Is Tom Brokaw A Racist?

by Glenn R. Geist

E Pluribus Unum: Apparently that’s a racist thing to say.

Only a fool would talk about racism these days. Even the best intentions – even a universal love of and respect for mankind isn’t enough to get you through the minefield. Of course the best of us all have questionable ideas, unsupported notions and such, some of which are subject to elucidation, reconsideration but also misinterpretation. “But these are the days of advance, the works of the men of mind” as Tennyson wrote and what they say goes, what you say, what you mean means less. Anyone whose name we recognize is potential cannon fodder, anything you say can and will be used against you.

Is Tom Brokaw a racist? Is racist “a thing” as they say? Is a questionable phrasing of a benign idea something that makes you a racist just like a chancre makes you syphilitic? Seems that way.

Mr. Brokaw seems off base to me in stressing the need to make immigrant children learn English. I think history teaches that this is what happens – all the time – and that retaining an ancestral language is rare. Sure one might know a few phrases to ask how grandma is feeling today but in America, people become American in a hurry. Is that racism, or an unfamiliarity with many Spanish speaking families?

Teddy Roosevelt, a man of his time but a Progressive man by his own reckoning has been accused of bad things for saying “I stand against every form of hyphenated Americanism” because it created parties and factions along racial and ethnic lines. He was right, in my opinion and it has helped pit all against all in the name of unity in our own time.

If you’ve ever been abroad for some time, you may have experienced, as I have, upon meeting up with people from the US, the warm sentiment at hearing “we’re all Americans here” with people of what would be diverse backgrounds back home. It’s a good feeling.  Teddy was, of course talking about Germans and Swedes and the immigrants of 1916, but we know damned well their kids all spoke English well and their grandchildren made this the most powerful country on Earth.

In my experience the children of immigrants don’t often learn their parents’ language well, or at all.  He spoke of assimilation too and that’s just what happened and it made us what we are and what we were when we were at our greatest and at our worst.

Is it wrong to think, as Roosevelt did, that it doesn’t matter about your family origins if you were at heart an American? I guess I’m a racist for thinking so, but that’s because I think it’s more a matter of pride to be committed to this country than that my ancestors were this or that or some other thing.

Where Brokaw is mistaken, in my opinion, is in thinking that there’s too much ethnocentrism in America and where his critics are paradoxically wrong is in insisting that’s the way it should be; that we should be more enclosed in our safe places, mistrusting all others and denouncing them for their race or gender or religion or ethnicity.

I believe in fact, that we are still a melting pot, a country that assimilates immigrants and where the children of immigrants learn English and become as “American” as anyone here for ten generations.

I heard a black Basketball player talk about “my people” yesterday as though they were a separate people and he was proud of it. As though he weren’t a hero to kids everywhere of every background and complexion.

It’s not that one can’t partake of some ethnic identity and remain American (although few Americans remain so genetically consistent or were when they came here in the first place.) I love Chinese food, I love the Blues and the food of many cultures, but I’m an American and that has nothing to do with a visa or passport or place of birth or ancestry. I just am and when abroad it’s obvious to everyone.

You can’t take that from me and I’m not going to try to take it from you or tell you your place of birth takes away from my being American too. Your name may be Jesus or Sven or Wong, but we’re all Americans here. So I’m not a German or a Pole, but an American with a German surname. Is that Racist?  No it isn’t.  E Pluribus Unum, out of many one, and all that.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted by on February 1, 2019. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
Back to Main Page

2 Responses to Is Tom Brokaw A Racist?

  1. Bill Formby Reply

    February 1, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    This country has adopted folks from all over the world throughout its relatively short history compared to much of the world. In some ways we are the world pull together in one country. There is a big business having to do with searching for our origins the ancestry searches and DNA tests. Why? Some of it is curiosity, some is to claim some type of ethnic pride. Is that right or wrong. Probably neither. There are some who claim it for pride in their race, or to claim superiority of what they feel are their rights. It is hard to tell the Europeans from one another, and far easier to distinguish people of color. Should it matter? Likely it should not, but we know that in some circles it does. I lived in a time and place where it mattered enough that it could cost one his or her life just for being noticeably different. This was a time when “the projects” were for the whites who were poor, and those of color lived in what were called “shanties” or “shotgun” houses. While we think that these things were so long ago they really were not in the country as a whole.
    Yes, the majority of the country has and is, or seems to be striving for unity among all Americans it must be difficult to be like the unwanted children of a family. Today the slant of thinking in America seems to be driven by intolerance because we have an idiot for a president. We know from the poll numbers that there are more of us willing to accept all as they are and move on through without the nastiness of racism. But with the loudest voices in the country seemingly in favor of white nationalism it is understandable that those of color might be afraid and try to fight back. Is Tom Brokaw a racist, not at all. But it is virtually impossible to explain the apparent hatred of Donald Trump and his followers for people of color such as those who wish to immigrate to a better life from south of our borders. It is impossible to say whether they should give up their ancestral languages or not. In Alabama one candidate ran for governor a few years back on a platform of requiring that every thing in Alabama had to be in good old English. At that same time Mercedes (a German Company) and Huday (A south Korean Company were in the process of building huge auto plants in Alabama that would require large number of employees from their countries to be at those plants. Idiots will never learn that in order to be successful on the world stage we need to continue to be a country of acceptance. Unfortunately, I live in one of those states that are full of idiots along with Mississippi, Louisiana and pockets of these dumbasses every where. Patience is a virtue. Folks our age will likely never see life lived the way it should be.

  2. Glenn Geist Reply

    February 1, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    From the day I moved to Florida 17 years ago, I’ve had to deal with the “speak English” crowd and invariably they don’t speak it all that well. There was an effort to require all retail establishments to have all their signs and labels in English alone, but Self-interest put a quick stop to it. I was disappointed because I wanted to see Publix forced to take tacos and salsa and even spaghetti off the shelves, our culinary vocabulary being as polyglot as it is. I’m not sure how much thought goes into this reactionary attitude – probably none, it’s just something people do without thinking like cheering the home team, but so many languages and dialects have been here and have made it a habitable state that it’s comical and tragic at the same time. Foreign tourism is of course a major source of revenue in Florida.

    Fear of ethnic enclaves persists and I’ve heard people tell me they won’t go into Hispanic neighborhoods unarmed as though they were afraid of the violence that isn’t there, but I almost suspect they really fear people talking about them in Spanish. I’m happy to speak about them in English of course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.