Tom Brokaw’s Comment on Hispanics Wasn’t Racist. It Was White Magic

Photo: Mike Coppola (Getty Images)

Confession: I was a magic nerd.

When I was young, I was really into the art of illusion. During my adolescence, I spent my meager allowance on three-dollar rope tricks and magic sets from Spencer’s Gifts. I learned the finger palm, the false drop, the sleeve tuck, and—although I never wore a top hat—I often dreamed that one day I would create the greatest magic trick ever:

The no-flourish, empty-hand apport.

Every magic trick is either a misdirection or a piece of mechanical illusion. But the most magnificent illusions of all is making something appear out of thin air without the aid of a wand or a scarf draped over it. There are a million magicians who have made things disappear, but to make something materialize with no misdirection, curtains or mirrors is the unachievable feat. For a magician, the no-flourish, empty-hand apport is the equivalent of building a coast-to-coast unbreachable wall. No one has ever done it...

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Except for white people.

They do it all the time.

Being born white in America doesn’t automatically come with a silver spoon or a blank check, but whiteness is its own magic wand. It can rewrite history and make a person indestructible. It is the supremacy of whiteness.

White supremacy can make 800,000 paychecks disappear into the ether by creating the illusion of an immigration crisis even though every quantifiable metric assures us that undocumented immigration is decreasing.

It can hocus pocus a dimwitted billionaire into a working-class “stable genius.” It can make everyone think that the highest achievable goal in this entire enchanted land is to assimilate into a society that wiped out the Native Americans, enslaved the Africans, and stole every other culture and claimed it for its own.

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But in spite of all that, perhaps the biggest trick white supremacy ever pulled was to convince the world that it didn’t exist.

White magic is real.


On Sunday, longtime anchor and reporter Tom Brokaw appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and wound up in a panel discussion about Americans’ perceptions on immigration. Brokaw stated that when he pushes people to talk on the subject, they say that they don’t want “brown grandbabies” or mixed marriages.” Brokaw then added his own views, which would get him into a lot of trouble:

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.

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To his credit, Brokaw apologized for his comments...kinda. In a series of Monday tweets, the newsman 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.

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The former anchor kept apologizing by explaining that he wasn’t racist while still insisting that he was right, until someone, likely a friend, stepped in, ripped the phone out of his hand, and said, “Nah, chief. This ain’t it.”

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NBC would later call Brokaw’s comments “inaccurate” and “inappropriate,” but that wasn’t the whitest part of this hullaballoo. The bad part was when Brokaw’s white liberal colleagues exited Narnia, stomped onto Twitter, and leaped to his defense by assuring the melanated population that Old Man Brokaw doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.

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Can’t you see the white magic? They said he wasn’t racist, and it was so. Even more telling: They actually believe it to be true.

After the initial outrage, the topic splintered into conversations about the validity of immigration statistics, racism, Hispanic assimilation, and more. There was only one topic that was never addressed because it simply disappeared into the ether:

White supremacy.


America is a magic trick.

Even though many white people are wrong when they assume that hate is a necessary component of racism, Tom Brokaw’s statement probably had no lasting impact on the lives of immigrants. No one thinks Brokaw hates Mexicans or is a secret member of the Ku Klux Klan. His defenders don’t even seem to understand that he can say something racist and still not be a racist. But in his brief moment of honesty, Tom Brokaw didn’t perpetuate racism...

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He gave away the secret of white magic.

What this entire discussion is really about is the belief that the fiction of whiteness is something one should aspire to. That belief is called white supremacy.

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Let’s be clear: There is no immigration crisis in America.

Both sides of the political spectrum agree that there is a need for comprehensive immigration reform, but the immigration burden is lesser this year than it was last year. And it was lesser last year than the year before. The number of immigrants crossing the southern border is decreasing. Immigrants lower crime. Immigrants boost wages.

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And though the entire crisis is a false apparition, the culture in which Brokaw and his ilk insist that the Hispanic population assimilate into is really whiteness. White supremacy is the assumption that speaking one language, the language of whiteness, is better than speaking two languages, like people in most countries in the civilized world.

White supremacy is being proud of the culture in Texas but having disdain for the country 20 miles south of it. White supremacy is finding a French accent sexy but a Mexican accent worthy of eradicating. White supremacy is recognizing that America ain’t shit but an elixir whose necessary ingredients are stolen land and kidnapped people, but believing that it is the pinch of white salt that gives the potion its powers.

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But here’s the most interesting thing of all.

Every bit of data shows that white people are the least-assimilated group of people in this country. Most white people only have white friends. White people are more likely to only live around white people. White parents don’t want their children attending diverse schools.

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Tom Brokaw doesn’t hate black people or Hispanics. I bet he likes fried chicken and eats burritos. He just wants more people like him. He is white, so instead of calling it “identity politics,” we call it “economic anxiety.” We call it “assimilation,” not “whitewashing.” Call it “political analysis.” Call it sage advice. Just don’t call Tom Brokaw racist because what he said was not racism. It was a different and more spectacular abracadabra...

White supremacy.

But then, I was a magic nerd. I’ve said it before:

There is no such thing as magic...

Just tricks.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.