The Problem with Politicizing Genocide: Whoopi Goldberg Makes Outlandish Holocaust Comments

whoopi goldberg holocaust
Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

February 6, 2022

A black-on-black-on-white genocide in Africa disrupt’s Goldberg’s “race as seen” logic. 

Whoopi Goldberg’s statements on the Holocaust on Jan. 31 led to the outrage of the Jewish community and mass debate in American politics. This was exacerbated by additional statements made since her initial comments. The precedent these statements set must now also be discussed. 

The ripple effect of politicizing historically documented facts is that they bleed outside the lines of politics. They bleed into social wounds. Wounds become infected, and outbursts of violence rise to the surface. 

The Holocaust Defined by Race Hatred

Goldberg’s statements on ABC’s The View positioned Hitler’s Holocaust as “white on white” violence. 

“Let’s be truthful about it, the Holocaust isn’t about race. It’s not about race, it’s not about race, it’s not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man,” Goldberg said. 

Co-host Ann Navarro responded with, “ But it’s about white supremacists going after Jews.” 

Goldberg then made her argument that Jews and Germans are “two white groups of people.” She said that talking about the Holocaust from a racial context takes it down an alley, arguing that it doesn’t matter if one is “black, white, Jewish,’ it matters how people treat each other. 

The fundamental problem with her argument is that it contradicts the facts. Adolf Hitler’s public messaging stated otherwise. It was Nazi doctrine to purge Europe of all but the master race Hitler envisioned, a race of “pure Aryans.” 

For this reason, Adolf Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews, Sintis, and other “non-Aryans,” in brutal labor and death camps. The camps were religious fanatic torture dungeons of mad science, grotesque punishment, and indescribable death. 

These are well-known public facts.Yet, no matter how often they are reiterated, they cannot lose their meaning. The Holocaust was absolutely about race and twisted politicized racial diversity in Europe, which escalated to the the peak point of human erasure and genocide. 

To clarify, the Holocaust was perhaps not about humanity, because there was no human explanation for it. There can never be. One cannot downplay its horror to suit today’s discussion of racial conflict. 

Goldberg then attempted to correct her mistake, by appearing on Stephen Colbert’s show, where she said that she views “race as something she can see.” This was a continuation of her comments made on The View where she explained her position that the Holocaust was not about race because “you can’t tell if someone is Jewish,” based on appearance. 

One could fall into a rabbit hole explaining the many contradictions that Goldberg should have been aware of before she stated this. The Jewish community pointed out that Goldberg should “return” the name she borrowed for her fame moniker, in an op-ed published by New York Post. The commentator referred to the fact that Whoopi Goldberg is a name that Goldberg herself selected, having been born “Caryn Johnson.” 

Jews in the Holocaust were often identified by more than mere appearance. Rather, Nazis could identify them by their surnames, with “Goldberg,” ironically being a common surname among Jews living in the Third Reich. 

Goldberg’s Statements and the Split-Hair of Race Identity 

The fact that Goldberg chose the surname at the least implies she did some research to find a new name for herself. It has since been drawn to public attention that, in the 1990s, Goldberg claims to have had a Jewish ancestor from which she intentionally chose this name. The Times of Israel notes that Goldberg’s ancestral claim has “brought to the fore” many questions that have been difficult to answer over the years, such as if Jews are white people and if Goldberg is Jewish. 

The question posed here was whether Jews can be defined singularly by their ethnic markers, as Judaism is also a culture and a religion. The Times of Israel commented on the fact that, in Hitler’s case, Jews were defined as a “Slavic-descended” and “impure” immigrant demographic of Europe. In the case of the Holocaust, racial identiy was the motivation. 

Goldberg’s statements have split the hair over what can be defined as racial identification markers, and what, therefore, can be considered racism.

Race is More Than What is Seen

Goldbeg’s statements as “race as something she can see,” appears to position racism as something that can only happen between dark-skinned people and light-skinned people. What Goldberg fails to note in her statements is that dark-skinned people and light-skinned people are diverse within their characteristic demographic types. 

To illustrate, there are members of Imazighen tribal bands in North Africa who appear fair-haired and sometimes even blue-eyed. Imazighen, however, are indigenous people of North Africa, pre-dating the arrival of Arabic-speaking groups. The Greeks and Arabs came to know these people as “Berbers” which the Western world today commonly referred to them as. This term, however, is a racial slur for Imazighen people because it derives from a Greek word meaning “savage.” 

Imazighen themselves are not a homogenous group in appearance. Some have intermarried with the dark-skinned indigenous groups of North Africa, and have more of their appearance, save for tribal traditional attire. Historically, Imazighen people have also intermarried with the Jewish Diaspora of North Africa.

In general, Goldberg needs only look to Africa to understand that inter-racial conflict can be more than what is seen. An example is the massacres under Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe. 

