Flat White

Skin deep – a history of racial unrest

16 February 2022

12:00 PM

16 February 2022

12:00 PM

Whoopi Goldberg’s enormous faux pas – her insistence on The View that the Nazi Final Solution to the ‘Jewish question’ was not driven by race hatred – has sparked outrage and a two-week suspension.

There are perhaps few things more tragic than being funny unintentionally, especially if you are a comedian. But Ms Goldberg might take solace in the knowledge that all great jokes must be at someone’s expense. And if you treasure irony, then this little episode is a productive ferrous mine that will provide mirth enough for a week.

The fact that this astonishingly ahistorical statement was so forcefully stated on television by a black woman whose birth name is Caryn Johnson, and who chose to portmanteau a stage name by combining a Jewish surname with the disparaging first name ‘Whoopi’ (after the whoopee cushion) is already quite funny; that this same person thought that black women with blonde hair weaves are committing cultural appropriation is but the icing on the cake. Ms Goldberg’s misstep has precipitated the unearthing of her previously non-funny contribution of a ‘Jewish-American Princess Fried Chicken’ recipe to a charity cookbook in 1993, which the Anti-Defamation League found ‘antisemitic’, piling irony upon irony.

Many have rightly pointed out that the suspension of Ms Goldberg is misguided, but for opposite reasons. Some point to the hypocrisy of the ABC (the network that runs The View), who fired Roseanne Barr for a bad joke, and Disney (who owns ABC), who fired actress Gina Carano from the hit show The Mandalorian for alluding to fascism under the Third Reich while criticising cancel culture. Compared to this, the suspension of Ms Goldberg is indeed a gentle rebuke that this camp thinks is hypocritical and insufficient. The other camp thinks that Ms Goldberg should not be suspended – that time should be better used for her and her audience to be educated by guests who know what they are talking about. I fall into the latter camp.

It is rather amazing that someone in their sixties who has lived a colourful life do not realise that one of the animating principles of the Nazis was racial exclusionism. She obviously has no idea that the Nazis catagorised non-Aryans, including Jews, Slavs, and People of Colour as ‘Untermensch’ or subhumans. This clearly needs to be underscored. However, what is more astounding is that she seems to think that race is a concept solely dependent on skin pigmentation and that racism can only be conducted by ‘whites’ against ‘blacks’.

One might remind her that Europe is populated by scores of ethnic groups with many religions, languages, and border conflicts, and who have been at war with each other and enslaving each over these differences for millennia – all ‘whites’ as Ms Goldberg might sweepingly categorise. The Hundred Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, and the Eighty Years’ War would be some examples. The Vikings taking tens of thousands of British, Irish, Frankish, and other peoples as slaves would be another.

On the other hand, one might also remind her of the ethnic differences between ‘blacks’, as she might also casually define. Africa, like Europe, is composed of hundreds of ethnic groups that don’t always get along. Indeed, most of the slaves taken by the Arab and European slave runners were sold to them by other Africans, who also had their own African slaves. The Igbo people, now a large ethnic group in Nigeria, were a major group enslaved during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. They were enslaved and sold to the Europeans by the Aro people. As recently as 1994, more than a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda between peoples who are both ostensibly ‘black’. The Hutus-led government killed up to 800,000 Tutsis. About a third of the Pygmy Batwa people were also killed. Up to half a million of mostly Tutsi women were raped.

What might confuse Ms Goldberg even more are the Barbary pirates – North African Muslim privateers who took over a million European slaves from Britain, France, Italy, Spain and other places and sold them to the Arab slave market through the 16th to the 18th centuries. In her neat paradigm where racism is only ever committed by ‘whites’ to ‘blacks’, one wonders how this square peg will fit in her neat, round space for black victimhood.

Ms Goldberg was right on one essential point, that the chilling histories of wars and slavery are representations of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. Echoing the Latin proverb homo homini lupus est (man is wolf to man), this is almost a truism. Human cruelty is universal. She is, however, dead wrong for reserving an exclusive pedestal of evil for ‘white’ misdeeds against ‘blacks’ while ignoring history, nuance, and reality.

This is how racial tensions are given life support in a place as liberal as the USA. She might take a minute to reflect why she, an adored actor, comedian and multi-millionaire who is a host of a nationally syndicated television show, is complaining about racism. After all, she is very much the top one per cent in a country that has had a two-term black president in Obama, a black vice-president in Kamala Harris and a Native Indian vice-president in Charles Curtis. There has been 23 African-American Cabinet secretaries, two black and eight Jewish supreme court justices, 41 black mayors of cities with populations of more than 40,000 – including Washington DC, Chicago, and Dallas – not to mention the lucrative sports and entertainment industries that are dis-proportionally dominated by African-Americans.

It would surprise her that many ethnic Africans in America, including South Africans, Ghanaians, and Nigerians all have higher median household incomes than white Americans, as do other non-whites like Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Lebanese, and Iranians.

Not only is Ms Goldberg’s sweeping chiaroscuro classifications themselves racist (Christopher Hitchens brilliantly defined racism not as ‘discrimination’, but precisely the inability to discriminate individuals from their superficial collectives), her idea is antithetical to that of Dr Martin Luther King, whose brilliance was to see that the future need to be one that did without harkening to such tribal language as ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ – that our salvation was to see each other simply as fellow human beings.

This same idea was poignantly demonstrated by the actor Morgan Freeman in under a minute to an interviewer about the ridiculousness of Black History Month. ‘How are we going to stop racism?’ asked the interviewer. ‘Stop talking about it.’ answered Morgan Freeman. And this perhaps is the biggest lesson of all for Whoopi Goldberg, who clearly understands very little on the subject.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments