Are You Learning English Quickly Enough for Tom Brokaw?

On Sunday’s Meet the Press program, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw got himself into a jam with his remarks about Hispanics. He was responding to host Chuck Todd’s observation that people in Wyoming and South Dakota are more supportive of building a wall on the Mexican border than the people who live on the border in Texas and Arizona. By way of attempting an explanation, Brokaw said this:

TOM BROKAW: And a lot of this, we don’t want to talk about. But the fact is, on the Republican side, a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinary, important, new constituent in American politics, Hispanics, who will come here and all be Democrats. Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, “Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.” I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other. I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.

If Brokaw had limited himself to describing the racist and political motivations some people “on the Republican side” have for supporting a border wall, he wouldn’t have run into any problems. He got into trouble by following that explanation up with his personal opinion that Hispanics are responsible for creating this backlash because they don’t do a good enough job of assimilating.

In part, this relies on the fallacy that prior groups of immigrants from places like China, Italy, and Poland were quicker to learn English. There’s no evidence that I am aware of to support this contention. More than that, though, Brokaw gave some support to the anti-Hispanic attitudes he had just dispassionately characterized. And he made a serious error by asserting that the victims of racism have a responsibility to take action to combat the sources of racism.

Brokaw gave a mealy-mouthed apology to the people he had offended, but he has supporters.

As a white male, I’m getting a little testy about how comfortable people seem to be about heaping contempt on white men as a group. But I also recognize that I don’t suffer any meaningful repercussions from this. No one is refusing to sell me a house, or admit my child to their school, or flying a confederate flag from their porch to protest my mere presence on their street. What I don’t understand about Brit Hume’s position is why he wants to criticize any ethnic group. He doesn’t like it when people criticize his group but he wants permission to criticize other groups without being called out for it as a racist.

It seems to me that grouping people together based on their ethnicity in order to criticize them is a definitionally racist thing to do.  This should be obvious if we just look at a statement like, “If Koreans don’t want to face hostility, they should just stop doing x.”  How about people stop prejudging every Korean they see based on some perceived flaw they’ve associated with their national origin? Why not put the onus for change on the racist rather than the victim of racism?

So much of the opposition to political correctness is really nothing more than the desire to have permission to hold negative racial, religious, or gender stereotypes about people.

We’ve always had non-English speaking immigrants in this country, and there has always been a lag in how quickly they become fluent in our language. There has always been a group of people who were annoyed by the influx of people with a different appearance, differing languages or accents, and different religious backgrounds.  Hispanics shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything to address this, and groups of people cannot learn a language anyway. Only individuals can do that. If you want to find some Hispanic family that isn’t learning English quickly enough for your tastes, then go pick on them rather than going on national television to tear down the entire Hispanic-American community. Most people would think you were a terrible person if you actually did go pick on some non-fluent family, but that only drives home how awful this behavior from Brokaw and Hume really is.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com