LatinaLista — Watching MSNBC’s coverage last night of the Democratic National Convention, I was expecting to hear less critique and more cheerleading as opposed to how the convention team, headed by Rachel Maddow and featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, and Steve Schmidt among others, responded to the GOP convention last week.
After all, it is MSNBC. Yet, I wasn’t prepared to feel uncomfortable when Chris Matthews, in trying to pay Latinos a compliment, showcased instead the depth of mainstream media’s ignorance about Latinos.
After San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro finished his speech, Chris Matthews gushed to Rachel Maddow that Castro’s speech was one of the greatest speeches he had ever heard. Maddow asked Matthews to explain his assessment and what followed angered me more than flattered me.
It angered me because it exemplified how a man of Chris Matthews’ education, age and position knows nothing about the Latino immigrant experience or ties, in this case, with Mexico. In his attempt to praise Latinos, it came across as a third-party analysis of people who are MSNBC’s viewers.
With comments such as: (paraphrasing) Latinos don’t want to be seen as victims of this society, they are self-reliant, they have a very alive dream and it has nothing to do with wanting to have a dependency on government or welfare, etc.
The awkward experience can be equated to being in the company of someone who insists on talking about you to others as if you’re not sitting there.
I understand there was no malice involved and it was a sincere response to Castro’s speech but it angers me that in this day and age media feels like they still have to ‘explain’ Latinos to readers/viewers.
In a later interview that Matthews had with actress Patricia Arquette and John Leguizamo in how arts funding would fare under the different parties, Matthews turned to Leguizamo and asked him how he liked Castro’s speech. He didn’t ask him how he liked Michelle Obama’s or any of the other speakers that night, just the other Latino of the night.
It’s that assumption that Latino guests/panelists/pundits can only comment from a narrow perspective on an equally limited number of issues, usually immigration reform, the DREAM Act or other Latinos, that does more harm to the public perception of Latinos by those who think they’re helping.
In this case, the media isn’t helping Latinos to be seen as equally part of the mainstream when they continue to talk to us like we’re not watching or reading their coverage.
They’re not helping when they refuse to tap Latino pundits as regular contributors and instead only call them in if the issue of the day is deemed a ‘Latino issue.’
They’re not helping when they labor under the false assumption that all Latinos are just a generation away from the homeland.
It used to be that when there were misperceptions and misunderstandings of someone else’s background, if culturally different, there would be a call for sensitivity training. Nowadays, it’s just basic education that needs to be done to understand that if you’re going to talk about Latinos, chances are we’re already in the room.