The Anti-Semitism In Anti-Whiteness
Whoopi Goldberg just brought it out into the open.
“The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto was not described as a riot, nor were the participants maligned as hoodlums: the boys and girls in Watts and Harlem are thoroughly aware of this, and it certainly contributes to their attitude toward the Jews,” - James Baldwin.
Whoopi Goldberg, I think it’s safe to say, is not a deep thinker, and wouldn’t claim to be. She’s also clearly not an anti-Semite. She’s a talented entertainer and merely reflects many (but not all) of the assumptions of Hollywood types — well-intentioned, rarely ruffled, cultural leftism. But that’s precisely why her comments on The View about antisemitism and the Holocaust are so interesting. They expose some aspects of “anti-whiteness” and “antiracism” as these CRT ideas have trickled down into the public consciousness, and also a deep, long-standing sense among some African-Americans that Jews in America are not usually the oppressed, but often the oppressor. These are things no one wants to explore very much — because it’s complicated, fraught, and, well, who needs the grief?
So here we go! Anti-Semitism is seen as not racism, because for Whoopi, and critical theorists, “racism” is defined as an essentially Euro-American social construction, which didn’t exist before the colonial era, and only applies to powerful whites (and fellow travelers) vis-a-vis powerless blacks. Racism is not, for them, a universal, instinctual, tribal, evolution-rooted suspicion of different-looking others that is always with us, and can happen anywhere. It is solely rather the deliberate, historically contingent oppression of the non-white by colonial “white supremacy.” However much truth this contains about American history (and it does contain a lot of it), it’s a terribly parochial view that misses a huge amount in the world, throughout history, and in America.
As Adam Serwer explains, this parochial view of racism also “renders the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust illegible.” Well, yeah. Any theory of racism that cannot explain the Holocaust is not just illegible, it is untenable. It would mean that the conflicts between, say, Tutsis and Hutus, Germans and Slavs, Jews and Arabs, Burmese and Rohingya, or Han and Uighur, are not instances of racism — because they are not examples of “white targeting non-white.” It wouldn’t include the Bible’s description of the Jewish people’s own enslavement by the Pharaohs, for goodness’ sake. And that’s a problem for any concept of racism — let alone one that now controls much of American culture.
Here, for example, is the Anti-Defamation League’s woke definition of “racism” the day Whoopi made her remarks (a definition swiftly changed after the contretemps): “The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.” But since Jews are deemed “white people,” by this definition, how could the Nazis have been racist? The same would also have to be said, would it not, about Louis Farrakhan today? He may sound like a Nazi about Jews, but his skin color means he cannot be racist.
Whoopi’s gaffe helps explain why the mainstream media now describes young black men assaulting Jews and Asians as expressing … “white supremacy”! This is what the WaPo op-ed page, referring to growing Latino support for Trump, called “multiracial whiteness.” If they are non-white and bigots, they miraculously become white. And notice how bigotry is exclusively ascribed to a single “race”: whites. Without whites, we’d have no racism at all.
This is not the only way critical theorists distinguish anti-Semitism from racism. “Whiteness,” disproportionately including Jewishness, is wrapped up in systems of oppression, especially capitalism, and defined by control of money and power. Robin DiAngelo argues in White Fragility that “white supremacy” exists in mainstream America by noting how many “white people” there were in various positions of power in 2017:
Ten richest Americans: 100 percent white (seven of whom are among the ten richest in the world). US Congress: 90 percent white. US governors: 96 percent white. Top military advisers: 100 percent white. President and vice president: 100 percent white. US House Freedom Caucus: 99 percent white. Current US presidential cabinet: 91 percent white. People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white. People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white. People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent white. People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white. People who directed the one hundred top-grossing films of all time, worldwide: 95 percent white.
She goes on to emphasize Hollywood’s influence, in particular. Now just put the word “Jewish” where the word “white” is, and her list reads a bit differently, doesn’t it: “People who decide which books we read: 90 percent Jewish. People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent Jewish.” It’s an assertion that one race hoards power, controls the media, and directs the culture, a race so powerful it permeates everything. Sound a little familiar?
In her 1998 book, “How Jews Became White Folks,” Karen Brodkin argued that, as America diversified racially, a form of Jewish whiteness emerged “by contrasting Jews as a model minority with African Americans as culturally deficient.” (Just like Asians today!) In this worldview, Jewish success, like immigrant success, is never earned by merit, but won by attaching itself to “whiteness.” And so Jewish and Asian success is viewed as both rigged and zero-sum — taking away from the achievements of black Americans — when, of course, it’s non-zero-sum, and takes away nothing.
In a 2018 piece on anti-Semitic attacks in Crown Heights, the Forward’s Ari Feldman noted that “black people identify Judaism as ‘a form of almost hyper-whiteness,’ according to Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Black Movement Center … in that regard, Griffith said, the attacks may be an extension of animosity toward white people in general, who drive gentrification in Brooklyn.” Ressentiment is a powerful force, and anti-Semitism is often bound up in it.
