...free to think freely


1st February 2022

Not about Race?

Whoopi Goldberg has apologised for saying the Nazi destruction of Jews was not about race. At one level such a claim is clearly absurd; it was on the basis of their hierarchical understanding of race that the Nazis based all their ethnic policies. It was their beliefs about the reality of Race which drove their inhuman treatement of those they deemed other. Nazis justified their persecution and extermination of those they identified as racial minorities, especially Jews, precisely on that idea.

Yet, when Ms Goldberg protested this was not about race but about human inhumanity, any thinking person can understand exactly what she was trying to say. Yes, she was wrong to deny the racial aspect and how central it was to those perpetrating the evil, but she was right, surely, to point out it was about more. Race was the device the Nazis used to justify their behaviour, but it is the behaviour itself we should surely condemn most.

Identifying people by race is questionable if one believes human life and experience is continuous. Putting people into categories is something I frequently write against. However, in itself, that is not a harmful activity. There are many overlapping ways we can classify people. All might be useful in trying to understand nature’s confusing range of diversity from different perspectives. However, while it remains just that it is just a harmless exercise; drawing lines around groups to see what that tells us. It is when we begin to act on those lines the potential for harm emerges. Giving people privileges can be unfair. Denying them rights is evil. The basis on which they are selected for wrongful treatment is not important. It is the injustice which matters, not the arbitrary grounds on which injustice is allocated.

What is evil about The Holocaust is not really the racial basis, but the industrialised denial of basic human rights followed by deportation to camps where people were either worked and starved to death or summarily murdered, depending on their supposed ability to work. It would have been just as evil, whoever the victims were.

So if that were what Ms Goldberg meant to express I would agree with her, but to deny the racial basis in that particular expression of inhumanity was to overdo the contrast by denying what was also patently true. For us, it should be about the evil of mass persecution and murder, but for the perpetrators it was definitely about Race.