The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Dream a Little Dream

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

Fourscore and 12 Fridays ago, our writers brought forth, upon this website, a new weekly feature—The Clapback Mailbag.

Nearly two years after this momentous decision, the mailbag proves, every single week, that the Caucasian still lives on a comfortable island of delusion in the midst of a vast ocean of truth. So we come, each Friday, to dramatize this shameful condition.

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But we have a dream.

We have a dream that the Billys in the Hills of Georgia will one day realize that talking about racism, inequality and the reality of discrimination isn’t “race-baiting.” I have a dream that the so-called progressive white people on the coasts will stop assuming that we are talking about “other white people” and not them. I dream of a day when the words of that old negro grammar lesson will ring out from sea to shining sea:

“It’s ‘you’re,’ not ‘your.’ It’s ‘their,’ not ‘there.’ It’s ‘lose,’ not ‘loose.’ Thank God almighty, they found spellcheck at last!”


This first letter is in regard to something I wrote about a thing. I’m not quite sure. I think she may have been referring to the Steve Harvey is Stupid article.

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In any case, she made some valid points:

From: Gina
To: Michael Harriot

Why do you concentrate on poverty, racism and hate instead of pointing out all the good things this country has to offer. I can’t deny that that stuff exists, but if you focus on oppression, you will always be oppressed. You can’t deny that hard work and education will be rewarded in America.

I know America is not perfect. even if you don’t have equal opportunity, you still have the opportunity to achieve things that you couldn’t do anywhere else in the world. Why not give your readers some positive stories instead of disparaging the greatest country in the world?

Not everything is about race.

Dear Gina,

I’m glad you brought this subject up. I’ve been waiting on your letter for nearly a year so that we could dismember one of the longest-held myths about America—specifically, the white notion that hard work and education are rewarded in this country. We love rags-to-riches stories.

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The technical term for this is “socioeconomic mobility,” which is a measure of the ease or difficulty of moving from one social or economic class to another. Some people refer to it as the “American Dream.”

The American Dream is a lie.

That is not my opinion. Nearly every study done by economists proves that it is more difficult to achieve intergenerational socioeconomic mobility in America than almost any other country in the world. It’s not even really close.

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A 2008 study by the Brookings Institution along with Pew Research says that in the US, “only 8 percent make the “rags to riches” climb from bottom to top rung in one generation, while 11 to 14 percent do so in other countries.” Less than 1 percent of the Americans on Forbes’ list of America’s billionaires started out poor. Brookings and the Economic Policy Institute say that American men’s earnings are more tightly tied to their father’s earnings than any other country except the UK. And it’s not just income. The US ranks below most countries in most intergenerational mobility categories including education, wealth, opportunity and social mobility, even though we think we have it better.

So what does this mean?

Well, if the previous generation’s wealth, income, opportunity and education determine the outcome for the vast majority of Americans, imagine what it must be like for a certain segment of people who were denied equal education, pay, access to credit and employment in every previous generation. In fact, you don’t even have to bother imagining. Here’s a study. Here’s another one. Here’s another one.

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We know black schools still receive fewer funds than white school districts. We know blacks are still paid less than their white counterparts with the same education and experience. We know black people are still denied credit, housing, justice and employment.

Still.

The scant few American rags-to-riches stories are anomalies in America and should not even be used as an example of how to get ahead, which is not to say that work ethic, talent and education are not valuable. But it is undeniable that being white and having access to wealth is more important in America. And anyone who does not mention race when talking about education, hard work or how to get ahead in this “exceptional” nation is either a liar or a fool.

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Everything is about race.

Even the American Dream


Every time we discuss cultural appropriation or theft, some dimwit brings up the fact that black people use a lot of white people’s inventions. Here is an example:

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Dear Ms. Bella,

While The Root has covered the subjects of cultural appropriation and theft many times, I will not presume that you read everything we publish. Here’s how I explained it previously:

There is no universally accepted definition of the term, but it generally relates to the use of the art, artifacts, symbology or anything of cultural significance to a minority or nondominant group of people by a person who is not in that group.

