Baffoe: There’s Nothing For Joe Maddon To Apologize To Hazleton About

By Tim Baffoe–

(CBS) I’ll be direct: To hell with your delicate sensibilities about how people treat your bigotry. That goes for all the lazy, idiotic xenophobes out there but in particular the segment of garbling sad sacks of Hazleton, northeastern Pennsylvania and whatever brain trust farts out editorials and the like for the Times Leader newspaper.

On Monday, it published a gasping op-ed, demanding an apology from Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who’s from Hazleton, for remarks made during a Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly feature about him giving back to his hometown.

As Christopher Hine chronicled in the Chicago Tribune in 2015, Hazleton is a town reflective of a changing America, both economically and superficially.

”My city was dying,” Maddon said then of mining jobs that had gone away in the new century (as they’ve done all over mining country for decades and will continue to do so, regardless of politician lies today).

Then Hazleton started attracting more manufacturing and warehousing jobs, which didn’t pay as well but attracted new residents willing to do those jobs. The town’s Hispanic population grew rapidly as the white population declined.

This bothers a lot of white residents because, well, quaint racism and stuff. They responded by blaming Hispanic residents for an uptick in crime, even though the police chief and Maddon noted those residents weren’t the problem. That didn’t stop the town from passing the Immigration Relief Act (always pay attention to the wording of sponsored political action), which would fine businesses for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them. (The Supreme and Circuit Courts found this to be bad for some reason.)

The town also declared English as its official language, which is always the sign of open-minded people. Lou Barletta, the mayor at the time, parlayed the extended white fright in that part of the state into an election to Congress.

Maddon noticed a people divide in his hometown and was really bothered by it. So he helped found the Hispanic Integration Project (HIP). While serving all Hazelton residents, HIP is more children-focused, probably because they’re not born bigoted but made so by adults in their lives. Maddon told the Tribune’s Hine as much.

“The kids have to learn how to not like somebody else,” he said. “They normally have to be taught by their parents. All the grown-ups, any of this prejudice, any of this crap going on is learned behavior.”

HIP is also geared toward the economically disadvantaged. HIP includes a tutoring program, preschool, after-school program, sports camps and other summer camps, per its website. Adults have access to classes in learning Spanish and in learning English, a computer course, citizenship classes and a GED program.

So the whole program is clearly awful, and Maddon should have left the town to rot like so much of the Rust Belt and mining areas. At least to some white residents who resent it.

“(They say) he’s an enabler,” then-mayor Joe Yannuzzi told Hine. “He’s enabling (the illegal Hispanic community) to stay. He’s giving them reason to be here and hope. They don’t like that.”

Yeah, hope is the worst. In the Times Leader’s op-ed, residents said Maddon is “full of himself” and the Kelly piece “was terrible — I hate him, I hope he doesn’t win one game.”

The quote from the TV feature that has rankled residents all the up to a newspaper editorial board is this:

“(Immigrants) are going to save our town,” Maddon said. “You have two options right here. Either you get on board and help us as we’re moving this thing along or you’re going to die. And when you die and go away, then you’re going to get out of the way. You’re not going to be part of the problem anymore. So, it’s either help or die.”

So much for tolerance of regressive views, right? Now, if you’re not stupid, that quote is beyond sensible and hardly malicious. Asked about it on Tuesday evening in San Francisco, Maddon told the Trib, “All I meant was … as we continue to move forward, I really encourage people to become part of this positive movement and understand that if you choose not to, it’s still going to change anyway when you’re gone.”

Duh. Progress continues regardless, no matter if you were a flat earther or believed in bloodletting to balance the humors centuries ago or today fear the great Hispanic menace that isn’t. Your great-grandchildren — with a good chance of being part Hispanic! — are going to think you a fool and not likely care that you’re underground, and intelligent society will battle some other idiocy 50 years from now. If the man whom almost 58 percent of Luzerne County voted for last November hasn’t achieved nuclear winter in the meantime.

But how dare Maddon acknowledge their mortality the historical insignificance of resistors of progress. Where’s the decorum? As ethos, the Times Leader edi-friggin-torial board cites (cue flourish of horns) the comment section of one of its publication’s pieces. A theme there, they say, is that Maddon shouldn’t be telling residents of Hazleton what to do because he’s rich. The board calls this a “fair point.”

It’s not, of course. It’s incredibly stupid and unfair to deflect from a valid point someone is making by saying their wealth disqualifies them from social justice. And it’s shameful to use op-eds to misguide readers instead of educating an audience that so clearly needs it.

Interesting, too, that both Hine’s piece and the TV feature note what a religious community Hazleton is. Nothing is more 21st-century American Christian than telling the rich to shut up about issues affecting the little guy even when the rich are actually putting money where their mouths are. That and using coded language of “criminal threats” and whatnot to tell immigrants and people different from you that they don’t belong or are less than worthy.

“Joe, you are not a social engineer,” the Times Leader declares. “You are a baseball manager.”

Besides the “stick to sports” laziness of that, invalidating bigots isn’t social engineering.

Maddon set up a literal educational outlet for people who don’t understand different cultures, and many clearly aren’t using it. Instead they’d rather wring their hands over Maddon not caressing the heads of those retarding community-building that the newspaper op-ed acknowledges has been great for the town. And to boot, Maddon isn’t apologizing.

“There’s no ill intent,” he told reporters Tuesday. “If you watch the show in its entirety, it’s a really positive piece. And I think the message is 99.9 percent positive.

“So for those who misinterpreted the comments, I can’t say I even apologize for that because there’s no ill intent involved. I don’t wish that on any human being. And actually I wish the opposite.”

And he shouldn’t say he’s sorry. Nobody needs to kowtow to dimwits who are short-circuiting over the reality that the world isn’t catering to their idea of ownership of this country as much anymore.

“For the group that is anti-what I said,” continued Maddon on Tuesday, “I’d just like to know what their take is specifically on what we’re doing. I’d like to hear from them … why they’re so averse to what we’re doing and what they think of the people who are moving to our hometown.”

Well, it’s pretty easy to guess what they think of the new people and why, Joe, but besides that I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on rational discussion from xenophobes who are upset that you pointed out that good things will and are happening in spite of them. Fifty-three new businesses have opened in Hazleton in the last three years, per the feature piece on Kelly’s show. Major crime is at its lowest there in a decade. This isn’t all Maddon’s doing obviously, but he’s part of the progress, even if often from a distance.

To resent that is asinine, and it disqualifies you from having your precious feelings considered while demanding an allowance to be ignorantly privileged. Sure, be angry at the Others instead of the people who are screwing you. Hell, vote for the latter as they pit you against the former. Drag the man of good fortune helping the tired and poor yearning to breathe free, the guy literally putting money toward needed services in your town. Don’t villainize the rich people responsible for your jobs evaporating and your unions busting and your epidemic opioids being so easy to acquire.

That’s basically America for the last 150 years. It’s always the fault of the Others. Meanwhile, America made some social progress in that time with invaluable contributions from the Others while the romantic blue collar who resisted it died along the way without helping or being particularly remembered for anything more than collective foolishness.

Like the segment of stubborn, sensitive, bitter bigots in Hazleton with their wasted op-ed space who “want their country back” will.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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