We are gathered here this Friday to celebrate the life and death of this curious little thing called racism. When I sort through the reader responses each week to find the best emails, tweets, comments, and DMs for the Clapback Mailbag, invariably, there are always a few people who believe the same thing:
Racism is dead.
Because The Root entire staff of The Root balked at my idea to rent a chapel and hold a funeral service, I thought we’d mourn the passing of prejudice and bigotry by looking at a few of the correspondences we’ve received regarding this subject.
In lieu of flowers, we will be accepting bitcoin, postdated checks, dime bags of weed and half-spent food stamp cards for the racism scholarship fund.
This first email was in reference to the article about using racism to solve America’s gun problem:
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: What do you want?
DO you want white people dead? It seems like thats what you want but your afraid to do it yourself. Is that why you try to inspire so much hate against white people? Your going to get a lot of “your people” killed if you don’t wake up and realize that the only way to bring this country together is to tell your people to stop hating white people. stop raping and killing each other. Get some education and respect for yoursleves and racism would disappear.
Damnit, Gretchen, you figured it all out!
Just when I thought my plan to eliminate white people was coming to fruition, you foiled my sinister plot!
Ughhhhhh!!!!! I was so close!
Well, since my clever ruse didn’t work, I might as well reveal the entire conspiracy. Here’s the step-by-step guide on how I was going to pull off this devious scheme.
Step 1. Build a time machine: This was the most difficult part of the plan. For any of this to work, I would have to go back in time and convince white people to tally up the worth of human beings according to something as arbitrary as the color of their skin. You can’t even begin to imagine the miles I put on my flux capacitor traveling back and forth trying to convince Europeans that the people who taught them science, astronomy, and art were lesser human beings. I must admit, the Hitler dude was down from day one but it took a lot of imagination to persuade the pasty Celts, the Germanic barbarians and those savage Vandals that the African people who were richer, more advanced, less war-like and had better music were inferior humans.
Step 2. Get white people in America to be racist: You wanna talk about scary? When I introduced the topic of race-based slavery to the colonizing lovers of liberty in the New World, I thought they were going to laugh in my face. But somehow I talked them into doing it right after I convinced them to slaughter the indigenous people of America from sea to shining sea.
I’m gonna be honest with you: When they wrote that part in the Declaration of Independence about “all men are created equal,” I thought about giving up. The only reason I soldiered on was that I could hear the echoes of white people everywhere telling me:
“You’re the real racist.”
OK... Most of them said “your” but you get what I’m saying.
Step 3. Make them into liars and hypocrites: This was the ingenious part. Do you have any idea how hard it is to convince someone to have an irrational fear of black men and “Mexican rapists” after their very own white people indiscriminately raped blacks and Natives for years without consequence? Imagine the difficulty of making white people fear terrorists after they racially terrorized nonwhite people for four centuries. I even got them to believe black people were lazy after enslaved Africans donated 246 years of free, back-breaking labor.
You gotta give me credit. That was good.
Step 4. Get white people to adapt their hate: After slavery was over, I introduced white people to sharecropping, Jim Crow and legal lynching. I taught them redlining and told them that “separate” could be “equal.” After that fell apart, I showed them how to underfund schools, how to pipe black bodies into the prison industrial complex, how to target their neighborhoods with police, how to over sentence them in the court system, how to demonize them in the media, how to suppress their vote and disenfranchise their communities, how to take their land, how to take their pride, how to take their spirit, how to take their lives, how to take their...everything.
That was all me, Gretchen.
Step 5. Perform a miracle: Sure, there have been other evil empires, but few have lasted this long and while everyone condemns Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, America turns its evildoers into legends. American whites have committed 400 years of hateful atrocities on a level never seen before in the whole of human history. But here is the thing no one gives me credit for:
You are still alive.
After all the raping, pillaging, killing, torturing and fucking us over in every way imaginable and some we have yet to find out about, you get to walk around every day unmolested. If the arch of the moral universe did bend toward justice; if the world really was fair; if the invisible, omnipotent being in the sky wasn’t telling a goddamned lie when he said: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay...”
We wouldn’t have to worry about global warming because the streets would be overflowing with the blood of white people.
So, no, Gretchen, I do not want white people dead.
And that is the most wondrous thing of all.
The next letter is in regards to Damon Young’s piece about Dave Chapelle’s Netflix special, Sticks and Stones:
To: The Root
From: Michael M.
Subject: FCC Employment Complaint
Whoever hired the author and approved that made a huge mistake. Dave Chappelle has done nothing but bring laughter and joy to me in some of my darkest phases of life. Your website is a joke.
I agree with you. Dave Chappelle has done nothing but bring me joy and laughter. I think he’s a comedic genius and I wasn’t offended by anything he said. Then again, I think white people should be allowed to say the n-word as often and as loud as they please.
But they shouldn’t complain when they get smacked in the mouth.
I think there were parts of Dave’s special that seemed to sacrifice art or meaning simply for the sake of provocation. However, comedy is subjective and it is inherently disingenuous to soberly and seriously dissect something that we know is purposely absurd. The people who say, “You could’ve just turned it off” are right. But, as a straight black man, there’s also something else I know:
He wasn’t talking about me.