What separates cultural appropriation from a cultural exchange or paying homage is when someone “borrows” an item or symbol of cultural significance without acknowledgment, attribution or permission. One of the other hallmarks of appropriation is using someone’s culture to demean, make fun of or diminish it.

Understanding the definition and the power dynamics involved in cultural appropriation is the key to understanding the concept.

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Black people have no problem with white people rapping, being influenced by music or using black inventions. That’s how society works.

But in every case, specifically, the ones mentioned, the people were not compensated or acknowledged for their contributions, while the white people benefitted greatly.

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That is theft.

African artists called Picasso a thief, not me. The Beach Boys and the Beatles eventually settled and agreed that Chuck Berry’s songs were stolen, not me. Many of the details in Onesimus’ story came from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health’s “History of Smallpox Vaccination and Global Eradication,” I didn’t make them up.

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I often wonder why historical facts make many white people uncomfortable. Why must they resort to calling this “race-baiting?” Maybe it’s not the “race” part of race-baiting that they object to. Maybe they are upset that someone is using facts as “bait.” Even fish don’t mind the worm. It’s the hook that troubles them so. Maybe white people are worried about getting caught.

But, if my great-grandfather built a fortune by stealing someone else’s work, I might be reluctant to repay the money, but I wouldn’t dispute the actual facts or the merit of the argument. That would be stupid and useless...

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Unless I was a thief, too.


And finally, regarding the same article, from Keith Hernandez’s Mustache

10 Things We Wish Black People Would Appropriate From Whites:

10. Obey the orders of an officer. If the words “then they wrestled on the ground”, appear in the police report, just know we are all rooting for the police officer. All of us.

9. Stop having kids out of marriage. Yay, you tried it. Now your kids are growing up, with absentee mothers working two jobs and non-existant dads. 75% of black kids grow up without a father. That means 3/4 of you are royally screwed in the head on some level. Fathers teach respect and responsibility...well they’re supposed to, anyways.

What do you think happens when that goes away?

8. Your credit score sucks, because you can’t handle money. It’s 2019 - get a fucking budgeting app. The fact you all have to drive a Dodge Journey at 14.79% APR because your credit is shit, is holding you back.

If you had good credit, things that cost white people less would cost YOU less...like car insurance, credit card APRs, car loans, home loans, etc. Having a credit score sub-500 kills the fucking black community.

7. Stop defending pieces of shit. Bill Cosby. R. Kelly. Jussie Smollett. You defend these idiots - white people banished Roseanne to fucking Siberia for acting a fool, and she wrote a hit show about white people struggling.

6. Dave Matthews: He’s a talented musician. One thing about black culture, is they have top notch musicians. You guys should give him a chance - plus, he’s always had black band members...because they were super talented musicians and I feel comfortable saying Dave could give a shit what color you are, just play the damn instrument.

5. Stop admiring athletes across the board. The older you get, the more you realize bouncing a ball is useless. OBJ is an idiot. Think of it this way, white people’s NFL ambassadors are like, JJ Watt and Peyton Manning. Black people get Russell Wilson...and then who? More importantly, where are the white Tyreek Hills, Ray Rice, Kareem Hunts, etc.? Maybe if you paid attention to point # 9, your asses wouldn’t be beating the shit out of your girlfriends/mothers of your children. I didn’t write wives because I’m just playing the percentages here.

4. Is it that fucking hard to prioitize education? The only difference between Canada and Mexico, is that one country puts a premium on education and the other doesn’t. That’s it. That’s how one is a shithole, and the other is a comparative paradise.

The entire black community is completely left behind wages, and social mobility because the one thing that you’ve chosen NOT to be better than White America at, is education.

HAHA, suckers. Keep thinking the NBA is the only way to get out of the hood. There are 15 players on a team, and 30 teams in the league. That means, assuming 100% of players are from the USA and from shit neighborhoods (which they are not), only 450 people ever “escape” their living situation.

3. Learn to tip, you cheap fucks. The person serving your food, isn’t the“whitey” you’re looking for. You lash out at him, because that’s most likely the ONLY white person a black person ever has power over, even but for a second.

