The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Math

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Math
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)
Clapback MailbagEach Friday, we select the best (or worst) emails, tweets, DMs and comments from our readers and respond to them in the The Root's Clapback Mailbag.


Remember the Clapback day, to keep it holy. Five days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the Friday is the Clapback Day of the Root, thy website. In it, though shalt respond to the emails tweets and DMs ye received.


All week, wypipo raised all holy hell. And on Fridays, we shalt clap back at all that is within thy gates.

So shall it be.

Our first item comes from one of the comments on Anne Branigin’s article on Melania Trump and her “Be Best” campaign.

From: Tryingtounderstand
To: Anne Branigin

You keep confusing the benefits of wealth with the benefits of being white, Being wealthy far exceeds any special treatment for being white.

Dear Trying to Understand,

Funny you should bring that up.

While your comment may have only referred to Anne’s story on Melania Trump’s willingness to ignore the plight of poor and immigrant children, it raises an interesting question:

Which is it better to be in America, rich and black or poor and white?

Conversations about race and inequality sometimes descend into opinion and conjecture, which is why I like to discuss the topic through the lens of economics. It is not that I think money and wealth are the solutions to these problems. I simply believe that it is easier to illustrate the problems using measurable indicators.


So, let’s explore the evidence:

According to a 2018 study by researchers from Harvard, Stanford and the Census Bureau, 41 percent of black children whose parents are rich will end up poor or lower middle-class. Meanwhile, 56 percent of white children with poor parents end up in the middle class or upper middle class. That’s right; it is harder for a rich black kid to just stay in the middle class than it is for a dirt poor white kid to become wealthy.


You’re probably thinking that this probably has something to do with so many black single-parent homes. Well, a black two-parent home has the same income as a white one-parent home. And education doesn’t factor into it, either, because a white high school dropout has more wealth than a black person with a college degree. And a black boy whose parents are in the wealthiest one percent has the same chances of going to jail as a white kid whose parents make $36,000.

And that Harvard/Stanford study also shows that the worst neighborhoods for white people still have better schools, amenities, and resources than the best neighborhoods for black kids. In fact, a black child growing up in the richest, whitest neighborhood in America will still earn less than a white kid in the poorest neighborhood. A study just released last weeks shows that black people in the highest income brackets are denied mortgages at the same rate as white people who earn $48,000 per year.


So, nah. Anne is not confused, you are.

Because you believe white privilege is something that some white people have. Privilege is a birthright for white people in America—and they all have it. It does not mean that some white people don’t have to worry about money or success. If a teacher gave every white student 10 extra points on a test, it doesn’t mean every white student will get an A. And if some white students fail or some black students succeed in spite of their disadvantage, it still doesn’t mean the test was fair.


The criminal justice system, the education system, the political system, the economic system and every quantifiable system in America is tilted in favor of whiteness. Just because Anne points out the fact that some people have to run uphill while others get to coast down an escalator doesn’t mean she is confused.

But I’ll give you a few extra points for your question.

Thursday night, during my live-tweeting of the Democratic debate, I made a joke about Andrew Yang that some found objectionable.


When I saw his tweet, I wrote two sample responses in my head. The first one was inspired by every apology from a racist ever. It went like this:

Dear Mr. Huang,

I’m sorry if I offended you. Trust me, there is not a racist bone in my body; I had an x-ray and evcerything. One of my best friends is an Asian man and he isn’t even good at math. In fact, I asked him if my tweet was offensive and he said it wasn’t. Therefore, by the transitive powers of white supremacy, it must be ok if one singular person okays it. I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible.

I would also like to point out that Andrew Yang’s motto is literally “Math,” so you don’t have a right to be offended.


I still don’t understand why you’re angry. It’s not like I intended to hurt your feelings. Since I made the joke, it only seems reasonable that I get to decide whether or not it was in good taste. Plus, I love Asian culture. I have a Bruce Lee t-shirt and often dine at Panda Express, so that should count for something.

Please accept my sincerest, whitest apology.

However, I decided to go with this response instead:


Then we had a discussion about it, he sent me some of his writings and it ended.

See how easy that was?

The last letter is from a reader who wanted to share a few ideas about the article on reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ congressional subcommittee hearing appearance:

From: Ira
To: Michael
Subject: Reparations

Dear Mr. Harriot

I have been reading your work for quite a while. I read your recent blog about reparations and wanted to ask 2 serious questions

Do you think more people would accept the idea of reparations if it were called something different. The word reparations insinuates that every white person owes the debt. Also, do you think it would be smarter to give reparations in the form of tax breaks, grants or tuition assistance so that people won’t squander the money?

I know this will probably end up in the clapback mailbag but I would like to hear your thoughts.


Dear Ira,

Let’s tackle the second question first.

One of the biggest arguments in favor of reparations is that it would go towards eliminating the wealth and economic gap. One of the biggest misconceptions about the wealth disparity is that it is caused by a lack of education, business infrastructure or otherwise. That is not the case.


Tax breaks cannot fix this problem because poor people are usually exempt from income taxes anyway and don’t own enough property to be significantly affected by tax breaks.

Economic inequality cannot be cured by education because, as we discussed earlier, blacks are paid less at every educational level. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute says that wealth and pay disparity increases as education increases. The notion that black people don’t study hard enough, pay attention in school or value learning is a fallacy perpetuated by white supremacy to salve the pain that they created the wealth disparity and perpetuate it intentionally.


The only other conclusion one can reach is that CEOs, school district superintendents, government agencies and officials have all curiously never heard about the differences in pay, school funding, student discipline and employment.

Four hundred years of federal, state and locally-approved white supremacy did this.


And no one gets to dictate how they would like to repay injustice. If I kidnap someone, sell them on the black market and abuse their offspring for nine generations, I don’t get to serve my sentence in installments or pay restitution in coupons.

But I did come up with a few names for alternate names for reparations:

The Wypipo Student Loan: Since we created almost every form of American art and culture and then taught it to white people, maybe we should ask Sallie Mae to help us collect.


The One-Drop Child Support Rule: Aside from forcing black people to breed to sell their children, you raped our women and forced them to carry your children. We don’t want reparations. We want our child support arrears.

WICA: I have no idea what FICA means, but I’m in favor of deducting a small portion out of every white person’s paycheck for the We Invoicing Caucasians for our Ancestors.


The Big Payback: Because I love that James Brown song and I would make it my notification song for when my reparations check hit direct deposit.

Wypiparations: Because no one can hunt you down for what you owe like a white bill collector.


And one more thing:

Fuck you.

Pay me.

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



hmm, i’m not impressed or overly impressed by Christopher Huang’s criticism, it’s too easy and feels opportunistic.. like he’s been fishing in a black space hoping for an ‘I got you’ moment.. like see, a top black critic victimizing/stereotyping my group. Seems Mr Huang has been looking and hoping for something, and thinks he got it.

Maybe it’s just me.