, you’ll have those who will get cranky if you use the “wrong” one for their worldview.
BTW I think ethnicist (pronounced ‘nith-cist) could catch on in time. It does flow nicely when cursing – you damned ‘nithcist! Ugh, you’re being so ‘nithy Dad!
Meanwhile in the real world, the National Butterfly Center has been closed indefinitely after multiple attacks on their employees by Republican terrorists, but yeah I’m really worried about the multi-millionaire who got a two week vacation.
“Faith” is a really large component of Christianity, of a Christian worldview. In other religions, not so much or even very little. To use “faith” as a synonym for “religion” is to articulate a specifically Christian perspective, what Christions define religiousity to consist of.
Historically, Jews are not so much a race (a term which is meaningless in the contect of the ancient Mediterranean), but they were a People (or “ethnos” – something bigger than a single tribe, but not quite a nation, because – again – that term doesn’t fit the context).
In the context of the ancient Mediterranean world, religion and ethnicity traditionally coincided. Gods tended to be local rather than universal.
Thus, each “ethnos” generally had its own, unique gods. Because of the Roman conquests (and subsequent romanization) there was a lot of religious syncretism, which led to Jupiter = Zeus, etc. (despite these gods originally being very different from each other), as well as the general adoption and spread of new cults throughout the ancient world.
However, the Jewish people generally did not participate in this process, and ethnicity and religion continued to coincide far more than was the case with other peoples and tribes.
So yeah, religion and ethnicity used to be pretty much the same thing. Jews, more than others, have maintained that tradition.
Many people today would be surprised to learn that the term corresponds with the ancient Hebrew word goy. Originally, that word didn’t mean Gentile or non-Jew. Indeed, in the Bible, God promises Abraham his descendants will be a goy gadol, which is usually translated as “great nation,” though it wasn’t nation in the modern sense of the citizenry of a country, and indeed, Greek translations of the Bible did use the word ethnos for this concept.
But it isn’t the ancient definition that dictates the modern one; there’s also the effect that the diaspora has had, the fact that Jews are spread all across the globe and have become citizens of numerous countries. Even by the early 20th century there was still an overwhelming convention of not referring to Jews as being part of the national identity of the country where they lived–so for instance a Polish Jew wasn’t called a Pole, just a Jew living in Poland, even if their family had been there for hundreds of years.
Thats why Serwer gets paid the big bucks. I think he’s always worth a read on race.
Yup. I have always wondered the degree to which Black concerns about Jews is tied up in Southern Christianity or if its a case of one minority group being pitted against another “more successful” one. Though I guess, channeling that meme, “why can’t it be both?”
Great point. There was always the theory of “return” baked into it. Do you think that had anything to do with the Crusades and the recapture of the holy land and the reestablishment of Isreal?
Also, I have heard the same thing said of modern Palestinians (not trying to raise a political argument here). Just this feels like a very unique byproduct of having a homeland cease to exist.
I think the obvious answer is corporate CYA and virtue signaling. Forcing her to take a break signals that management is “serious” in a way that letting her immediately come back on air does not. It also gives management time to stick their finger into the wind. If the Twitter mob gives a thumbs-down, then the break will become permanent. If the mob is sated, then she can come back. Whoopi will probably get a pass and come back and my view is that she shouldn’t be fired for this. I’m with you in that an apology is sufficient and the “time for reflection” is basically bullshit.
As far as Whoopi’s comments, viewing race and racism through a parochial American lens is actually pretty common. There seem to be a lot of people who cannot think of racism outside of the American experience and the peculiar ways we think about race.
I’ve never watched the View, so can’t comment on it. But what’s weird is that everything I know about it comes from conservative sources. Hot Air, for example, frequently highlights dumb things people on the show say and they and others also follow the various dramas with the token conservatives on the panel. I’ve never heard or read anything about the View on left-wing sites until this Whoopi thing. It’s a microcosm of how ideological bubbles work in our politics.
Just reading the comments now and I think you make a lot of good points. I wasn’t aware of the history of Whoopi’s stage name. And you’re right about Jews and race – case-in-point, there are black Jews in my family. But I think a lot of this gets back to what I said about the peculiar way our country looks at the race – mostly as a binary between “white” and everyone else.
@Andy: I’m still morbidly curious to see how conservatives incorporate this flap into their claims about “cancel culture.” I don’t think they’re going to defend her as the victim of cancel culture, even though there really is no essential difference in a lot of stuff they complain about that’s happened to conservatives.
