NICHOLS: Whoopi Goldberg Has An Important Opportunity To Talk About Racism After ‘The View’ Remarks


Jason Nichols Contributor
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Whoopi Goldberg was widely condemned and labeled an anti-Semite by some for her recent comments about the Holocaust.

She suggested that the Holocaust was “not about race” and that the inhumane treatment of European Jews by German Nazis was an issue between two white groups. She was subsequently suspended by “The View” and publicly admonished by the Anti-Defamation League. Goldberg has since apologized and the ADL has accepted. This entire ordeal brought me back to an experience in my early youth and a kid named Adam.

Adam was not someone I knew well, but we attended a summer day camp together. He was short with a bowl cut on his jet black hair and had deep brown skin. He could have easily been Latino or Arab or Indian. My curiosity about his background led me to ask him what his ethnicity was. He looked confused by the question and said he was white. I was regrettably incredulous to his assertion that he was white. White people aren’t brown even in the summertime, I thought. I honestly believed he was trying to play a joke on me. Adam quickly (and understandably) grew angry at my incredulity and again asserted “I’m white! I’m Jewish!” as though the second part of his statement substantiated the first.

My experience going to middle and high school with a decent number of Jewish students led me to believe that to deny the whiteness of Ashkenazi Jews was in and of itself anti-Semitic. The attempt by their ancestors’ enemies in Europe to racially other them was once used as justification to discriminate against, ghettoize and murder them. We were taught to recognize their whiteness and normalize their cultural and religious distinctions. I now see how this was in some ways a misguided approach as well.

Today, Whoopi Goldberg and the ADL have been presented with a big opportunity to attack all forms of racism. Race is not a biological construct, it is a social one — one that changes over time and distance. At the beginnings of the 20th century, Italians and Irish people were not considered white in the U.S. Noel Ignatiev wrote a book entitled, “How the Irish Became White,” detailing how race is not a biological fact, but that racialization is a social process. According to experts, Human beings share 99.9% of their DNA. A 2002 groundbreaking study out of Stanford found of the 4,000 alleles (genetic material), only 7.4% were found to be specific to one region of the world. The 7.4% region specific alleles only appeared in 1% of the population from that region. Adolf Hitler used power to racialize Jewish and Slavic people, as the U.S. did to Natives and people of African descent.

Another genocidal dictator, Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, is also a prime example of the dangers of nationalistic racialization. Tojo brutally murdered upwards of 20 million Chinese and Southeast Asian men, women and children.  Part of his rationale was a racial narrative he created in which the Japanese were a separate and superior race to the Chinese and Southeast Asian people. In the 21st century, especially in a US context, we construct Chinese and Japanese people as the same race. Tojo’s belief in Japanese racial superiority is further evidence that racial categories don’t travel across time and space.

Racialization has been used by those who want to hoard power over others, even when phenotypic differences are miniscule or unrecognizable. Hutu and Tutsi. “Arab” Sudanese versus Southern (Black) Sudanese. Serbs and Bosniaks. Dominicans and Haitians.

I appreciate the Anti-Defamation League’s compassion and they are an indispensable organization. However, now would be a good time to remind people of how race works. It has a material reality but not a biological one and often not even a phenotypic one. The ultimate rejection of Hitler and his despicable Anti-Semitism is to not lend credence to the idea that Jews, Slavic people or Black people are biologically different from “whites” (or anyone else)by engaging in an argument over whether Jews are white or not. The focus should be placed upon the fact that power hungry people create differences and often naturalize nationalistic fervor.

The ADL has acknowledged that Goldberg was misinformed but not malicious. Ignorance is a gateway to Anti-Semitism and Anti-black racism. The way to cut off ignorance at the knees is to discuss and disprove it proactively. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt seems to be a sincere and understanding leader for the organization. He rightly stated in an appearance on CNN that we don’t need cancel culture, we need “counsel culture” for good faith actors. However, he suggested that he’s going to work with Whoopi, when so many others need the help. There should be a longer conversation about race as a social construct, and I hope the ADL and others in the civil rights community lead that charge.

Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and the cohost of the Daily Caller’s Vince & Jason Save The Nation.