In California’s proposed mandatory class in critical race theory, for example, one original curriculum question was “How did the Holocaust shift Jewish Americans’ position in American society?” The correct answer was: “gained conditional whiteness.” Yes, this is the upshot of the mass murder of millions of Jews, according to CRT: it gave them a leg-up in America! There are times when parochialism truly blinds.
Now check out a recent paper in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association titled “On Having Whiteness.” It’s an extreme case, but in its very extremism reveals the core pattern of thought:
Whiteness is a condition one first acquires and then one has — a malignant, parasitic-like condition to which “white” people have a particular susceptibility. The condition is foundational, generating characteristic ways of being in one’s body, in one’s mind, and in one’s world. Parasitic Whiteness renders its hosts’ appetites voracious, insatiable, and perverse. These deformed appetites particularly target nonwhite peoples. Once established, these appetites are nearly impossible to eliminate.
If you replace the word “whiteness” with “Jewishness,” this kind of demonizing rhetoric could be straight from a Nazi textbook. It identifies a racial group, it attaches evil characteristics to it, it ascribes those characteristics to individuals within that group, and it sees their success as won at the direct expense of others. The logic of anti-whiteness and anti-Semitism blur, over time, into the same thing.
James Baldwin was, as usual, blunt about this. The headline on his 1967 essay in the New York Times was: “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” Money quote:
In the American context, the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man — for having become, in effect, a Christian. The Jew profits from his status in America, and he must expect Negroes to distrust him for it. The Jew does not realize that the credential he offers, the fact that he has been despised and slaughtered, does not increase the Negro’s understanding. It increases the Negro’s rage.
In some ways, “white” Jews may be worse than regular whites; their enmeshment in white supremacy makes them in some way anti-Semitic as well: “While white Jews, as white people, uphold white supremacy, all Jews are targeted by it,” as Tamika Mallory, national co-chair of the Women’s March, once explained.
And as Jews became “white,” “white” also came to include Jewishness. The evolving left discourse on Israel makes this explicit: Israel is a “white” colonial enterprise persecuting the “non-white” Palestinians, and so is treated as a white supremacist, apartheid state. Another co-chair of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, once said, “Ask [progressive Zionists] this: how can you be against white supremacy in America and the idea of being in a state based on race and class, but then you support a state like Israel that is based on supremacy, that is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else.” (It can be hard to remember that not so long ago, it was David Duke who wrote a book called “Jewish Supremacism.”)
Remember when #JewishPrivilege was trending? It was started by white nationalists, but then: “Leftist voices soon joined in, perhaps because the hashtag had co-opted the term of ‘white privilege’ that is used in the social justice movement. Seemingly progressive Twitter users soon piled on with false claims that Jews don’t face any discrimination, while also suggesting they are responsible for the discrimination and other ills many minorities face.” (Mercifully, the hashtag was then co-opted by Jewish voices pushing back and talking about anti-Semitism now and in the past.)
And it’s hard to forget the infamous fliers found at the University of Illinois at Chicago: “ENDING WHITE PRIVILEGE STARTS WITH ENDING JEWISH PRIVILEGE.” The fliers echoed the ideas of Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo and, er, David Duke:
Jewish Americans make up 2 percent of the population.
44 percent of them are in the top 1 percent.
So they’re the oppressors, right? The only explanation for this discrepancy, according to critical race theory, is racism. “Merit” is meaningless. All success is about harnessing the power of “whiteness.” And any distinction between white and Jewish thereby becomes moot — for Whoopi, who said on Colbert’s show she thought a racist mob would target her and not a Jewish friend standing nearby — and for Baldwin:
The Jew is singled out by Negroes not because he acts differently from other white men, but because he doesn’t. His major distinction is given him by that history of Christendom, which has so successfully victimized both Negroes and Jews. And he is playing in Harlem the role assigned him by Christians long ago: he is doing their dirty work.
But what of the Jew who was also putting his life on the line in the Freedom Summer? Or the Jew discovering a vaccine for polio? Or the Jew in Harlem helping the poor with pro bono legal services? It’s Baldwin’s negative generalization that stings. It implies some kind of collective racial guilt transmitted through the centuries or millennia. It makes every Jew responsible for somebody else’s original sin; it demands accountability for things no living Jew may have had anything to do with. It denies that Jews too can be victims of racism because they are “white.” And that is racist.
And what moral difference is there between saying that Jews bear collective guilt through the ages for an original sin (the crucifixion) they didn’t commit, and that American whites, even if they became citizens yesterday, bear collective guilt for an original sin they too didn’t commit (slavery)? It’s the same inference of racial guilt-by-association. And it is what the woke are teaching white toddlers at this very moment: that skin color alone places the burden of repairing the wounds of history on them before anyone else.
