Race Race

I try not to pay too much attention to what entertainers say about politics and current events because what entertainers generally have to say about politics and current events is often very silly. Sometimes I can’t help but notice some particularly silly comment made by an entertainer. Recently the very silly named Whoopi Goldberg said something about the Holocaust that was not merely silly but more than a little pernicious.

The last time I heard anything stupid and obnoxious from Ms. Goldberg was some years ago when she commented on the View that Roman Polanski’s actions, while deplorable, were not exactly rape-rape. Of course, forcing sexual intercourse with an intoxicated, thirteen-year-old girl is considered rape-rape in almost every jurisdiction in the civilized world, and Whoopi ought to have known better than to say something so profoundly stupid.

You wouldn’t think Ms. Goldberg could ever top the rape-rape comment, but she managed it again on The View, by saying that the Holocaust was not about race.

Whoopi Goldberg argued on ABC’s The View Monday the Holocaust was “not about race,” prompting pushback from co-hosts on the show.

“If you’re going to do this, then let’s be truthful about it,” Goldberg said. “Because the Holocaust isn’t about race. No, it’s not about race.”

Co-host Joy Behar asked Goldberg: “Then what was it about?”

“It’s about man’s inhumanity to man,” Goldberg responded. “That’s what it’s about.”

Ana Navarro, another co-host on the show, interjected, saying, “Well, it’s about white supremacy. That’s what it’s about. It’s about going after Jews and gypsies.”

“But these are two groups of white people,” Goldberg cut in. “But you’re missing the point. The minute you turn it into race, it goes down this alley. Let’s talk about it for what it is. It’s how people treat each other. It’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, because Black, white, Jews … everybody eats each other.”

So, according to Whoopi Goldberg, the Holocaust was not about race because both the perpetrators and the victims of the atrocities were White. This conclusion would be surprising to the Nazis who planned and carried out the Holocaust. According to Nazi ideology, Germans, Jews, and Slavs were distinct and ultimately incompatible races, despite all being the same color. If one follows Ms. Goldberg’s logic, such atrocities as the massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 or the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese during the Second World War were not about race either, although in each case, those responsible for the mass murders clearly did not believe the victims were the same race as themselves, despite having roughly the same skin color. It would seem that race is not just a black and white matter if you’ll pardon the expression, but something more complicated.

That brings us to the question of just what race is anyway. According to the free dictionary;

1. group of people identified as distinct from other groups because of supposed physical or genetic traits shared by the group. Most biologists and anthropologists do not recognize race as a biologically valid classification, in part because there is more genetic variation within groups than between them.
2. group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution: the Celtic race.
3. genealogical line; a lineage.

A bit overly politically correct, but it will do. In America, we believe that skin color is the most important physical trait to distinguish between groups of people or races. Elsewhere, where populations have similar skin colors, other characteristics are more important. These characteristics are just as important to people in Europe, Asia, and Africa as skin color is to North Americans. A person from Europe or North America might find it hard to tell the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi or a Japanese and a Chinese, but a person from Africa or East Asia would probably have no difficulty making such distinctions. A person from Africa or East Asia might not be able to tell the difference between a German, a Jew, or a Slav but making such determinations in Central Europe in the middle twentieth century was a matter of life and death even though everyone was what Americans would consider White.
Just because two people happen to have the same skin color, it does not follow that they will view each other as belonging to the same group or race. If I were to travel to my ancestral homeland in Germany, no one in Germany would mistake me for being German or even European, despite my light skin. I suspect that if Whoopi Goldberg went to Africa, few Africans would see her as a fellow African, despite her dark skin. They would see her as a Black American. Her language, mannerisms, and cultural assumptions would show her as foreign to most Africans.
The curious thing about racial distinctions is how trivial they appear when looking objectively from the outside. Physical or even cultural differences that seem so consequential on the inside, as it were, are utterly meaningless to anyone not familiar with the local circumstances, culture, or history. Even so obvious a distinction as Black and White, which any human might consider significant, might be meaningless to an extraterrestrial visiting Earth for the first time. An alien would wonder why we are so concerned with racial differences since we are obviously all of the same species. The differences between any two groups of human beings would be minuscule compared to the difference between the alien and ourselves. From an extraterrestrial point of view, there is only one race that matters on Earth, the human race.
In a way, Whoopi Goldberg is right, though not at all in the way she might have intended. When viewed properly, The Holocaust and every other instance of man’s inhumanity to man is not about race at all since we are all members of the same human race. Maybe if we could get used to thinking about ourselves as the same race and learn to ignore the trivial differences between us, there would be a good deal less of that inhumanity.

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