Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tim Kaine Appears to be an Extremely Unusual White Guy

Regardless of what you think of the Clinton-Kaine ticket, let's acknowledge this much: Tim Kaine seems to have an unusually impressive record of pursuing racial justice and reconciliation. Before he entered politics, Kaine was a lawyer specializing in defending victims of housing discrimination. A longtime resident of Richmond, Virginia, Kaine attends a predominantly Black church. Ok, you say, he's an ambitious guy coming up in a majority-Black city. Showing his face in a Black church is an easy political win. But he's been a member there for decades. It's where his children were baptized.

And speaking of the children. Kaine's three kids went to predominantly Black Richmond Public Schools. It's hard to overstate how unusual this is for a White parent of means. It's just not done. As is typical of American cities, Richmond's public schools are much less White than the city. While 40% of the city is White, only 9% of Richmond Public Schools students are White. Kaine is an outlier in his city and in the nation.

In his work, his worship, and in the education of his own children, Kaine appears to have consistently demonstrated a commitment to racial justice. The point here is not to parrot Clinton campaign talking points. But the unusual ways Kaine has structured his life should be pointed out. This is not normal behavior for White Americans with options, much less for someone on a presidential ticket. Have we ever had such a major national political figure who has done so much in both their professional and personal lives to walk the talk?

Don't get me wrong; this is not heroic behavior, and I don't mean to play into a White savior complex. Middle-class people of color deliberately stay in poor communities all the time and people don't often notice. So this isn't heroism, but it is decency. Indeed, it's the kind of behavior one would expect to be commonplace if White Americans actually believed what they say about race. And it's the kind of profile that would be normal for White liberal politicians if they actually believed their self-righteous declarations.

In this period of violence and racial strife, there's been a lot of talk about the need to come together. Coming together for real involves fewer pleasant platitudes and more hard-edged changes in the structures of our lives. If the demands of racial justice don't affect White Americans housing and schooling choices, then we're still investing in the advantages of Whiteness rather than sharing. I'm sure there are skeletons in Kaine's closet; in particular, there are some unsavory details related to gifts he accepted while governor of Virginia. But with respect to racial reconciliation at least, Kaine seems to offer an unusual and positive example to White Americans.

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