So far, I saw a comment on it by Piers Morgan last night. This is what he said:
Um…no. Calling Jews hook-nosed, greedy bankers taking over the world would be a racist comment. Goldberg is simply ignorant about certain elements of the Holocaust, the way a lot of people are ignorant about the Holocaust and other historical events.
And I love the way he frames it as being racist “for Jewish people,” as if what constitutes racism is entirely a matter of the perspective of the group being offended.
Yes. And it’s worth mentioning that Serwer is himself a black Jew.
I don’t means-test my sympathies, but setting that aside it is depressing to see that in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of an ongoing effort to overthrow democracy, this is what we’re focusing on.
I don’t know what the situation is for this particular incident as I haven’t read the right-wing sites on this yet, but typically conservatives and liberals both in comparable situations focus on the hypocrisy and dumb/outrageous statements made by liberal/conservative commentators. It’s typical red-meat “reporting” that highlights anything bad from the other side while ignoring everything else.
@Stormy Dragon: wow. I thought that might be snark. Silly me, of course they did.
An interesting broader aspect of this situation – to me at least – is who gets grace and who doesn’t in these public controversies.
I think it’s probably true that Whoopi is getting more grace here than a white person would have who said the same thing, much less a white conservative for example.
A lot of the justifications and arguments for or against firing someone for some stupid thing they said come down to judgments about their intentions which are usually based on which “side” they are on. And trying to judge people’s intentions requires, shall we say, quite a bit of projection, assumption, or magical thinking.
Comparing this situation to Ilya Shapiro, for instance, the interpretations of the divined inner motivations of these two people are quite different. Whoopie’s comments were objectively wrong and ignorant – Shapiro’s single word choice of “lesser” requires making assumptions about what he intended (if anything) in using that word and what it means. No one knows for certain what Shapiro meant yet many claim it cannot be anything other than racism. And some of those same people have turned around and are giving Whoopi grace.
And then you have someone like Mike Pesca, who was basically fired from Slate for stating a wrong opinion on the internal Slack channel. The opinion? That the NYT should not have fired Don McNeill. Or there’s the famous case of David Schor, the progressive data analyst, who was fired for tweeting peer-reviewed and objectively accurate research by a black academic. Some other firm hired him, but secretly, so they wouldn’t feel the rage of the dumb Twitter mob.
There are lots of other examples.
One of the reasons that I’m against canceling/firing people is that no one is even trying to use even standards. Have the wrong opinion – get fired. Platform the wrong person – get fired. Tweet an inconvenient truth – get fired. Say something dumb – get fired. Say something that the uncharitable will twist into racism – get fired.
What’s lacking here is any kind of standard or definition for what is and isn’t beyond the pale.
What is the objective criteria that determines that McNeill, Pesca, Schor and others all get fired while Whoopi doesn’t (yet)?
Rather these things seem to be based mainly on the vagaries and size of the Twitter mob and ideology.
I like this from Scott F:
That can apply to a lot of people, not just Whoopi. The contrast in attitudes is pretty stark and it’s corrosive.
It’s justice as defined and delivered by Twitter mob, and one does not achieve justice by employing unjust means. Twitter and Facebook have been like arsenic in the national bloodstream.
I’m not so sure about that. Black vs. Jewish shit has gotten a tremendous amount of attention for the past several decades, so I think that Goldberg, as a black woman, is likelier to be held in suspicion for anti-Semitic beliefs when she makes comments like this than a white person would.
Well, I mean it was snark, just snark tied to something that actually happened. =)
This is right, I think.
It links well to your appreciation of her apology as well. There are plenty of really smart people who don’t acknowledge their mistakes and a chunk of those who do reference them only do so as lip service.
In what world? Trump ran around telling racist birther lies about Obama, launched his 2016 campaign with xenophobic lies about about Mexican migrants, retweed during that campaign neo-Nazi and skinhead accounts, praised pro-Confederates who palled around with tiki torch Nazis that chanted “the Jews will not replace us,” and then in the middle of the 2020 campaign tweeted a video of a man telling, “White Power!”
Despite (and for) this a majority of our nation’s white voters rewarded him with the presidency in 2016, a majority of their votes in 2020, and the intent to re-install him into the presidency in 2024.
Is Trump no longer claiming to be conservative?
This. A bit disturbing Whoopi didn’t know Hitler’s Nazis viewed themselves as a master race and Jews (and others) as subhuman outcasts. That’s Holocaust 101. Did she go to high school in McGinn County, Tennessee? Get this lady a copy of Maus, please.
