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Brokaw misses the story on American Hispanics

February 1, 2019

Hello liberal racism, my old friend. I get to talk of you again.

Thanks to Tom Brokaw. The 78-year-old newsman wrote a best-seller about “The Greatest Generation.” But his recent comments about America’s largest minority were not great.

Brokaw may, or may not, be a racist. I don’t know, I don’t care. It is not my job to decipher if the veteran journalist hates Hispanics, fears Hispanics or looks down on Hispanics.

Yet it is my job to point out that what Brokaw said about Hispanics was indisputably racist.

The telenovela started on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” That’s where Brokaw — the former anchor of “NBC Nightly News” who, like the party guest who stayed too long, now carries the title of senior correspondent at the network — rounded out the fivesome on a roundtable discussion about immigration and the border wall that, surprise, included no Hispanics.

Why? Because one of the conveniences of liberalism is that you get to celebrate diversity without having to practice it.

Brokaw was asked by moderator Chuck Todd how it is that “in Wyoming and in South Dakota, they think they need a wall, but in Texas and Arizona, they don’t.” Brokaw — who was, how’s this for a coincidence, born and raised in South Dakota — responded by explaining what some white folks find so terrifying about the estimated 58 million Hispanics in the United States.

“And a lot of this, we don’t want to talk about,” he said. “(But) 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.”

Brokaw was right about how Hispanics have a lot of experience with intermarriage. More than 40 percent of Hispanics marry non-Hispanics, and a 2017 analysis of census figures by the Pew Research Center found that unions between Hispanics and whites are the most common type of intermarriage.

But that is the only thing he was right about. For one thing, he should have skipped the negative reference to “brown grandbabies” — even if he was just quoting someone else.

Yet Brokaw wasn’t done. He still had another foot and room in his mouth. He went on to suggest that, with Hispanics, the melting pot isn’t working.

“I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation,” Brokaw said. “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.”

As you can see, this column is in English. That’s because, nearly 100 years after my grandfather came to the United States legally from Mexico, my Spanish isn’t good enough to get through a paragraph. How’s your Italian or German?

Brokaw poked Hispanics in our sensitive spot when he mentioned the A-word: assimilation.

Here we give up Spanish to learn English to the point where we miss out on hearing our grandparents’ stories before they die. We get degrees, work hard, pay taxes, buy homes, coach Little League and join the PTA. We go along to get along, all the way to the point where some in our community accuse us of “acting white.”

Meanwhile, white people are lying in tanning booths, gorging on tacos and listening to Justin Bieber sing in Spanish. And in Texas, a white guy trying to be Hispanic wants to be called “Beto.”

And, in the middle of this cultural madhouse, someone comes along — a professional storyteller no less — and accuses you of not assimilating enough. That’s the racist part. Brokaw is assuming that Hispanics don’t understand the importance of blending in. If Hispanics blended in any more, we’d be invisible. Which is, I get it, what some people want.

Brokaw hasn’t been fired or even reprimanded. The so-called elite media has its own version of white privilege.

As criticism mounted by Latino advocacy groups and others, a NBC News spokesperson offered this slap on the wrist: “Tom’s comments were inaccurate and inappropriate, and we’re glad he apologized.”

Oh yes, the apology. On Sunday, after tweeting that he was “sorry” for offending Hispanics, Brokaw signed off with yet another bizarre Twitter comment: “it worked! i got your attention.”

So this whole kerfuffle was an attempt by Brokaw to stay relevant? How ironic that it wound up showing us all that, in this day and age, he no longer is.

ruben@rubennavarrette.com

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