What we can learn from Whoopi

The Standard February 10, 2022

On Monday morning, January 31 the women on “The View” discussed a novel about the Holocaust, “Maus,” being pulled from a Tennessee school. A co-host guessed the reason for parents’ concern about the book’s contents, and Moderator Whoopi Goldberg responded, “Well, this is White people doing it to White people. So, y’all go fight amongst yourselves.” Later in the discussion, Goldberg said, “the Holocaust isn’t about race.” “No. It is not about race.” She said it was about “man’s inhumanity to man” because “these are two white groups of people.”

Understandably, Goldberg’s comments created a firestorm. Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Auschwitz Memorial along with many individuals condemned her statements. She went on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that night in order to explain herself. “I thought it was a salient discussion because as a Black person I think of race as being something that I can see, so I see you and I know what race you are and the discussion was about how I felt about that,” she said. “People were vey angry and they said, ‘No, no. We are a race,’ and I understand,’” she continued. “I felt differently.” Colbert then asked Goldberg, “Have you come to understand that the Nazis saw it as race? Because asking the Nazis, they would say, ‘Yes. It’s a racial issue.’” Goldberg replied, “The Nazis lied. It wasn’t. They had issues with ethnicity, not with race, because most of the Nazis were White people and most of the people they were attacking were White people. So, to me, I’m thinking, ‘How can you say it’s about race if you are fighting each other?’  “So, I said, this wasn’t racial. This was about white on white.”

Goldberg made an on-air apology as well as apologies on Twitter. She said she never meant to offend anyone with her original comments and that she always has stood with the Jewish people. Whoopi, in fact, was born Caryn Johnson. She took on the stage name Whoopi Goldberg partly to raise eyebrows with a Jewish-sounding last name. According to The Times of Israel, in 2016 Goldberg told a London audience, “I just know I am Jewish. I practice nothing. I don’t go to temple, but I do remember the holidays.” She is a comedian, so some are forgiving of her joking about such stereotypes.

What can we learn from Whoopi? First of all, we should be very careful how we speak about such a brutal reality like the Holocaust. Many of us remember from history classes that in Adolf Hitler’s mind, the Germans or the Aryans were the “master race” or the pure race and that the Jews were subhumans or “untermenschen.” Chapter 11 of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on “Nation and Race” is about as opposed to God’s design as anything could be and is pure evil. We should be aware that approximately six million Jewish people were annihilated due to this horrific ideology and never should allow this kind of thinking to creep into our country.

We should make it a habit to listen in order to learn and choose our words carefully when we speak. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1: 19-20)

Secondly, we could remind ourselves that our perspectives are extremely limited by time and place. The things we see and experience largely have an impact on how we view any given topic, but there is much we don’t see. For Whoopi, she was not acknowledging a racial component of the Holocaust because she was comparing it to her experiences of racism in the Unites States. It could be easy for us to draw this same conclusion if we were not conscious of world history and specifics of the devastating institution of slavery. Evidence shows that slavery started thousands of years before the 1860 BC writing of the Code of Hammurabi in Mesopotamia. After that, over the course of thousands of years, slavery became a tragic part of almost every nation’s history. In some places slaveholders or those who sold people into slavery had the same skin color as the slaves themselves.

Thirdly, we can remember that just as Whoopi does not want to be called “anti-Semitic” or “racist” based not on actions, but on horribly chosen words, we should not label others while knowing very little about them. Jesus warns, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Finally, it is important for us to extend grace and to forgive. Hopefully Whoopi will be overwhelmed with forgiveness and will be moved to forgive others. As Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

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