Clinton had left Charleston hours before the shooting. In her speech the next day in Las Vegas to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), Clinton said we “have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns and division.” She added, “Let’s unite in partnership, not just to talk, but to act.” When Clinton got to the Conference of Mayors gathering in San Francisco, the Democratic presidential candidate went further.
“Once again, racist rhetoric has metastasized into racist violence,” Clinton said. “[D]espite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished. … I know there are truths we don’t like to say out loud or discuss with our children. But we have to. That’s the only way we can possibly move forward together.” And then Clinton spoke with an honesty I have not heard from a white politician since her husband President Clinton tried to lead a national “conversation about race” in the late 1990s.
And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting “those people” in the neighborhood.Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.We can’t hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them and own them and then change them.
Clinton’s “kooks and klansman” line echoes the tart observation made by President Obama in his podcast interview with Marc Maron over the weekend. The one where he said that “the measure of whether racism exists” is “not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘n—-r’ in public.” Whereas the president said we must figure out “what more we can do,” the candidate who hopes to succeed him urged all of us to no longer remain silent in the face of overt or insidious forms of racism.
Clinton was already slated to be in St. Louis for a fundraiser. But a campaign aide told me that the events of Charleston so moved her that she insisted on doing more. That’s why this afternoon, she will meet with education, community and religious leaders working on issues that impact systemic racism at a black church in Florissant, Mo., near Ferguson, another flashpoint in America’s troubled racial history. I expect Clinton to reiterate her themes from San Francisco and to focus on ideas and solutions that address how the nation moves forward to tackle these issues.
Clinton’s willingness to go all-in on race at this point of the presidential campaign stands in stark contrast to the dodging on the Republican side. Questions about race in general and the Confederate battle flag in particular have left the GOP tied up in knots. To be fair, the Democratic Party has had a decades-long head start in grappling with and understanding the myriad issues and nuances involved in talking about race. But after watching heartbreaking videos from Staten Island and Cleveland, McKinney, Tex., and North Charleston, silence is not an option.
Anyone who wants to be seriously considered for president of the United States must take race and racism seriously. He must be ready to discuss both with the thoughtfulness they require and be ready to offer solutions that can be implemented. I say “He” because the only viable woman in the race for the White House already has it covered.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj