Last year, American TV host Whoopi Goldberg was taken off air for comments about racism that were eerily similar to Diane Abbott’s, says Samuel Rubinstein in The Critic. “The Holocaust isn’t about race,” declared Goldberg, it was just “two white groups of people… fighting among themselves”. She rightly attracted “scorn and derision” – of course the Nazis were racist towards Jews, and “of course the Holocaust was about race”. But I felt a bit sorry for her. Goldberg was simply voicing the US-centric conception of racism currently in vogue: that white people can’t be on the receiving end. Until the furore over Goldberg’s comments, even America’s Anti-Defamation League, with its “illustrious history of protecting Jewish civil rights”, defined racism as exclusively the “oppression of people of colour” by “white people”.
This is a huge blind spot in progressive attitudes. By defining racism around ideas of “whiteness” and “white supremacy”, the natural logic is that groups like Jews, Gypsy and Roma people can’t be subject to it – exactly the view expressed by Goldberg and Abbott. The main way liberals seem to counter this is by trying to “smuggle” minority groups into a broader definition of non-white. “This is a cop-out.” I’m both Jewish and white, and would feel “quite silly” trying to pretend otherwise. It’s the same for Irish people and Travellers, most of whom are white, and who have undeniably been subject to persecution based on ideas about race. The simple truth, “however much it upsets certain contemporary pieties”, is that “white people can experience racism”.