Whoopi's Holocaust Flap Reveals the Danger of American Race Rhetoric | Opinion

On Monday's segment of the ABC talk show The View, Whoopi Goldberg overstepped the mark by claiming that the Holocaust was "not about race." Goldberg apologized quickly, and was suspended for two weeks. And yet, it's little comfort for those concerned about antisemitism and other ethnic conflicts. Goldberg's comments are just the latest reminder that the American conversation about race is changing the way we view the world—and not for the better. We've become a nation of people who can't recognize violence unless it's by white people against people of a different race.

One could see the bones of a good argument in Goldberg's surrounding statements, which centered on Holocaust education, and the fact that what Goldberg called "man's inhumanity to man" could reoccur at that level. But her clumsy wording ended up giving the impression that she believed the Holocaust wasn't about Jews, and she later reiterated the point on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, calling the Holocaust "white-on-white" crime.

Let's be clear: the Holocaust was about the Jews. It was about the Nazis' view that Jews were of a different, inferior race, and their attempt to erase what they viewed as the Jewish race from the face of the earth.

Of course, Goldberg isn't the first to make this grievous error and erase the uniquely racist atrocities of the Holocaust, or their uniquely Jewish victims. The Soviet Union embargoed discussion of the Jewish aspect of the Holocaust for generations, believing it would overshadow the sacrifice made by all of its citizens. To this day, monuments on Nazi massacre sites like Babi Yar Ravine are inscribed to "peaceful Soviet citizens."

Whoopi Goldberg Slammed by Rosie O'Donnell, Jenny McCarthy
US actress Whoopi Goldberg is pictured attending the New York premiere of 'Nobody's Fool' at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on October 28, 2018, in New York City. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

But it's not just a problem with recognizing violence against Jews. In China, similar misunderstandings brew. In December, the Uyghur Tribunal found that China's state-run reeducation and forced labor camps targeting Uyghur Muslims in China constitute genocide. And yet, the reaction from America was decidedly muted. There were no boycotts of products sourced from China, a country whose government has enslaved, forcibly sterilized, and overseen the rape and murder of an estimated 1–3 million of its own citizens.

The non-reaction to China's crimes against humanities should not be unsurprising, though. Americans are becoming increasingly incapable of recognizing violence when it occurs—as it mostly does—between people who read as the same race, or when the perpetrators aren't white, even when human rights abuses and atrocities are at stake.

You can see this in how many Left-wing Americans now talk about the Middle East, too. More than 60 percent of Israeli Jews trace their heritage to Arab countries, yet Israel is often declared a racist regime by many on the Left for its restrictions on Palestinian Arab non-citizens. But just to Israel's north stands Lebanon, a country whose restrictions on native-born Palestinians are worse than Israel's, which has largely avoided similar international censure. Unlike in Israel, Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from owning businesses and property, or receiving public healthcare and education. Where is the outrage?

Because it's harder to cast it as "racism" from a white perpetrator against a non-white victim, no one cares. It's why there's no outrage about the Houthi rebel atrocities in Yemen, or Saudi Arabia's restrictions on women and dissidents, or China's human rights abuses against Hong Kong. Americans are blind to all of this because it doesn't fit their narrative.

Our newfound blindness to racism from people who are not white or violence that is not racial stems from the fact that the definition of racism has gone through a sea change in recent years. In June 2020, Merriam-Webster revised the dictionary definition of racism to include systemic oppression. The Anti-Defamation League further transformed the word in July 2020, codifying it as "oppression against people of color" that "privileges white people."

The idea behind these changes was to shine a light on the workings of modern American racism. But this heightened understanding of ourselves comes at the expense of the greater world.

Ironically, racism was once defined in the context of Nazi Germany's antisemitic Nuremberg Laws that stripped Jews of their citizenship. One draft definition of the word for the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defined "racism" as "the Nazi assumption of Teutonic superiority and attendant anti-Semitism."

No doubt, structural racism is still present in the U.S., and it damages minorities here in many ways. More awareness about it is a good thing. But awareness isn't a zero-sum game. When this awareness comes at the expense of the nuance of other situations, we're laying the groundwork for future tragedies.

Ed Weinberg is an American journalist who writes on architecture, international issues, and anti-Semitism. You can find more of his work at edweinberg.com.

The views in this article are the writer's own.