To kick off the week, NBC News’s Tom Brokaw made some bigoted comments on Meet the Press. On Sunday, he said that Latinos should “work harder at assimilation” – an uninformed comment that garnered him much criticism.
While on Meet the Press, Brokaw explained that some Republicans tell him they see the Latino community as a threat because they tend to side with the Democratic party (though it’s necessary to note that this community is not a monolith), but there are some who are also opposed to welcoming this group because of their skin tone (also an important time to mention that Latinos don’t have a specific look).
“Also, I hear, when I push a little harder, ‘Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies,’” he said. “I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the culture 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 just be 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.”
His comments are not only misguided, they’re also incorrect. Young Latinos are actually increasingly speaking more English than Spanish at home. A Pew Research Center study found that in 2014, 37 percent of Latinos aged 5 to 17 didn’t speak any Spanish at home – a 7 percentage point jump from 2000. Also, 30 percent of Latinos aged 18 to 33 only spoke English at home, compared to only 20 percent in 2000.
With his comments, Brokaw also insinuated that the prejudice they face is partly their fault. While speaking English might help immigrants navigate this country more easily, it doesn’t mean they deserve less rights or respect if they don’t. And these comments are especially irresponsible at a time when the Trump Administration is outwardly hostile to immigrants. (We’ve also seen several physical and verbal attacks on people because they were speaking Spanish.)
Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, was also on the Meet the Press panel, and she immediately spoke out against Brokaw. “I would just say that we also need to adjust what we think of as America” she said. “You’re talking about assimilation. I grew up in Miami, where people speak Spanish, but their kids speak English. And the idea that we think Americans can only speak English, as if Spanish and other languages wasn’t always part of America, is, in some ways, troubling.”
Brokaw faced plenty of backlash online, where people talked about their own personal experiences. On Twitter, he issued an apology.
“I am sorry, truly sorry, my comments were offensive to many,” he said. “The great enduring American tradition of diversity is to be celebrated and cherished. I am sorry – I never intended to disparage any segment of our rich, diverse society which defined who we are… Finally, I am sorry I failed to convey my strong belief that diversity – dynamic and inclusive is what makes America.”