Co-host Whoopi Goldberg was suspended from the ABC daytime talk...

Co-host Whoopi Goldberg was suspended from the ABC daytime talk series "The View" for two weeks. Credit: ABC via AP / Jenny Anderson

Was Whoopi Goldberg really just suspended from her ABC talk show for two weeks for being confused about an issue so complex that even the people she was talking about don’t agree on the answer?

She was, and that’s wrong, even though Goldberg was mistaken, too.

Can we stop pillorying people for being mistaken about complex topics?

Goldberg, one of the hosts of "The View," was involved in a conversation Monday about a Tennessee school board’s ban of the groundbreaking, Holocaust-driven graphic novel "Maus." During the exchange, she argued that the motivating force behind the Holocaust couldn’t have been "racism" because the Nazis and the Jews were both white.

She was not spiteful or hateful or hurtful, just incorrect. The Holocaust, and the attempt to exterminate all Jews worldwide via Hitler’s "Final Solution," was entirely racial, because the Nazis saw Jews as a distinct and inferior race. It was not the Jews’ religious precepts the Germans denounced, but the traits and behaviors and appearance they ascribed to the Jewish "race."

The Nazis also saw themselves, or "Aryans," as the "Master Race," better than others primarily because of superior genes. It was how they framed the world.

But it’s not how race or Jews are generally seen now in the United States, except by anti-Semites, and it’s not a way of viewing Jews Goldberg would necessarily be familiar with. Today, murderous hatred of Jews has its own distinct name: antisemitism.

And all of this is complicated now by the fact that we are increasingly told race is simply a construct.

Goldberg’s mistake was compounded by her repetitive vehemence, her desire to pound home her point rather than listening to the objections. Afterward, she began to understand that and apologized on the internet, on Stephen Colbert’s show later Monday and on her own show Tuesday.

Each apology was thoughtful, kind and sincere. Goldberg was reflective and open throughout a process of encountering criticism, accepting that she had hurt others, showing she’d corrected her misperception and promising to do better.

There is nothing more we can ask of a person who has made an honest and seemingly innocent mistake.

In today’s America, where Whoopi lives, the question of whether Judaism is a race or a religion is unanswerable. You could say it’s my race, because my gene test showed an uninterrupted multi-millennial immersion in the traditional Jewish gene pool and its geographic wanderings from the Middle East to Eastern Europe to the United States.

But it’s not my wife’s race, because she was born Lutheran and converted to Judaism, and it only gets more complicated from there.

If it’s a race for me and a religion for my wife, which is it for our daughter? Does she have to believe in Judaism and follow its rules to "be Jewish"? Can it ever be her race? And if it’s this confusing even for Jews today, why would Goldberg’s imperfect understanding of how it was perceived in Germany in 1938 be punished?

People are saying this ought to be a learning opportunity, and that’s true, but the big lesson is not only about how Nazis saw the Jewish people. It’s about how we treat people who make innocent mistakes.

We don’t have to excuse spite or hate or vindictiveness, but we must allow each other the space to be wrong, and learn.

Goldberg needed, and deserved, both.

Columnist Lane Filler’s opinions are his own.


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