Not Our Problem to Solve

Dear Hillary,

It’s me again–your younger black Wellesley sister down here in Memphis, TN.

As you begin DNC convention week, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on what I, as a black woman, would really like to hear. And, perhaps more importantly, what I would like not to hear…from anyone…at all.

In brief, don’t ask us to “come together” or “forgive” or “engage in conversation” or “be patient”.

The historic murder, bondage, and marginalization of black people is built into every American institution–physical, political, economic. Black people didn’t build these institutions. Well, we very likely built the actual physical structures, but we had no power in the construction of our oppression.

It is wrong to make requests of us right now. It is ridiculous that leaders anywhere would suggest that blacks should be discussing our role in the solution without any clear understanding on the part of institutional and government leaders that the solution is in your hands.

It is time for leaders, such as yourself, who are servants of historically oppressive institutions, to explain that this is a mess of your making. It is not our problem to solve. It is yours.

We say police are killing us. We have sufficient data to demonstrate that we are not delusional (not that that should be the standard, but hey it’s a bonus). Now, you make that stop. No excuses. No talk of mistakes or bad apples. Just immediate changes in policy that lead to indictments and trials. And immediate actions to support prevention.

We say there has been systematic underinvestment in youth development, which contributes to poor academic and economic outcomes. Now, you commit to increasing investments in quality youth development so that average black children can investigate and pursue the world of possibility before them.

We say that the consequences for black people who commit or are suspected of committing crimes–or simply dare to expect to be respected as human beings–are dramatically different than the consequences for whites. Again, plenty of evidence to support that. Now, you find a way to change it. Perhaps criminalizing the behavior of institutional agents who perpetuate white supremacy would be a start. You’re smart. You’re surrounded by smart people. You all can figure it out.

Wait! You don’t actually have to figure anything out! On every single point above there are plenty of solutions that have been put forth…quite a bit by blacks folks. So you see, although it isn’t our problem to solve, we’ve already put in the work.

As you and your team take to the stage and airwaves, please don’t ask black people to do anything. Well, you may ask that we vote for you, but you need to acknowledge we are right and say how you’re going to get to work. I have no doubt that those of us who want to be involved will step up, and you’ll make sure we have space to do so. It’s the least–by which I mean the absolute literal least–you can do.


Sincerely and with great anticipation,

Adriane Johnson-Williams

Wellesley College, Class of 1996