December 28, 2022 - 8:00am

Whoopi Goldberg, a two-time Oscar winner and co-host of the daytime talk show The View, ended the year much as she began it: defending her claim that the Holocaust was white-on-white violence, a clash of white ethnic groups that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jewish people in Central and Eastern Europe. Back in January, Goldberg earned a suspension from The View after arguing that “these are two white groups of people” and “everybody eats each other” during a discussion about a Tennessee school district’s decision to remove Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust-themed graphic novel Maus from its curriculum. 

Now, in a career-spanning interview published last week in The Times, Goldberg doubled down on those remarks, noting that Jews had an easier time blending in with other whites in Germany than blacks did in Germany. “It doesn’t change the fact that you could not tell a Jew on a street. You could find me. You couldn’t find them. That was the point I was making,” the actor — whose real name is Caryn Elaine Johnson — told interviewer Janice Turner.  

Predictably, Goldberg’s January remarks attracted criticism from the Jewish community, with the Anti-Defamation League and other groups accusing her of minimising Jewish suffering and demanding an apology, which she offered on-air. Once again, some have gone so far as to call for her termination, a fate she managed to avoid back in January (a number of other hosts on the show, which has generated plenty of juicy headlines despite its banal daytime-TV content, have met this ignominious fate)

Long-time followers of Goldberg likely aren’t surprised that she is making waves for these incendiary remarks. Her career is full of such moments, including writing the material for blackface-wearing boyfriend Ted Danson’s starring role in her 1993 Friars Club roast, defending Mel Gibson from allegations of anti-Semitism, supporting Bill Cosby until his rape allegations became nearly undeniable, downplaying the severity of award-winning director Roman Polanski’s statutory rape charge (“I don’t believe it was rape-rape”), and arguing that NFL star quarterback Michael Vick’s federal dogfighting charges were unfair. 

What is surprising, however, is that Goldberg has remained a mainstream figure despite decades of ‘speaking her mind’, avoiding the kind of show-business death sentence that rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West) received after making numerous outrĂ© remarks about the Jewish community while passing through the Right-wing talk show circuit a few months ago. Goldberg’s remarks admittedly aren’t tied to the various colourful conspiracy theories that informed Ye’s statements, nor has she praised Adolf Hitler’s accomplishments, but she has nevertheless slain a sacred cow by appearing to aggrandise black suffering at the expense of Jewish suffering. 

Goldberg, despite her show-business surname, has no Jewish ancestry. Nevertheless, Goldberg has said of her identity — somewhat echoing Ye’s remarks about the Jewishness of black people — that “Goldberg is my name; it’s part of my family, part of my heritage, just like being black
I just know I am Jewish
I don’t go to temple, but I do remember the holidays.” In the same Jewish Chronicle article in which that tortured explanation appears, the author notes that the actor’s mother, Emma Johnson, may have influenced her daughter’s surname change in order to optimise the acting prodigy’s Hollywood prospects.

Despite the justification for her unusual name and apparent appropriation of Jewish identity, Goldberg will likely weather this storm, much as fellow long-time Hollywood headliner Mel Gibson and liberal comedians Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher have done. There is a thin but clear line that separates contrarians who can trigger Left-wing consciences while remaining safely within the boundaries of the mainstream beau monde from those irredeemably “bad” actors consigned to the Right-wing demimonde that contains media like Alex Jones’ InfoWars and the Mike Lindell-backed The Absolute Truth with Emerald Robinson. 

Goldberg will likely remain on the inside, able to keep finding work even as she occasionally incites controversy, while Ye, Putin-sympathising action star Steven Seagal, and various others are forced to fend for themselves.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work