So like all assholes, you get a teensy bit of power then abuse it.

This is why black women are the worst fucking drivers. It’s like 150 years of oppression come pouring out in their inability to execute a 2-lane merge or not drive in the fucking passing lane. We’re not fixing society on the highway, drive like a person not a dildo.

2. Gays have rights too. The black community, when polled about gay marriage...most of you fucks are against it. Time and time again, when polled it’s whites in favor, then hispanics...then blacks.

FYI: If this were a game of “build that country” I would select the gays over the blacks. We’d get our asses kicked at track & field, but we’d own figure skating and our uniforms would be top notch.

1. Read real websites, like the Wall Street Journal. Washington Post. You can hide here in your echo chamber, reading Harriot and thinking you’re making a difference...you’re really not. The Root is the internet equivalent of Chinatown - it makes you feel comfortable but stunts the process of what makes this country great.

Cultural appropriation is bullshit. You’re supposed to look at other groups, steal their best ideas, and claim them as your own. If you can kill the first group, so there is nobody left to tell others you stole their idea, that’s great too!

Honorable mention goes out to: Registering your firearms, shutting your mouth at the movies, and watching Game of Thrones.

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Dear Keith’s Mustache,

I agree with all of your arguments. In fact, I would like to reiterate these points to the black community.

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10. Obey the orders of an officer: Because it worked so well for Philando Castile, John Crawford, Botham Jean and so many others. Plus, when George Zimmerman disobeyed orders to leave Trayvon Martin alone, he ended up paying a terrible price.

9. Stop having kids out of marriage. Honestly, I think this is a novel idea. The only time black people have ever heard this theorem is from every pastor, grandparent, old man, old woman, community activist, Hotep, spiritual advisor, and teacher ever. I know it might seem convenient for white people to point this out when they spent the first three-fourths of American History ripping babies out of the arms of black mothers and selling fathers down the river, but stop bringing up old shit.

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8. Your credit score sucks because you can’t handle money. You’re right. We haven’t had access to intergenerational wealth (see earlier letter) and were denied access to wealth-builders like home ownership. Also, our credit sucks because some of the largest banks and lenders in America have been found guilty of charging black people higher interest rates. And please don’t read this article about the history of contract buying. Or this one about redlining. Just listen to the mustache.

7. Stop defending pieces of shit. Like Donald Trump. Or the Confederacy. Or slaveowners. Or white people.

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6. Dave Matthews: I kinda like that one song he wrote that has my daughter’s name in it. She hates it, though.

5. Stop admiring athletes across the board. I know that white dudes from Boston fall asleep every night by masturbating to dreams of being on the receiving end of a Fenway Park bathroom gloryhole line that includes Tom Brady, Larry Bird and the Caucasian members of the Boston Red Sox. Even though white people are the majority of the people who buy the tickets, watch the games and buy the shoes, black people actually do revere athletes too much.

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4. Is it that fucking hard to prioritize education? When I read the Edbuild report that found black school districts get $23 billion less than white school districts; or that black schools have fewer computers, fewer books in the libraries, fewer Advanced Placement courses and more security officers than guidance counselors, I asked the white people who claim they want to eliminate racism:

“Is it that fucking hard to prioritize education?”

I’ll let you know what they say.

3. Learn to tip, you cheap fucks. As someone who worked as a waiter, I wholeheartedly agree. I mean, only the worst kind of human being would allow someone to work for them and not pay them. That must be a racial thing.

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2. Gays have rights too. Yup. Everyone knows that it’s the powerful black community who has historically denied the LGBTQ community justice and equality. We’re keeping it all for ourselves.

1. Read real websites, like the Wall Street Journal. Washington Post. Of course, the Mustache can find a way to read the Root and The Washington Post, unlike you semi-literate negroes. Considering the fact that many people on The Root’s staff have worked at the above-mentioned prestigious institutions and others, we agree that you should also support the people who write for these outlets.

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You gotta start somewhere.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.