My problem with Dave Chappelle and his defenders’ entire argument is that it’s based on the false premise that society, “the blogs” or PC culture is trying to silence comedians or stifle their creativity. No one at The Root or any other media outlet has the power to cause Chappelle or the art of comedy, any significant harm. Furthermore, it is hypocrisy at its finest to believe you have the right to stand on stage and say whatever you want and simultaneously believe that the only valid response to your comedic cultural commentary is laughter, especially if you’re using a megaphone and put on a platform that reaches millions of people.
But, whether his words were intentionally provocative or mistakenly bigoted if Dave Chappelle truly believed in his right to say whatever you want as loud as he pleases...
He wouldn’t keep crying when someone smacks him in the mouth.
I don’t really know what this Twitter DM is about but it gives me an opportunity to tell a story.
To: Michael Harriot
I’m 20 years old and I loved your article about racism in America. Even though I know racism exists, why do you think no one ever talks about how the younger generation (my generation) is less racist and trying to make things better?
Hayley, let me tell you about where I grew up.
For most of my childhood, I grew up on a bumpy dirt road called James Ave. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but this wasn’t in “the boonies.” It wasn’t a side street. It was a dirt road, smack dab in the middle of town. I could walk to city hall in five minutes. The biggest housing projects in my city were literally at the end of my block.
Hayley, I hated that motherfucking dirt road. When it rained, there was mud everywhere. In the summer, it was so dusty that you had to hold your breath when a car passed by. If I wore new shoes to school, I barely had one day to show them off if I tiptoed to the end of the street.
I discovered that the reason James Ave. wasn’t paved was because, to pave a road, the street had to be a certain width, which meant that the landowners on each side of the road would have to give up a part of their front yards if they wanted the road paved. Every year, the city would put a petition in the mailbox offering to pave the road at no cost. All they needed was signatures from a majority of the homeowners on my block. And each year, they block would say no! This was because most of the houses in my neighborhood were built by middle-class, segregated black people in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, so they valued their little plots of land and wouldn’t give up the necessary parts of their property.
Miss Addie Jett, who had a talking parrot and let me practice piano at her house said no. Miss Jackie Smith, a teacher, lived alone in the only two-story house on the block with her 2,037 cats, all of which were black. She also said no. Mother and Rev. Daddy Alford (I’m pretty sure that was their real names) who always had popsicles or candy on hand when anyone under 15 walked past their house, said no. I knew Peg and George Brown were down because Peg was my mom’s best friend. But they rented Mother May’s house, and Mother May said no. And we remained.
I found out that, to pave the road, guess how much land each house would have had to cede to the city?
That’s it. Three motherfucking feet.
Giving up that little piece of land wouldn’t have drastically changed a single house on the street. Of course, I thought this was ridiculous (mostly because it drastically repressed my shoe game) and so did my mother, my friends and all of the younger generations on my street. But we knew that one day, all those old people would die and James Ave. would be paved.
Then my grandfather died. And Miss Addie passed away. Mother Day died and left her house to George and Peg. Then we lost my grandmother. Then Peg succumbed to cancer. Mother Alford died less than a week after Rev. Daddy. Soon everyone on the block was a second-generation resident (except Miss Jackie. I’m pretty sure she was a witch...or a vampire. But probably a witch). And guess what happened?
Those motherfuckers wouldn’t give up their land either!
I finally left for college. When I returned home for Thanksgiving break during my sophomore year with a suitcase filled with raggedy, James Avenue-appropriate shoes, I turned on the street and...
James Avenue was paved!
The tar was black and beautiful as Miss Jackie’s cats. There were no bumps. We had drains on the streets! We had real driveways! It turns out, the city was tired of our bullshit. My mom says she went to work one morning and when she came home, the street was paved.
And boy was she was mad!
Ken Jett, Miss Addie’s son, is still furious to this day. Mother and Rev. Daddy would have turned over in their grave if they heard how the people in our block cussed about that pavement but I’m sure Miss Jackie at least cast a spell on those conniving, sneak-paving motherfuckers.
And, I couldn’t figure out why, but I was mad, too!
I now realize that those people on my street logically knew that it was stupid to live on a dirt road in the middle of town. They probably all even understood that the road would be paved one day because it is impossible to stop progress. But those old, dead people didn’t just raise the next generation, they also instilled in them their values. When my grandmother died, her last words weren’t “Resist the pavement,” but she passed on a set of values that my mother unconsciously absorbed, so we all illogically valued that stupid three feet of land more than we valued progress—not because we hated pavement, but because that’s where everyone gets their values from.
And that’s how racism works.
Most white kids aren’t taught to hate black people. They are taught to value their whiteness over the common good. They believe in freedom and equality but also believe this land is their land, so...fuck progress.
Racism is stupid. But it is also stupid to believe that the people raised by throat-slitters won’t one day slit my throat. If progress depends on them graciously giving up a single sliver of their territory, it will never ever happen.
We’re gonna have to take that shit.