Yesterday, a story that drew tons of attention on mainstream and minority-run news media was about Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s church home. It wasn’t because there was anything special about his church, St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, VA. Rather, it was simply because his church happens to not be composed of only White people. It’s a “black church.” But, I’m not ready to give him cookies for that choice.
Senator Kaine and his wife, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, have attended the church since 1984, according to NBC News. In fact, it is the same church where the two were married in November 1984, 32 years ago. Kaine sings tenor in the choir from time to time. Other parishioners have spoken on the voracity of Kaine’s social justice work and his commitment to communities on the margins. While this is heart-warming, it is confusing why this would be deemed newsworthy by so many outlets.
Yes, his resume looks different from most (maybe all) those who have ever run for VP before. But, that isn’t enough to garner this kind of attention. Veering from the norm is an insufficient justification for adulation to this degree unless there is something else that makes it special. So, why is this “news” so newsworthy?
To be frank: this is politics. Nothing more. Nothing less.
There is no doubt that racial inequality and even the mere discussion of race has been a key issue throughout this election. Republican candidate for the presidency, Donald Trump, has opted to deploy vitriolic and racist language to broach these topics. Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has offered mostly empty rhetoric to assuage lingering concerns that she isn’t truly committed to addressing the issues raised by activists and organizers in marginalized communities. But, since the VP nominations have been made public and codified at the national election committee meetings, all eyes have now turned to candidates for the second-highest political office in the United States.
If we are being honest, Senator Kaine is exactly what Hillary Clinton needs right now. He speaks fluent Spanish after having volunteered to teach Honduran children carpentry skills during law school, his wife is the product of an affluent and very political household where her parents placed her in integrated schools during segregation, and now it turns out that he attends what some are calling a “black church” in a working-class neighborhood.
Here is the problem though: Tim Kaine’s sainthood, knighthood, white-savior-hood, or whatever else he may suffer from cannot change the political experiences, choices, and ideologies of Hillary Clinton.
The issues with Hillary Clinton won’t simply be washed away because her VP pick is an honorable man who might be considered an ally to the very groups who have major (justifiable) critiques of her political history.
And, in the case of Kaine, church attendance isn’t the same as working to end racial disparity. Sending one’s children to racially diverse public schools isn’t the same as guaranteeing that all children have access to the education they need. And singing in the choir isn’t the same as ensuring equitable treatment of racial minorities by police authorities, judicial officers, or citizen aggressors hell-bent on persecuting ‘others’ they deem different from themselves.
This is not to say that Kaine isn’t the “social justice warrior” some have called him. Rather, it is to say that this tactic could prove disingenuous to young people of color (specifically Black people) who already have a deep distrust of politics as usual.
According to our recent GenForward poll, a majority of young adults (of all races) perceive Clinton as dishonest. Thus, it would be naive to believe that Tim Kaine’s nomination – or the cliché stories about him – will be taken with blind optimism. It is clear that Hillary Clinton chose Kaine because he goes over well with the Republicans and Independents she is hoping to sway by November. These stories about him attending a black church probably aren’t even for us anyway. And there’s the rub.
Black and Latinx people continue to be used as political objects in a game of thrones we were never in the running to win. Many young people of color just wanted her to listen. Many were asking that she be accountable for the political choices she has made and will make going forward. They asked her to be responsive. Instead, she chose what was a politically optimal.
So, no, I’m not impressed Senator Kaine attends a black church. Actually, I’m not even surprised because anything coming out of the Clinton camp is going to sound great, look the part, and be pretty convincing.
What would be surprising at this point is a political process where political leaders and vice presidential hopefuls weren’t praised for attending churches with Black people, sending their kids to school with Black people, and living in communities with Black people. Instead, it would be astounding to see them actually working to empower and uplift the causes integral to Black collective struggle in the United States without the bylines to make sure the voting public was watching.
Photo: Flickr/ Cliff