The recent fiasco on ABC’s daily talk show “The View” regarding some ill-informed comments by Whoopi Goldberg about the Holocaust underscored just how punitive our society has become. Goldberg just returned from serving a two-week suspension for saying the killing of six million Jews during World War II wasn’t about race but instead about “man’s inhumanity towards man.”
To clear this up: The Holocaust was one thousand percent about race. Hitler and the Third Reich believed that the Aryan race was genetically superior to all other races, and engaged upon a massive campaign to dehumanize and systematically annihilate Jews because they believed that Jews were a parasitic “lower race.”
Whoopi was wrong, and a lot of people let her know that. To her credit, after initially defending her remarks, she listened to Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, forcefully correct her on the air of the very show she hosts, and later apologized.
What did that get her? A suspension from her bosses at ABC.
This struck me as such a missed opportunity on a number of levels. First, there seemed to be genuine contrition on Goldberg’s part after people pointed out why her comments were not just wrong, but also potentially offensive to Jews.
Second, she’s on a TV show that is all about sharing opinions, many of which are not always right.
Third, the suspension seemed to be a case of piling on to earn brownie points with that online subset of people who seem to be waiting for someone, anyone, to make a dumb mistake and then seek maximum punishment. That doesn’t sit well with me.
Much more could have been achieved by letting Goldberg remain on “The View” and having further conversations about Jewish culture, especially at a time when anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in America. That would have been the right call, the smart decision.
Instead, ABC took the lazy way out.
I have a lot of thoughts about cancel culture, and most of them aren’t great. Do I believe in de-platforming dangerous people who have the potential to use those platforms to cause further harm (ahem, Trump)? Sure. But in the age of social media, where every word that comes out of our digital mouths can be screenshot and held up for the world to see, it seems to me that we’ve reached a place where people are sometimes reduced to their worst moments, shamed for them, and silenced. Which just…how can that possibly be the best course of action?
The other day on the View, moderator Whoopi Goldberg made some decidedly ill-informed statements about the Holocaust. Take a listen.
[clip from “The View”]
So people were, understandably, upset. Unfortunately, she only made matters worse when she appeared on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and basically reiterated her position in an attempt to explain herself.
[Late Night with Stephen Colbert clip]
To clear this up: The Holocaust was one thousand percent about race. Hitler and the Third Reich believed that the Aryan race was genetically superior to all other races, and engaged upon a massive campaign to dehumanize and systematically annihilate Jews because they believed that Jews were a parasitic “lower race.” Subhuman.
Now, even though Whoopi was objectively wrong, I understand where she was coming from. In today’s America, we think about race differently, in terms of people of color, but in Hitler’s Germany – and among white nationalists even today – Jews were very much seen in terms of not only their religion, but their race. And throughout history, they have been marginalized and slaughtered for this very reason.
So Whoopi was wrong. Misinformed. Coming at the issue from her own perspective based on her own lived experience. But here’s what happened next: She listened to the CEO of the anti-defamation league, who explained everything I just said about the Holocaust and race, and she went on the view, and she apologized.
[clip from “The View”]
“I regret my comments, and I stand corrected.”
To me, this is the best possible outcome. Someone is misinformed, and then they are educated. When it comes to Whoopi, who has a staggeringly large platform, there’s then the opportunity to use that moment to start a national conversation, and educate others. Except then Kim Godwin, president of ABC news, suspended Goldberg for two weeks so that she could, quote, take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.”
This sits poorly with me for a number of reasons. First, the “go sit in a corner and think about what you did” tenor of it just feels…icky, especially when the entire premise of the view – at least at its inception – was to put together a bunch of opinionated women with disparate perspectives, and have them discuss relevant issues. None of their jobs are predicated on Always Being Right.
But more importantly, If Whoopi Goldberg held these beliefs about the Holocaust, certainly plenty of other people do, too. Jews comprise only about 2% of the population – I’m one of them – and there are many, many Americans out there who have little to no experience with the Jewish culture or religion.
All that suspending Goldberg does is shut down a conversation that’s taking on even more importance given the rash of anti-semitic incidents happening all over the US. What does a public shaming achieve that couldn’t be better achieved by having Goldberg on the view, talking about how what she previously believed and why she believed it, and what she has since learned.
Why do we choose to cancel when we could counsel? It’s a question we should all ask ourselves.