"Blacks and Jews" Authors: Whoopi Not the Enemy, but Gaps of Understanding are RealHistorians in the News
tags: Jewish history, racism, African American history, antisemitism, Black-Jewish Relations
Is this the end of American democracy as we know it? According to various writers at Salon and experts, "It may be too late" for us. All the signs of authoritarianism have been in motion.
For months, more and more books have been pulled from school library shelves, banned by school boards which object to content allegedly involving sex, gender and race. One of those books is "Maus" by Art Spiegelman, which a Tennessee county school board voted unanimously to eliminate from an eighth grade curriculum due to language and nudity. "Maus," which won the Pulitzer Prize, tells the true story of Spiegelman's father, a Holocaust survivor. It has since shot up the bestseller list.
But in a conversation about "Maus" on the ABC talk show "The View," host Whoopi Goldberg made comments about the Holocaust which resulted in her temporary suspension from the show. Viewer response to the action by ABC ranged from too much to not enough. Her suspension comes at a time of increased tension and confusion in America about race, racism and the Holocaust, with the secondary and post secondary educational banning of critical race theory and with extreme views given large audiences, including Holocaust denial.
Terrence L. Johnson is a professor of religion and politics at Georgetown University. Jacques Berlinerblau is a professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University. Together, they are co-authors of "Blacks and Jews in America: An Invitation to Dialogue" (Georgetown University Press, out this week) and frequent contributors to Salon.
They spoke with Salon via email about their recent article "How the Black-Jewish alliance changed America — and today's struggle for voting rights" and about the current time America seems to be in.
As you know, Whoopi Goldberg was suspended from her role as a host on "The View" after commenting, "The Holocaust isn't about race . . . It's about man's inhumanity to man. That's what it's about." She also said, "These are two white groups of people," referring to Jewish people and Nazis. What was so harmful about what she said?
Terrence L. Johnson: When Ms. Goldberg characterized the Holocaust as "man's inhumanity to man," she did so in the context of the ongoing national assault against teaching "race" or historical narratives that dismantle white American exceptionalism. Specifically, she decried the ban against the graphic novel "Maus," which explores the Holocaust and the ongoing trauma among its survivors. Ms. Goldberg attempted to lift the Holocaust above the white/Black U.S. racial binary to differentiate it from Black "problems" — an interpretive move that seemed to frame the Holocaust in biblical proportions.
The move to deny the underpinnings of white supremacy in the U.S. and elsewhere is a common strategy in debates on race and racism among liberal elites, especially Black ones, to avoid alienating potential white benefactors. If, in fact, racial (and gender) violence stems from humankind's inhumanity, and not based on white supremacy, moderate whites (according to this logic) won't feel guilty for the living sins of their ancestors and social justice movements will appeal to "broader" audiences. Framing the Holocaust as yet another example of humankind's inhumanity, Ms. Goldberg detached it from the jumbled nationwide assaults against teaching so-called critical race theory in public education to distinguish the Holocaust from the "race problem."
Jacques Berlinerblau: I'm going to take a very different approach to this question, one that I suspect is shared by many other Jews. I feel this entire episode was completely overblown. It also exemplifies recurring dysfunctions within the Black-Jewish relationship that Professor Johnson and I chronicle in our book
My mother, who watches "The View" religiously — and who is a Holocaust survivor — did not mention Ms. Goldberg's remark to me when we spoke that day. I suspect that's because, on the basis of experience, she understood Whoopi Goldberg to be a kind person, and a Jew (my mother thought Ms. Goldberg was Jewish, as opposed to Jewish-adjacent, which is what I think she is). I also suspect that my mother, like many Jewish viewers, detected exactly zero malice in the remark.
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