On 11 August 2016, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine delivered a 54-minute speech before the National Progressive Baptist Convention in which he began by discussing his faith, his life-changing experiences working as a volunteer with missionaries in Honduras during his college years, and finding a spiritual home at a Catholic church in Highland Park, a racially diverse neighborhood of his wife’s hometown, Richmond, Virginia. At one point, he stressed the value of experiencing what life is like for people who live in circumstances different from one’s own:
I was in Honduras, struck with the MLK reference, “the most segregated hour of the week is 11 o’clock Sunday morning.” And that was a challenge to me. And so I’ve made my spiritual home in a neighborhood where we’re not segregated. In fact, we were, when we started there, one of a few white families in that church. It’s now a very well-integrated church. But it was important to — especially I think the burden is on those of us who are in a majority — Caucasians, here. We’ve got to put ourselves in situations where we’re in the minority and come to understand a reality that’s different than the one that we just take for granted every day. We have to.
I have often — I learned this in Honduras, and I have learned it again in Richmond, just from my perspective, which is not an omniscient one, but just from my perspective, that if you are in a minority in this country, you kind of have to learn the ways of the majority just to survive, just to survive. But if you’re in a majority, you can go through your whole life and not have to learn the ways of anybody other than you. And that’s not — that’s not saying that there’s malice there, but you can just be walled off, separated, segregated on the other side of town and move with people like you and never have to grapple with a reality that’s different than your own. And one of the beautiful things that has been transformational about my church is that by being there, I’ve had to grapple with, understand, listen to, learn from, confront realities that are not necessarily the ones that were my own but over time have become more a part of me.
The meaning of Kaine’s comments was clear: One needs to be able to walk in other people’s shoes to understand them. That’s not how it was presented on conservative blogs and web sites, however.
“In little noticed comments,” reported GOP The Daily Dose, “Hillary’s running mate Tim Kaine told a black audience in New Orleans that white people must become a ‘minority’ in order to properly atone for racism and oppression suffered by blacks.”
The web site then misquoted him:
“I’ve never been treated badly in life because of my skin color or my gender,” Kaine told a group of black Baptists in New Orleans. “I think the burden is on those of us who are in the majority — Caucasians. We have to put ourselves in a place where we are the minority.”
First, although it is in the speech, the sentence “I’ve never been treated badly in life because of my skin color or my gender” was spoken several minutes later in a completely different context.
Second, Kaine didn’t say, “We have to put ourselves in a place where we are the minority.” He said, “We’ve got to put ourselves in situations where we’re in the minority and come to understand a reality that’s different than the one that we just take for granted every day.”
On Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette.com, writer Edmund Kozak similarly misrepresented Kaine’s words. In an article subtitled “Clinton running mate seems to admit Democratic policies will bring down white, middle-class Americans,” Kozak reported:
While speaking to a group of black Baptists in New Orleans, Tim Kaine seemed to suggest that in order to achieve “equity” between the races, white people need to willingly submit themselves to a state of repression similar to what black Americans have experienced.