08/25/2015 03:53 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2016

Note to Hillary: Hearts and Minds Must Be Changed on Race


A couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton showed she is a cynic when she told a group of Black Lives Matter activists in a videotaped meeting: "I don't believe you change hearts," adding "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate."

The meeting was set up to talk to Hillary about how she plans to address racial injustice. But instead of discussing her ideas, she pressed the activists to state their demands, the policies and laws they want to fix. Needless to say, Hillary should already have her own racial justice platform, just as she will on labor issues, the environment and gender equality.

A platform on racial inequality is, first, a moral imperative for anyone wanting to represent 40 million African Americans. But, also, the nation is more focused on racial inequality than at any time in 50 years, so having an agenda black people can consider only makes sense.

Hillary's inability to envision changing hearts and minds shows she misunderstands history, particularly as it relates to racial struggle. Most important, she shows she doesn't get the moment we're in right now when it comes to race. Settling for simply a policy agenda, is, well, just settling. And that's not what black people are looking to do.

Some 60 years ago, legal segregation of schools ended with the Brown v. Board of Education decision that relegated black children to horribly inferior schools. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1964 were created to end the legal inequality in other areas of life, including voting and employment. Ending the literal and visual signs of our oppression was what drove thousands to jail and to suffer the beatings, killings, bombings and federal surveillance that so many endured. The signs came down, progress was made, but the racism we fought lives on.

This is evidenced not only because of the disproportionate killings of unarmed black people, but because of the ongoing disparities in employment and wealth, among other issues.

So, again, the fight for racial equality must go well beyond a policy agenda. And that's what's happening. The new battle around race in Post-Ferguson America is indeed over the hearts and the minds that Hilary is too cynical to think about. Black Lives Mater activists--as the network's co-founder Patrisse Cullors told Politico-- have made clear that they seek to end the anti-black racism, the negative stereotyping, fear and hatred of African Americans that leaves unarmed black people unnecessarily dead at the hands of police officers.

Too often, this fear and disdain of black people among white Americans, means we don't get the job, the house or apartment we seek or equal treatment in our schools. It means being relegated to the bottom over and over again.

Hillary fails to understand that while we definitely need an agenda around a whole range of issues we must envision a world that is free of racism. We can come up with thousands of pages of proposed policies and laws to bring about racial justice but, as in the past, racism will always find ways to get around them.

Public schools have become more segregated. The Supreme Court has taken the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act and southern states have erected obstacles and barriers that make it harder for people of color to vote.

So it must be understood that we have to aim as high as we possibly can. Black lives have been too difficult in the U.S. to get by with cynicism. We've always had to make a way out of no way. Before the Civil War, we ran from plantations and plotted rebellions when the odds were against us. We had to envision a life that seemed impossible. Martin Luther King understood this and that's why he not only sought passage of landmark civil rights legislation to change laws but he had a dream of racial unity and equality.

He had to believe in the incredible human capacity for change because he knew laws and policies would never be enough if the hearts and minds of those expected to carry them out were still deeply racist.

This is why racist thinking is in the crosshairs right now. We can't sit back quietly while relegated to the bottom. We don't want our chains loosened. We want them broken.

And we need white Americans, who believe deeply in fairness and justice to join the fight as well. We do not control Congress, state legislatures and very few city councils and we need allies who are willing to think big, to change hearts and minds, so that we're not always fighting the same battles generation after generation.