If you share my interests and values then your social media feed was probably also filled with posts of outrage over the inappropriate and mistaken words spoken by Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” recently. “The Holocaust isn’t about race”?!? Whoopi, as a talk show host, should certainly have been more careful to research and prepare and think about how she was going to express herself before going on air. But, perhaps less shared was the fact that she apologized within 24 hours of the show’s airing and corrected her misinformation. Instead of just letting another story of online shaming and seemingly antisemitic words pass us by, perhaps we should pause and consider what lessons we can take away from this story.
First, when it comes to online shaming, how quickly should we pull the trigger? How far are we willing to go in a world where people are being canceled? Loads of people shared Goldberg’s inappropriate comment, but how many paused to check much else about her views on the Holocaust? How many saw that 4 days before her infamous comment she interviewed Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert and her grandson on the show for Holocaust remembrance day? Also, what message are we sending if we continue to condemn someone’s speech even after an apology was given? And should we consider a more proportionate response and keep the viral condemnation and cancelling for people who have a history and clear agenda of antisemitic views?
Second, this incident highlights that there is a tremendous need for education about the Holocaust and antisemitism. It is at this moment that we feel the great loss of survivors, Elie Wiesel in particular, who taught the world about the Shoah. From teaching and writing to taking Oprah Winfrey to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel understood the need to talk about the horrors of the Shoah with everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike. It can be hard for identified Jews to imagine that anyone in the US has not heard about the Holocaust in some minimal way. This also reminded me of the story Tara Westover tells in her memoir, Educated. Having grown up in a survivalist household Westover only entered a formal classroom at age 17. She describes how she only heard the word “Holocaust” for the first time as a college freshman. She may be an extreme example, but this Pew Research study reinforces the importance of continuing to educate others about the Holocaust and antisemitism.
Third, this experience makes me think: my social media feed may be filled with condemnation of Whoopi Goldberg, but that is because this is something my friends and I care so much about. What affect does this have on others or ourselves when social media keeps us in our own echo chambers? There is clearly a need to talk about antisemitism in the world. At the same time, we may want to occasionally step out of our own echo chambers and learn about other people’s history or suffering as well. If we want the world to talk about the Holocaust correctly and respectfully, we also need to hear and acknowledge the experience and suffering of others.
It is very reasonable for us these days to be wary of antisemitism and ignorance about the Holocaust. Whoopi Goldberg’s unpleasant mistake and apology provides an opportunity to consider effective ways to react and to learn from those who work to preempt misinformation about the Holocaust and antisemitism.