Robert Mugabe’s Campaign Illustrates Nuances

Robert Mugabe was the dictator of Zimbabwe following its independence from British colonization in 1980. Mugabe was a leader of the movement to oust the white-ruling government of former-Rhodesia. He is described, in his Britannica profile, as a “Black Nationalist of Marxist persuasion.” 

Mugabe’s Black nationalism and Marxism, is similar in its messaging to some of critical race theories current arguments, on whiteness and white privilege. 

Yet, Mugabe’s messaging, and the cutthroat politics surrounding it, led to a genocide targeting both blacks and whites of his country. Mugabe’s genocide illustrates the nuances of racially-motivated state crimes. It also serves as an illustration of the pitfalls found in politicizing race, and the politics that lead to genocide. 

Mugabe’s “Rain That Washes Away” 

The BBC describes Mugabe as “a liberator turned tyrant.” Mugabe secured power with empty promises of coalition government, and later betrayed his public messaging. He later set out to destroy the economic-hold that Zimbabwe’s white farmers had on the fertile land of the state. As he did so, the country, save only a few elites that were in Mugabe’s favor, fell into extreme poverty, as the economic structure of the nation was rapidly plunged into disorder. 

It was during the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe that, along with a local indigenous Black African group called Ndebele, members of the small minority of White Zimabweans were ethnically cleansed. This began its violent episode in roughly 1982, a short two years after Zimbabwe’s independence. 

The years of Mugabe’s ethnic cleansing are known in the local Shona tribal language as “Gukurahundi,” meaning “Rain That Washes Away The Chaff.” Operation Gukurahundi lasted from 1982 to 1987, see the database of Open UCT Zimbabwe. It was led by the Fifth Brigade, an army unit trained by North Koreans and responsible to Robert Mugabe. The army was initially tasked with seeking out 400 political dissidents, but, through grotesque violence, massacred 20,000 civilians in the Midlands and Matabeleland Provinces, Zimbabwe. 

As recently as 2017, Robert Mugabe vowed that he would not prosecute those Zimbabweans who lynched white farmers, according to Newsweek. This followed a trend of such ethnic killing and brutality in Mugabe’s dictatorial reign. Reuters recalled reports of Mugabe’s army forcing victims, white and black, to dig their own graves in some cases before they were executed. 

This was state-sanctioned violence toward a large group of black people and a minority demographic of white people, a fact that challenges America’s public messaging on racial politics in the world theater. How does America explain or justify the dual narrative of equality for all its sentences, while also enforcing narratives that echo Mugabe’s campaign? 

What Mugabe’s example tells us is that Goldberg’s view of “race as something she can see” is not realistic when observing genocides. Mugabe’s ethnic cleansings targeted both blacks and whites. 

The inherent “whiteness” of the white farmers of Zimbabwe, and their “white privilege” did not make them any less susceptible to the brutalization and lynch mob killing that continues to menace them even in recent history. In fact, it was quite the opposite, with political narratives, similar to those we see in American critical race arguments, leading to ethnically motivated killings of white farmers. 

A Further Note on Southern Africa and Racial Violence 

The historian Christopher Saunders recalls lynching mobs attacking white South Africans in his book Lynching: The Southern African Case. Saunders notes the killing of white people by black lynch mobs, usually over land and racially motivated by resentment for colonization. 

He also notes a state-sanctioned episode of such violence occurred when Jewish “Israelite” people were fatally shot by police in the Eastern Cape. 

In Southern Africa, racial discrimination against white people is driven by some of the same narratives that drive “white vs. black” politics in the United States. The black populations are still embittered against the whites for colonization, and much of the hatred is retaliatory for the age of apartheid. The difference between American and South African politics is that whites are the minority in Southern Africa and are therefore a vulnerable people group for targeted hate crimes. 

A misconception Western people seem to hold regarding White Southern Africans, and White Zimbabweans is why they do not simply “choose to leave.” Many ponder the fact that these white people are immigrants and are not indigenous to the African continent. What they fail to register is, just as white people have lived in America for many generations, some of the white minority of Southern Africa have lived in the former colonial region for at least five generations. To the current generation, Africa is their home. 

This highlights the problem of discriminating against a minority by demanding they return land or return to land that held historic significance to their people group. Historical significance of land ownership is a common denominator continuing to fuel race hatred. Those societies who learn coexistence between the historical and modern mixed demographic populations appear to fare the most peaceably. 

Coexistence Shows Importance in Zimbabwe’s Social Peace Attempts

In recent history, some Zimbabweans even welcomed the return of white farmers to the black-owned farms in a mutual partnership, reported by Qatari-emirati owned Al Jazeera. Because of the heated politicization of land ownership, Zimbabweans, as of 2020, are reportedly reluctant over land agreements. 

