The Jewish Experience And The Black Experience In America Aren’t Similar But They Aren’t That Different Either

Today, ABC News suspended Whoopi Goldberg for two weeks from “The View” after Whoopi “insisted that the Holocaust was “not about race,” but rather “man’s inhumanity to man.” Whoopi didn’t help herself any when she went on the Stephen Colbert show to do damage control. Look, in realpolitik terms, Whoopi is absolutely right: the larger message we should all take from the Holocaust is that murdering a group of people en masse is a crime against all humanity. Where she misses the mark and point is that this particular crime against humanity wasn’t aimed at all humanity, it was aimed very specifically at Jews. The “Final Solution” wasn’t about killing people at random. It was about wiping every Jew from the face of the earth because they were Jewish. Hate doesn’t get any more “racial” than that. But then, here in America, racial hatred isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. And what the Jews had to endure in Europe is a variation on a terrible “man’s inhumanity to man” theme that Black people had to endure in America.

I’ll digress here for a second: over the course of 1500 years in Europe – starting when the Catholic Church became a dynamic political force – Jews were kept apart. This all tied back to the blood libel Paul and the early church fathers invented to express their animosity to Jesus’s followers in Jerusalem who’d rejected Paul’s odd version of Jesus. Jesus’s followers in Jerusalem actually knew Jesus or heard him preach whereas Paul didn’t and hadn’t. That’s why when Paul took his version of Jesus – and the Christian religion he was inventing on the fly – to the Gentiles (most of whom had been polytheists all their lives) – his bold, new idea about Jesus dying for humanity’s sins and his rebirth for humanity’s benefit scored such a hit.

Think of that blood libel – the sheer illogic of it, its inherent unfairness, its being the cause of unspeakable cruelty and violence – as a variation on the rational for slavery in America. Let’s be clear on what slavery is above all: stolen labor. The whole point of enslaving someone is to get every last bit of their work product for absolutely nothing. Free labor. That’s what slaves provide (minus the costs of doing business – feeding, housing and clothing one’s slave). The Southern economy was almost entirely agriculture-based. Three main cash crops built them: tobacco, sugar cane and King Cotton. But, what if slavery had never been an option for the South?

What if the South had been forced to pay a fair market rate for every bit of the farm labor required to plant, harvest and process these labor-intensive crops? My bet: the Confederacy would never have been. On the other hand, if the Confederate States of America had been forced to pay every farm worker a fair market wage? I bet the South would have become a “worker’s paradise” instead.

Stealing Black work product also prevented Black people from acquiring the wealth that working is supposed to provide us. Whenever Black people did acquire (what white people thought was) too much wealth? As they did with Black Wall Street in Tulsa on July 5, 2017. Funny thing? Up until last year? I had never heard of “Black Wall Street”. Turns out, there were literally DOZENS of “Black Wall Streets”. How about that! This Jew finds himself sitting in the exact same boat as Whoopi!

Another quick digression (if only for transparency’s sake): I know Whoopi. I’ve worked with her! Now, it’s been a while since Whoopi appeared in an episode of HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt” (the episode “Dead Wait” also starred James Remar, John Rhys-Davis and Vanity). She worked on Tales the very same week she won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Ghost” and, can I tell ya? She was a dream to work with. Absolutely the best! A pro from top to bottom and side to side.

So – did Whoopi’s comment offend me? No. Not in the least – especially in the context of her simply not appreciating WHY that distinction is so important. Part of that context – and it’s really, really important – is that Whoopi has grown up in a country where, for all intents and purposes, Jews were considered white people. Whereas Black people had to struggle to acquire wealth, Jews acquired it with relative ease. While Blacks were openly restricted from all sorts of opportunities, Jews were less openly restricted. But, here’s a stone cold fact: prior to the advent of affirmative action, Blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians and everyone else not “white” were admitted to previously all white institutions via a quota system.

Most Black people were transported to America against their will. Most Jews left Europe for America because they couldn’t tolerate another pogrom. I’m not going to entertain the “Jews were slaves in Egypt” similarity because I’m not so sure Jews were slaves in Egypt. If they were, we’re not talking multitudes; we’re talking a handful of people. There’s simply too little documentation (never mind the story’s other oddities and inconsistencies) – in part because it happened thousands of years ago if at all – to use it as the basis for “Jews understand what it means to be ‘a slave’.” No, we don’t.

But, we do know what it is to be hated for who you are and what you are – to white people.

The fact is, Jews and Blacks – despite all white attempts to divide and conquer us – have thrived together. When we put our histories and sense of justice together, we produce great art and great thought. Together, we epitomize the genius of “E Pluribus Unum”. Ironically, a whole lot of the good, positive, mutually beneficial story of Blacks and Jews working together in America is as forgotten (or never known) as my knowledge of Black Wall Street and Whoopi’s knowledge of the Holocaust. Our ignorance isn’t blissful at all here; it’s just ignorance.

The making of Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” is a perfect example of how Blacks and Jews really do experience the white world in very similar, complementary ways. The song was written as a poem by a Jewish (Russian émigré) New York City high school English teacher named Abe Meeropol in 1937. Meeropol taught at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx where one of his students was James Baldwin. After writing the poem, Meeropol set it to music; he and his wife performed the song at protest rallies in New York. And then Billie Holiday sang it and made it the statement it’s become.

Historically, here in America, when Black people and Jewish people put their hearts, their causes and their heads together, amazing things happen. True greatness. The answer to Whoopi’s mis-statement on Monday shouldn’t have been banishment – that proves nothing, teaches nothing. Far better for all would have been an approach that kept Whoopi on the air and made her the point person for a deep dive into why exactly her statement needed to be corrected. But, part of that run of shows that sought to teach the truth would have made it explicitly clear why Whoopi didn’t know what she didn’t know and why pretty much every Jew in America didn’t know about Black Wall Street. ABC News had a chance to really school America on its racist history – and on the history of racism itself.

America stands at a precipice precisely because of its racist past. We need Whoopi out front. An even more woke Whoopi than what’s already woke can only be good. The last thing we need is a corrupt news organization that still can’t call Donald Trump a racist deciding “who’s a racist”.

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