One of the few silver linings from the last two weeks of police-involved violence is that some genuinely brilliant and fearless and incisive and resonate work from black writers has sprung from it. Making this particularly impressive is that they’ve found ways to distill, craft and articulate unique angles and relevant points while still processing the same collective trauma that much of black America is experiencing.
Unfortunately, if you were to ask each of those writers if they’ve also received (at least) several hate-filled messages—comments, tweets or emails—in response to this work, I have no doubt that each of them would offer a resounding “Yes!” Perhaps even a sarcastic “No,” like, “Of course I didn’t receive any hate mail. Because of course that never, ever, ever, ever, ever happens to me.”
And I’m sure of this because 1) I’m also a black person who writes about race and 2) I get enough hate mail to curate a collection of essays, perhaps called Chicken Soup for the Stupid N—ger’s Soul.
I get so much of it, in fact, that I can separate it into distinct flavors. Here are my 10 favorite ones:
1. “You’re the real racist.” I wonder if the people who call the people who point out racism “the real racists” carry that dynamic elsewhere. If a doctor tells them they need to lay off the sugar, do they reply, “You’re the real diabetic”? Would they say, “You’re the real leaky faucet” to a plumber who told them they need new pipes?
2. The stealth bomb. It starts off innocently enough. With a normal sentence (“Just read your latest … ”). Or perhaps even what seems to be a compliment (“Rarely does a piece compel me to respond, but yours did … ”).
And then, right when your guard is almost down, seemingly out of nowhere comes, “Anyway, I just wanted to remind you you’re a filthy n—ger crack baby.”
3. The racists who don’t actually know or like any black people but pretend to and wish the writer were more like the black people they don’t actually know or like. These are also often the ones who reference dead civil rights icons they definitely would have hated (“You need to be more like MLK”) and random living black people they’re pretending not to hate to make a point (“I never heard Oprah or Flo-Rida talk any of this Black Lives Matter mess”).
4. “Dear N—ger.” The hate mail that leads with a polite formality, like “Dear,” and then dives right into hate speech is actually my personal favorite because it shows that the racist at least has a sense of humor. If I were the type of person who spent hours per week writing hate mail to writers, I’d totally start messages with “Dear N—ger” or “Hello, Mr. Coon!”
5. The “clever” racists who believe they’ve caught you in a trap. “So, you say black lives matter” the letter begins, setting me up for the bear trap he so cleverly is about to lead me into. “But what about black-on-black crime? Do those black lives matter?”
“Dammit, foiled again!” is what I never actually think.
6. The racist who really needs to have a drink or a vacation or an orgasm or something to release all of that anger. These messages tend to read as if a house cat was dabbing on the keyboard while they were typing:
“WHY ONY UO BLAVK PROPLR EVER JUST FOCYSE ON GOOD THINGS AND ALWAYS HAVE TO BR8BG UP RACE??? IT MAKES ME OSM ANGET THAT GOOD WHITE PEOPLE HAVE TO SFFER BECAUSE OF RACST IDOTS LIKE YOU AND YOUR PEOPE.”
7. The insult that the racist doesn’t even realize is actually a compliment. “Maybe I’m racist today. But you’ll have dark skin and nappy hair forever.”
(S—t, I hope so. Thanks!)
8. The racist who doesn’t even realize that a race-based piece of satire was actually satire and not real. “I just read your piece on 10 Reasons Why the Obama Presidency Has Been Bad for America, and I loved your list! Especially the part about Michelle being the first first lady to bring a hot comb to the White House. I can’t wait until those Cooncago criminals are kicked out this year, and I’m glad I found a black person brave enough to say it!”
9. The racist who very obviously got his racist emails mixed up because the person he’s insulting is clearly not you. “Of course, a half-breed like you would defend another half-breed like Jesse Williams. I’m almost as ashamed of your white half as you are.”
10. The non sequitur. There’s no intro, no punctuation, no indication of what they’re responding to. Just sometimes an entire email consisting of one word (“Coon”) or perhaps a riddle from a Stormfront postcard (“Being half n—ger is like being half pregnant”).
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.