February 2, 2022 - 11:51am

Whoopi Goldberg, actress and comedian, is also a co-host of The View — a daytime discussion programme on America’s ABC network. However, she’s just been suspended for two weeks for giving her opinion. 

It was, it must be said, a monumentally misinformed and offensive opinion. She said that “the Holocaust isn’t about race… it’s about man’s inhumanity to man”. Later she issued an apology:

She certainly does stand corrected. It’s a matter of historical record that the Nazis were absolutely obsessed with race — and that their hatred of the Jews was race-based. 

So what on earth could have led Goldberg to think that the Holocaust wasn’t about race? Her interview with Stephen Colbert provides an answer. She said that “Most of the Nazis were white people and most of the people they were attacking were white people. So to me I’m thinking how can you say it’s about race if you are fighting each other.”

Obviously, the idea that the Nazis and the Jews were “fighting each other” is a repellent way of describing what happened. But I’m assuming that was just an ill-chosen turn of phrase. What does seem to characterise Goldberg’s conception of race and racism is that it’s only about visible differences. Therefore, while white people can act with inhumanity to other white people, they can’t be racist to one another.

In this context, Goldberg also claims that the Nazis “had issues with ethnicity not with race.” But what is that distinction based on? At what point does an “ethnic” difference between two groups of people become a “racial” one? There is no scientifically valid criterion here, any category is political or cultural in origin and thus dependent on the social context.

It is therefore completely inappropriate to take categories that define the debate about race and racism in America today and apply them to other times and places as if they were universally applicable. Clearly, they are not — indeed one might describe any attempt to do so an example of cultural imperialism. Certainly, it “centres” the American experience in a way that isn’t 100% relevant to other countries. 

America still has an outsized cultural influence on the rest of the world, of course. But, when American commentators — whether of the woke Left or reactionary Right — choose to comment on the rest of the world, they should tread carefully and check their privilege.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.