Like Whoopi Goldberg, I once thought that Jews were white. In the poor Houston neighborhood where I grew up, religion was everywhere. There was a Christian church at the end of the block on the left, another on the right and one across the street. To me, it seemed like most of my neighbors were Black Baptists like my family, with a few Muslims sprinkled in. There were no Jews that I was aware of.
As a kid, I didn't think about Jews as "Jews," or a race or ethnic group different from white people. They blended into the blank canvass of whiteness with other light-skinned people who treated my dark-skinned family like outsiders unworthy of respect.
The company's leaders fumbled a critical opportunity to engage in honest and much-needed dialogue that could have led to healing.
Besides, I had much bigger personal problems to deal with. Since kindergarten, I'd been targeted by bullies. Even my father, a salesman who didn't marry my mother or give me his name, was revulsed having a "fag” for his son. He used his Christian beliefs to justify his cruelty. And my mom started "the talk" — a conversation many Black parents have with their kids to protect them from a world that sees them as a threat to be extinguished — before I was old enough to walk to school on my own.
The childhood scales that clouded my eyes began to clear as I studied the civil rights movement and learned about the Holocaust. Still, all the Jews I knew were Caucasian. Except for Sammy Davis Jr., who joked, "I'm colored, Jewish and Puerto Rican. When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out!" Witnessing him helped me see that Jewish identity is more complicated than our binary thinking allows, even as some Jewish people appear to be white.
Goldberg ignited an inferno when she commented that the Holocaust was about "man's inhumanity to man" and "not about race" Monday morning on ABC's "The View." When her co-hosts questioned her opinion, she went on to say, "This is white people doing it to white people, so y'all going to fight amongst yourselves."
The backlash was angry and immediate, with Jewish groups and Twitter users calling out her uninformed comments as an example of increasing ignorance about the Holocaust. This is a direct result of the shoddy and incomplete way history is taught in American schools and our obsession with racial categorization. A 2020 nationwide survey found that 63 percent of people under 40 who were surveyed did not know that 6 million Jews had been murdered. One in 10 respondents did not recall having ever heard the word "Holocaust" before.
The Nazis were clear that their genocidal campaign was to exterminate Jews because they believed them to be an inferior race. That hateful belief continues to fuel white supremacist ideology. The result is a growing number of antisemitic attacks, like the 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, where a shooter killed 11 people and wounded six more.
Goldberg issued an apology on Twitter hours after her comments. And in an appearance Monday evening on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," she apologized again, noting that as a Black person, she thinks of racism as being based on skin color. That's a view common in America, where we're often categorized by skin color.
Then in a live conversation on "The View" on Tuesday that included Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, she said, "It is indeed about race because Hitler and the Nazis considered Jews to be an inferior race. Now, words matter, and mine are no exception. I regret my comments, as I said, and I stand corrected. I also stand with the Jewish people, as they know and y'all know because I've always done that."
Despite her apologies, ABC suspended Goldberg from the show for two weeks. On the surface, it appears that the heads of the network took a decisive action in response to ignorant comments made by a host that caused hurt to a marginalized community.
In a statement, ABC News President Kim Godwin said that "while Whoopi has apologized, I've asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments." The statement went on to say that "the entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities."
But in reality, the suspension felt more like a hollow and performative spectacle designed to douse the continuing firestorm of critical tweets than an attempt to make a bad situation better. Instead of providing a much-needed platform for education, the company's leaders fumbled a critical opportunity to engage in honest and much-needed dialogue that could have led to healing.
An October 2021 report from American Jewish Committee showed the critical need for enlightenment. It found that 1 in 4 Jews experienced antisemitism in the previous year. As attacks have grown, there's also a stark difference in how Jewish and non-Jewish Americans view the problem. Some 90 percent of American Jews think bias toward them is either a very serious or somewhat serious problem in the country, according to the AJC report, while 60 percent of the general population saw it as a problem.
ABC shouldn't consider the matter settled because Goldberg expressed sincere regret and because they took her off the air for two weeks. They should use the situation to be a media leader by using the show to examine with profound honesty the issues facing Jewish people, the complex histories of Black and Jews, and ways that the controversy swirling around Goldberg's comments can lead to healing.
I hope that as the news cycle moves on, we don't lose sight of the fact that the increasing threats against Jews are real. The growing violence and discrimination against Black people are real. The need for understanding and education is real. ABC's suspension of Goldberg does nothing to address these needs meaningfully.