Recently, Tom Brokaw got himself into some well-deserved hot water during an episode of Meet the Press when he said, “Hispanics should work harder at assimilation …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.”
He backtracked his statement, after Twitter decried him as a racist. But as The Root says, he “tried to whitesplain his way out of ridicule by issuing an ‘all lives matter’ version of an apology, reminding the Twittersphere about that time he covered Cesar Chavez.”
But if we really want to talk about assimilation in America, we shouldn’t be looking at the Latinx community. Instead, we need to talk about white people.
South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861. The Confederate States of America survived until April of 1865, when it was again reunited — after a bloody and violent conflict that killed more than 600,000 Americans — with the United States of America. According to The Washington Post, a 2011 poll found more Americans believed states’ rights, not slavery, caused the war. A 2015 poll reported that only just over half of Americans believed that slavery caused the Civil War.
Just over half.
This is not assimilation. This is willful ignorance.
After the 2017 clash in Charlottesville, where white nationalists gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, and a man drove a car into the crowd of anti-racist protestors, killing a 32-year-old woman, sales of Confederate flags soared. While major retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon stopped carrying the flag after the 2015 mass murder of 9 men and women at a historically black church in Charleston, SC, online sales remain hot. At Alabama Flag and Banner, one of the few U.S. makers of Confederate battle flags, “sales topped 150 in a single day” just after Charlottesville, “equivalent to about a quarter of average annual sales.” One google search for “Confederate” will turn up dozens of merch sites.
According to an article in The Guardian, 54% of Americans think the Confederate statues should remain in place.
That means a full 54% of Americans — the overwhelming majority of them presumably white — still think we need to lionize the men who fought to keep black people in chains. That’s a lack of assimilation. These people still haven’t realized that the Civil War is over, the right side won, and they need to wake up and treat people of color as people with an equal share of common humanity.
Instead, they wrap themselves in the Stars and Bars and yell that you can’t tread on me (mixed messages, different wars, but no one’s accusing them of consistency). They haven’t yet grasped the idea that these statues are deeply offensive to people of color. They don’t get that by supporting them, they’re supporting slavery. They simply haven’t assimilated into American culture — the culture that won the Civil War.
Tom Brokaw claims that Hispanic children are “codified in their communities.” A 2016 study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that “fully three-quarters (75%) of white Americans report that the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely white, with no minority presence.” White people, therefore, are literally the least assimilated of all races, the least comfortable in “the communities,” as Brokaw so euphemistically calls them. Ironically,
Hispanics are the ones who report the most diverse social networks: more than one-third report having a mixed social network.
You’re wrong, Brokaw. Just like the confederate flag brigade.
Hispanic people aren’t the ones who need to assimilate in American culture. White people do.
White people need to integrate into American culture — the true American culture, a culture where 39.3% people of people don’t identify as white, according to the US Census Bureau. The culture that won the Civil War. The culture made of a diversity of voices and colors and races and abilities.
So when we talk about the need for assimilation, don’t look to people of color. Look to the white communities on the hill. Look to the suburbs. Look to the 75% of white Americans without one single confidante of color.
White people need to assimilate. And Tom Brokaw’s comments only prove it.