No American Jew should be asked, for that matter, to account for everything or anything the Israeli government does, just because she’s Jewish. And if she is offended by the inference, as she should be, she is not merely expressing “Jewish fragility.” She is objecting to racism. Similarly, no white American should be asked to distinguish herself from “white supremacy,” solely because of the color of her skin. But what else does the wokes’ grotesque redefinition of the term “white supremacy” mean if not that, by virtue simply of their skin color, white people today are somehow responsible for a past they had nothing to do with, and may, in fact, find unutterably repellent?
In my view, racism is first and foremost a human impulse: it can infect anyone, of any race, at any time. Tribal identity goes very, very deep, and resisting it requires work. It’s also true that, over time, systems emerge which institutionalize racism — slavery, segregation, the legal restriction to certain professions, the denial of religious freedom, bans on intermarriage, Jim Crow, affirmative action etc. Those systems do indeed need dismantling (and have indeed been dismantled in America) if we are to move forward together.
But in a multicultural, multiracial society as complex as ours, the cross currents, the nuances and the complexities — especially in a population becoming more diverse and inter-married than ever — simply cannot be reduced to “always-oppressor/white” and “always-oppressed/black.” There is good and bad, racist and antiracist, in every human soul and in every demographic group. When you ignore that fundamental truth, you end up where we are: missing so much of complicated human reality that you actually excuse the Nazis — yes, the Nazis — for their racism.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my latest take on the evolving Partygate scandal in the UK; a rollicking convo with my good friend Johann Hari about his new book; reader dissents over my criticism of Biden’s SCOTUS rhetoric; eight notable quotes for the week — including ones on the Trump threat and cancel culture; nine recommended pieces by other Substackers; an entertaining vid on Star Wars and another on Star Trek; a snowy window in Maine and a sunny one in Hawaii; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
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Yglesias Award Nominee
“Once again, it seems that Goldberg’s only crime was ‘being wrong in public’ — an eventuality that is all-but guaranteed to arise when we televise spontaneous political debate. Why have such productions if we intend to police them like this?” - Charles C.W. Cooke, National Review, on the ridiculous two-week suspension of Whoopi.
Boris Is Not Trump, Part CLX
Events in Britain are fast-accelerating, and it seems to me that the Johnson premiership is effectively over.
(Read the rest of the 400-word item here)
New On The Dishcast: Johann Hari
Johann is a close friend, so let’s get that out of the way. His latest subject is the modern curse of screen-driven distraction, and how to combat it: “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention — And How To Think Deeply Again.” I even appear in the background in his account of how he tried to escape Internet addiction one summer in Provincetown. So excuse some of the informality and jokiness at the beginning of this chin-wag.
For two clips my conversation with Johann — on whether it’s a good idea to ban the Twitter business model, and on the value of reading fiction — head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here. That link also takes you to a few moving accounts from readers on their struggle against the algorithms. Plus, pivoting off our recent episode with Dominic Cummings, a few readers sound off on the career of Boris Johnson, along with my two cents.
Here’s a reader on another episode:
This is the first time I’ve written the Dish, though I’ve enjoyed your Substack channel since nearly its inception. I just wanted to say how pleased I was with your interview of Roosevelt Montás. I absolutely loved your discussion of these great men of history and the history of thought and reason. Keep up the good work! Your efforts defending liberalism are invaluable.
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Dissents Of The Week: Identity Politics On The Court
A reader writes:
In your latest column you criticized “Biden’s campaign pledge to nominate a Supreme Court nominee only from a pool of black female candidates,” and I agree that affirmative action is well worth criticizing. But I don’t see Biden’s pledge as being about affirmative action, or race, or sex, or even about the Court. I see it solely as a political ploy to win the South Carolina primary. And Biden winning the state meant that Bernie wasn’t the nominee. And Bernie not being the nominee meant that Trump lost. So I am happy with the pledge, despite not liking it. It’s just politics. And the new justice will be fine.
Read my response to that dissent, along with two others, here. As always, please keep the dissents coming: email@example.com.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of our newsletter spotlighting about a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as the hidden holes of the Covid economy, the Spotify wars over Joe Rogan, and the differences between male and female competition. Here’s one example:
Against the herd of “the chattering classes,” Nick Coccoma pans The Power of the Dog. “People want this movie to be an examination of toxic masculinity, but it’s actually anti-feminist.”
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Cool Ad Watch
Copyranter spotlights his all-time favorite brand when it comes to sex:
Coco De Mer is a UK-based lingerie brand + erotic shops + online store. They’ve run several good ads since opening in 2001, like this very simple “orgasm” print campaign and this very cool Point-Of-Purchase poster. In 2009, via Barcelona, Coco released the most wonderful erotica spot, “whatever tickles your fancy”. It is perfectly playful: the scenes, the song, the casting, all spot on.
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