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The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The More Things Change

Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: The More Things Change
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante
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.

On August 25, 2017, The Root changed the world when it began a feature called the Clapback Mailbag.

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Back then I thought white people would NEVER stop being racist but I must admit I was wrong. We’re really proud of the part we played in changing the national zeitgeist. Thanks to us, you get to live in a totally different world from the 2017 America that had a white nationalist president, belligerent white women and murderous police.

But the Mailbag isn’t about me. It’s about you.

So, to show you how much things have changed we decided to juxtapose some of our earliest Mailbag responses to some new ones to highlight how much progress white people have made in three short years.

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We did that.

You’re welcome.


Remember when white women were upset about being called “Becky?”

Social media is totally different now:

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Here is my (totally different) response:

Dear Beckys Karens

First of all, Christine M. Carter, @pgs_twips, stop laughing. Sure, I’m laughing, too, but I’m giggling at the hilarity of a group of actual Beckys Beckying Karen-ing about an article about Beckys. I’m laughing at how meta this all is. But you, Christine, are cyberbullying. It’s different.

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Second, to both Beckys Karens, and to the Beckys Karens around the globe, I’d like to apologize. I separated Beckys Karens into specific categories, but I was obviously wrong. I had no idea that there was an unrecognized class of Beckys Karens that managed to fit into every single category. You, dear sweethearts, are a rare find, and I apologize for leaving you out.

I’d also like to commend you on the degree of difficulty of your tweets. This is the first time I have ever seen a “not all white women” combined with the gymnastics of a #BlackLivesMatter, a 180-degree reverse-racism ending with a white-tears landing. I give it a 9.7, even though the Russian judge might disagree.

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I would also like to address your fear of the terrible prospect of radical Becky terrorism sweeping the nation. While I specifically said that “not all white women are Beckys Karens,” perhaps I was not strong enough in my repudiation of Beckyphobia. I condemn both the anti-Becky Karen violence and the Mike supremacists. There were bad people...on both sides.

#BeckyLivesMatter #KarenLivesMatter

P.S: I wish I had read the part about me hiding behind a “racially ambiguous name.”

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Nigga, what?

Do names have races? How is a name racially ambi...Oh, I see. You mean, because there are white people named Michael, then a black person named Michael must have a kinda white name, which is hilarious. Does this mean that marrying a Black woman named Karen mean that I’m in an interracial marriage?

White people honestly think everything is theirs. They took the Hebrew name Mikha-el, which literally means“Who is like God?” and made it theirs.

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I’m just repaying the favor.

Sincerely

Someone who is like God.


Our readers have changed a lot. We no longer get comments like this one that was in the very first Mailbag:

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Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: The More Things Change
Screenshot: The Root

The trolls in our grays are totally different now:

Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: The More Things Change
Screenshot: The Root
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See? The “pending approval” thing is at the bottom.


Finally, to show you how much has changed, this is the very first letter to receive a response in the Mailbag:

From: J.

Subject: YOUR LIST OF RACIST GROUPS

YOU LEFT ONE FUCKING RACIST GROUP OFF YOUR SO CALLED RACIST GROUP LIST. ..

BLACK LIVES MATTER. ..IT’S A HATE GROUP TOO...RIGHT UP THERE WITH THE WHITE SUPREMIST... KKK AND NAZIS... YOUR RACISM IS SHOWING. SHAME ON YOU!

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Luckily, our current readers have grown far more sophisticated. For instance, here are two readers who blame Black Lives Matter for creating the need for Black Lives Matter:

From: A. Patriot
To: Michael Harriot

Dear nigger boy,

If you and black lives matter wasn’t telling the world that police are racist and kill them maybe black guys would comply instead of running and end up dead.

From: Lance and Selena T.

To: Michael Harriot

Dear Michael, do you there would be fewer police shootings if outlets like the root at least balanced your coverage of police to show more good cops?

I think that some people fight and resist because they have seen so many videos of deadly police encounters and it makes them resist. You may think its crazy but Cardi-B said she didn’t snitch on the rapper sho shot her because she has seen so many black people killed by the police. How do we know if he hasn’t done this before and gotten away with it?

I’m not saying there are not racist cops but the culture of snitching and black lives matter should take some responsibility for promoting this leftist agenda.

From: ZWis
To: The Root

I have very mixed feelings over cancelling completely unrelated activities to make a statement when, while a tragedy happened, it’s not like it was ignored. A moment of silence makes sense. Tossing the livelihoods of thousands of other employees down the drain so stars can make a statement does not. I won’t heavily criticize the team for doing this for one game. I will, however, very much oppose anyone trying to flame or cancel others for not doing it too. Not obeying a hive reaction to something is not racism. Nor for that matter is being alarmed at the “with us or against us” delusion some people have on the subject. This trend is extremely dangerous, even if it’s well meaning for now. Taken too far, it’s going to put the far right in power long enough for them to take away political freedom.

