Clinton and Kaine Are Challenging White Americans on Racial Issues

Perry Bacon Jr., NBC News, August 14, 2016

In their speeches on racial issues, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have made an argument that President Obama rarely has: white Americans in particular need to change their views and perspectives to fix the nation’s racial problems.

“We white Americans need to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day,” Clinton said last month at the NAACP’s annual convention.

She added, “We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility rather than assume that our experiences are everyone’s experiences. We all need to try as best we can to walk in one another’s shoes, to imagine what it would be like to sit our son or daughter down and have the talk about how carefully they need to act around police because the slightest wrong move could get them hurt or even killed.”

Kaine, in a speech Thursday at the Progressive National Baptist Convention in New Orleans, went further, saying that on racial issues there is “work that all Americans have to do, and I will say especially white Americans.”

“It’s so important for those of us in a majority to get out of our comfort zone and learn other realities, and that’s what Hillary and I both kind of challenge our Caucasian leaders and Caucasian communities to do,” Kaine said.

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But the way Clinton and Kaine are talking about racial issues now could open up new possibilities if they are elected. First, Clinton and Kaine, because they are white, can speak about so-called white privilege in a way that Obama would be hesitant to do.

Obama took great steps, particularly in his first term, to avoid being cast as a president speaking on behalf of African-Americans, as opposed to leading the whole country. And perhaps because of his own racial background, Obama’ s remarks on race rarely put the onus on whites directly, as Clinton and Kaine have.

Secondly, while “privilege” is a vague term, defining racial issues in this way could be helpful in some ways. Obama and his team have been aggressive in taking on clear, obvious issues of race. {snip}

A focus on white privilege might help with more subtle problems: the intersection of housing and education policy that results in millions of black and Latino kids going to schools that are full of poor, non-white students; the lack of diversity in industries like Hollywood and Silicon Valley; the persistent pay gaps between white and black Americans, even when they have similar levels of education.

{snip}

“Having a president who uses the bully pulpit and certainly the way she has talked about race in this country, talking about white privilege, talking about systemic racism, talking about this idea of walking in one another’s shoes, she talks about that in front of white audiences, black audiences. And I think having someone who is acknowledging that and who is talking about that and normalizing that on a regular basis is important,” said Karen Finney, a Clinton adviser.

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