Many have proposed that the current “blackface” crises at the top of the Virginia government have created a “teachable moment,” that it presents an opportunity to foster the kind of conversation about race — and in particular about white racism — that Virginia and the nation need.
Ideally, this conversation would be initiated and led by Governor Northam– both because it is he whose past involvement with blackface has embroiled him in this crisis and because he is the titular head of Virginia’s government.
But, regrettably, Governor Northam’s performance since this political crisis arose has demonstrated that leadership of this sort is not one of his political strengths.
That the “ideal” scenario by which this conversation might be conducted is not available does not mean, however, that the desired healing conversation cannot be initiated by other means.
It occurs to me that such another means might be this: that Congressman Donald McEachin and Senator Tim Kaine might jointly develop a forum in which the two conduct the kind of conversation this moment calls for.
I don’t know either man intimately, but I know each of them enough to have a well-founded belief that they could bring moral, spiritual, and political depth to that mission.
I’ve observed that Donald McEachin, who is African-American, has the gifts that go with the black clergy at their powerful best. My impression when I’ve heard him speak was that his commitment to his Christian values and to racial justice is sincere and deeply held. He can move an audience.
Kaine, who is white, has impressed me as being an exceptionally decent, fundamentally good man. And quite transparently so. And I’ve heard Kaine deliver a speech that impressed me so much I wrote here about it: it was rhetorically compelling and with strong spiritual overtones. And perhaps it is relevant to what kind of spirit he would bring to a conversation about race, that as a young man, Tim Kaine chose to go as a missionary to Honduras, serving the kind of brown-skinned people that Trump demonizes at every turn.
If these two fine Democratic leaders could work well together in the dance of conversation, the two of them exploring the issues of race (and white racism) together in a public forum could deliver powerfully on what Virginia needs at this difficult moment.