Some Zimbabweans believed the land resettlement was a “partisan process” that “favored certain elites” while leaving the people of the nation to starve. Others believed that it was necessary to take the land from the whites to solve the social ills of colonization. 

The land-sharing partnership works around the heated politics of the age of Mugabe’s multi-ethnic genocide, albeit imperfectly. In a small way, the demographic of Zimbabweans that appear to work toward peace between whites and blacks illustrate a model America could learn from. 

There is no way to reverse the history of colonization and slavery. Yet, coexistence is necessary to prevent the same dramatic cycle wherein critical race theory leads to violence rather than leading to African-American social empowerment. One might refer to commentary made by Condoleeza Rice in her guest appearance on The View (October 2021) for a direct contrast of the dominating liberal black-white race relations narratives and critical race theory. 

She expresses the complexity of history, and in her argument calls for Americans to understand its nuances. An illustration of such nuances is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe because it shows the reverse situation when white people, as a social minority, became the target of mass social cleansing as the direct result of Mugabe’s political messaging. 

Acknowledgment In Order?

Goldberg’s apology is perhaps not enough to reverse the precedent she has set andthe public appears to want some acknowledgement from the other members of the program.  

Joy Behar dismissed Goldberg’s suspension from the program with a noncommittal statement, according to The New York Daily News

“You all saw the news. Whoopi will be back here in two weeks. Ok,” Behar said. With that, Behar immediately drew the discussion to the topic of an upcoming speech by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. 

The View, according to The New York Daily News, did hear the statements of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. Greenblatt reiterated on the program that there is “no question,” that the Holocaust was about race. Others in the Jewish community then called for a mandate for Goldberg to spend time in the Holocaust museum for her education on the issue. 

It may do well, in further public discussion of American politics, for individuals sharing Goldberg’s views to study Zimbabwean history, for the indirect relevance it has on understand multi-faceted race relation concepts. 

Don Lemon, AOC, and “Allied” Liberal Race Views 

Don Lemon, an anchorman with CNN, was quoted by Fox News arguing that Democrats must stop “shouting down allies. He then referred to Goldberg as an “ally” of the Jewish community. He said: “In this environment, we have to be allies to each other. Sometimes your allies say stupid things.” 

A major problem with Lemon’s statements is that they are self-contradictory. Lemon cannot refer to Whoopi Goldberg as an “ally” of the Jewish community when Whoopi Goldberg has failed to acknowledge a fundamental fact about the Jewish Holocaust and the racially motivated extermination attempt of the entire Jewish race. That is not the statement of an ally. 

Even if she recants, even if she claims to be a strong supporter of Jews, this is still not the behavior of an ally. It’s not a statement that can be so gracefully repealed. Whether she had malicious intent or not in making the statement is not relevant. Goldberg, while perhaps not a direct enemy of the Jewish people, cannot be called an ally of their people group if she does not understand or express empathy with their struggle. This is a trust she has broken, and a trust that she would have to earn back. 

“Her show is called The View. Okay, her view was wrong. Let’s work with that,” said Lemon. 

Goldberg’s liberal peers are excusing a statement that they would have eviscerated another party for. 

This claim that the liberal community must work with Goldberg because she is “an ally,” further enforces the idea that fallacy or irregular opinion is only acceptable within the party. This is a concept that was supported by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who believed Goldberg’s suspension was “unnecessary,” wrote the New York Post

It appears to say that members of an opposing political policy group are enemies.

With the showcasing of Lemon’s comments on Fox News, we see the instant alienation of right-leaning people from any conversation. What could have been a discussion of the fallacies of Goldberg’s statements, as well as a bridge of distance in American viewpoints, was skewed with these statements. It adds another bruise to the insult of politicizing the Jewish genocide. 

Moving Forward 

The point of contrasting Goldberg’s views is not, of course, to diminish the experience of any single racial group discussed above. Rather, it is to explain that the politics concerning race should not be looked at with oversimplification. 

To move forward, the politicization of the past cannot continue. Perhaps one day Americans and Africans of all ethnic groups will come to understand these nuances. Whether they were right or wrong, good or evil, we are not our ancestors. 

We can love our roots and the bloodlines we come from, but we cannot change the sins of the fathers anymore than we can raise them from the dead. 

We cannot reverse the Holocaust, or bring 6 million people killed without cause back to life. No matter how we wish to do this or argue that our current problems are because of the fundamental wickedness of one another, we cannot do this. 

What we can do is emphasize the fact that we are not our ancestors. The hour calls on us to be better than they were and to learn from their example. America must not repeat the sins of Mugabe or of South Africa. They must not look at race as merely something they can see, target whites for the sins of British colonization, or target blacks in any form of political inequality. 

America’s people must be vigilant against the creeping conditions of apartheid that are hidden in narratives similar to those that Goldberg posed.


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