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Whoopi Goldberg's Holocaust ignorance said more about America than her

The co-host of "The View" was wrong in saying the Holocaust wasn't "about race." Her misunderstanding is rooted in how race is determined in America.


ABC News suspended "The View" co-host Whoopi Goldberg for two weeks after the actor claimed the Holocaust wasn’t “about race.” The incident offered a lesson in how race is determined in America.

Goldberg, who identifies as Jewish, made the comment on Monday’s show while reacting to a Tennessee school board's decision to ban "Maus," a popular graphic novel about the Holocaust, from school curricula. 

Goldberg said the Holocaust involved “two groups of white people” and, thus, wasn’t about race but rather “man’s inhumanity to man.” The remarks were false, but they also reveal the complexity of race in America and the trouble we can encounter in ascribing our nation’s rigid view of race to conflicts in other countries.

Before we get to that, here’s a chunk of her remarks to give context:

But you’re missing the point. The minute you turn it into race, it goes down this alley. Let’s talk about it for what it is. It’s how people treat each other. It’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white. Because Black, white, Jews, Italians — everybody eats each other. So is it — if you’re uncomfortable if you hear about 'Maus,' should you be worried? Should your child say, 'Oh, my God — I wonder if that’s me?' No, that’s not what they’re going to say. They’re going to say, 'I don’t want to be like that.'

Goldberg may have thought she was mounting an effective defense of “Maus,” but she was quite off-base in suggesting the Holocaust wasn’t about race. In fact, the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, sought to create a master “Aryan” race of blonde, blue-eyed Germans through forced migration, sterilization and mass murder. He was clear that in his construction of race, even fair-skinned Jewish people — who might be deemed white in America — were outsiders.

German Nazis certainly admired the way white Americans instituted racism into law. But they didn’t adopt America’s racial hierarchy at the time, a system in which an array of white people with varying eye and hair colors shared power over supposedly inferior “races” of Black and brown people. 

Here are words Hitler wrote in his 1925 manifesto, "Mein Kampf":

With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people. With every means he tries to destroy the racial foundations of the people he has set out to subjugate.

Anger over miscegenation, or mixing “races,” is ... how do I say this ... a major theme in "Mein Kampf." Hitler’s also wrote:

The result of all racial crossing is therefore in brief always the following: (a) Lowering of the level of the higher race; (b) Physical and intellectual regression and hence the beginning of a slowly but surely progressing sickness. To bring about such a development is, then, nothing else but to sin against the will of the eternal creator. Everything we admire on this earth today—science and art, technology and inventions — is only the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps of one race.

Goldberg was wrong to claim the Holocaust wasn’t between “two groups of white people" — and not just because we know many nonwhite people were killed, including nonwhite Jewish people. It’s also because Nazism created a society in which racial purity was narrowly defined, and virtually all Jewish people found themselves on the outskirts. Yes, even those who look white to us.

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