That said, hard to see this as anything but another overblown culture war tempest in a teapot distraction that will be forgotten in a month, after the usual suspects finish whining about “woke cancel culture!!!11!!!” Although, at least, outrage over bad Holocaust history is more legit than flipping out over Dr. Suess, Mr. Potato Head, M&Ms and Big Bird.
Trump deleted emai– I mean, destroyed coup documents and threw Pence under the bus (again) while admitting to treason (again). Meanwhile, fellow traitor Josh Hawley, a sitting senator, is spewing Russian propagangda and saying Russia’s dictator should choose US and European allies, not Europe and the US.
Like…enjoy your vacay, Whoopi, but who cares?
As I recall, this was a major reason you got out of kid lit, am I remembering that correctly?
Speaking of conservative views on this, Hot Air has a new post about this by their best and least right-wing author, Allahpundit, which basically agrees with James’ post:
His theory as to why is the same as mine:
It didn’t help.
You may be right, but from a management perspective the choice of suspension makes sense in couple other ways. Firing is the ultimate penalty, pretty much, and what she said wasn’t holocaust denial, so it would be unwise to make her punishment the same. Also, Whoopie probably is working under a contract and termination carries legal issues. I imagine ABC’s lawyers expressed doubt they could make the claim her comments were anti-Semitic stick in a court of law.
Furthermore, if I was Whoops I’d welcome a time-out right now.
Shapiro wrote: “But alas doesn’t fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman.”
I’m not sure how “lesser” suddenly becomes so hard to understand, or open to multiple interpretations, especially in context (“intersectionality hierarchy”). How Shapiro should have been treated following his tweet can be debated, but his meaning was pretty clear.
Language, how does that work? I recall years ago hearing some Arab leader respond to being called antisemitic by saying he couldn’t be antisemitic, as he himself was a semite. A very lawyerly statement in that was both true and a complete lie.
I’d add that, just as decades ago we collectively decided Irish and Italians were white, we have pretty much accepted Jews as white, neo-Nazis not withstanding. Blacks, not yet. It’s easy to sympathize with Goldberg’s remark.
@Andy: “One of the reasons that I’m against canceling/firing people is that no one is even trying to use even standards. Have the wrong opinion – get fired. Platform the wrong person – get fired. Tweet an inconvenient truth – get fired. Say something dumb – get fired. Say something that the uncharitable will twist into racism – get fired.”
The common problem here is not “cancellation,” which generally means people say bad stuff about you on Twitter, but firing. Seems to me that the answer lies in not policing what mobs of morons with too much time on their hands say on Twitter, but actually having employment laws like those in most of the civilized world where a worker can’t just be fired at whim. Granted, I’m sure that someone can start screaming “socialism” here, but it would make the free speech problems go away and make life better for most Americans.
Oh, right. Make life better for Americans. That’s what a “conservative” calls socialism.
@Monala: “I’m not sure how “lesser” suddenly becomes so hard to understand,”
It’s hard to make a man understand something if his paycheck depends on him not understanding it.
Or, in some cases, his ideology.
Or membership in a group, don’t want to fail any litmus tests.
Add my name to that list. Speaking as a Jew, this ia ridiculous. I do find it interesting, though, that the loudest voices shouting about it all seem not to be Jewish.
You’re surprised by this? 😉
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
LOL, sadly, I’m not even a little bit surprised by it.
All Jewish Americans I know see themselves as white. The US Census does not recognize Jews as a “race.” I seriously doubt American Jews, vast majority of whom have been assimilated into American mainstream culture, would want the Census Bureau to start including box in the race/ethnicity column labeled “Jewish.” But perhaps I’m wrong. To me, Jewishness pertains to a set of religious beliefs, but I’m aware many Jews regard themselves as a “people” (this, of course, suggests a “race”) and even as a “tribe.” Within Israel it goes without saying. Many American Jews, even those who are observant to one degree or another, might disagree. I think Whoopi Goldberg was not wrong to say what she did.
@Michael Reynolds: What was she ignorant of? Jewish Americans I know all see themselves as white. Would Jewish Americans want a box on the Census forms labeled “Jewish”? I seriously doubt it.
@Matt Lazarus: Nobody has denied that most Jews in the United States today would consider themselves white and would be considered white by most other Americans. The issue is that that wasn’t the case for Jews in Nazi Germany; they were unquestionably viewed and treated as an inferior race.