This mob mentality lately of organizations not just having to not say the wrong thing, and not even just having to say something, but having to say exactly the “proper” thing demanded of them or be cancelled or treated like racists/fascists is terrifying.

Having a problem with inserting activism into everything 24/7 doesn’t mean lessening the news of tragedies. I think it’s completely unreasonable to cancel a season... for what purpose exactly? What purpose would ending the livelihood of everyone working in that entertainment industry accomplish? Is it supposed to raise awareness, when people are already aware? Is it supposed to protest inaction when there isn’t inaction in this case? People can’t enjoy something (in the middle of a pandemic no less) because they should have an obsession with this problem? Some people talking about this talk as if they actually think police are running around gunning down thousands of people of color all the time. That’s not the reality. The percentages don’t lie. There is a huge problem of disproportionate shootings of non-white people in general by police. It is not, however, like police running rampant indiscriminately shooting random people though. It’s a very tragic situation, but when the reaction starts to cause more harm than good something is wrong.

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Oh shit! Thanks for the scoop, Lance and/or Selena!

Even though News Editor Monique Judge will be heartbroken when she discovers her favorite rapper has been gunned down, she wants us to break more stories. We had no idea Megan the Stallion’s assault was followed by Cardi B also being gunned down by a mediocre emcee we never heard of. Your attention to Black issues is obviously informed by your intimate knowledge of the Black community. I didn’t even know this happened but, to be fair, they all look alike.

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But before I break the bad news to Monique, I want to take issue with the other part of you and Patriot’s argument that Black people brought this on themselves. You’re right, the vast majority of cops don’t kill people, so it’s puzzling why Black people always run. I’ve always believed the reason that antelopes start running as soon as they spot a cheetah is that National Geographic keeps pushing their leftist anti-tiger agenda. It’s like when my mama used to try to discipline me by explaining that I “brought this on myself.”

I don’t believe in corporal punishment because I think it is harmful and counterproductive. If you can train a dog without hitting it, there is no question in my mind that you can train a child without violence. I also believe Black people’s predisposition to use violence as a tool of discipline is a vestige of slavery. People do what they are taught. Whenever I voice this opinion, people will insist that their mother whipped their ass and they turned out fine.

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They are never fine.

I know my mama wasn’t anti-Michael. She loved me. She fed me. She clothed me. She made me the person I am today.

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And sometimes she used the Jesus Belt.

Wait, your mothers didn’t have a Jesus Belt?

I think this story might help brighten up Z’s depression about having to trade a world where Black men get murdered by police for the horror of a place with only some basketball. Hopefully, this will cheer you up:

My mama had a belt that could make you catch the Holy Ghost and when she swung it, it produced a sound similar to the wind whipping through Donald Trump’s empty head on a breezy day. She didn’t use this belt for all ass-whoopings. It was a special occasion belt.

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In my mother’s house, there were many spankings and each one had its own tier:

  1. Hand shit: This consists of an open hand on the back of the head, your hand or even your butt. This was for toddlers. She also employed this technique when my sisters or I did something stupid such as using profanity (the word “lie” was a cuss word in my home) or keeping your eyes open when the head deacon was praying.
  2. Switch-hitting: This was a hand-picked switch from a Japanese bush outside our driveway. My memory is fuzzy, but I think I looked it up and discovered that the plant’s scientific name is Donmaykmi Cohminnthayre.

    For instance, if you HYPOTHETICALLY knocked over the entire Boo Berry cereal display in the Piggly Wiggly, you would have to pick out your own switch. She wouldn’t even listen to your explanation that you bumped into the Boo Berry pyramid because you were walking around with your eyes closed and your hand in your pockets because she told you “not to ask for nothing, not to look at nothing and not to touch nothing...”
  3. Jesus Belt: The ultimate punishment.

I grew up in the house my grandfather built. He died before I was born and my uncles left home long before I was an idea, so my mama had to get this big, thick leather belt from Jesus, or perhaps Noah killed a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the Ark. It was made of thick cowboy leather that is only found in horse saddles and Bernie Sanders’ neck skin. I don’t know if earthly men like my uncles even had the requisite core strength and calf musculature to even wear a belt that heavy. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know how it got to my house, which is why Jesus giving it to my mom is the only thing that made sense.

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This is a Jesus Belt:

Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: The More Things Change
Photo: Jesus of Nazareth, My mama (Shutterstock)
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There was Holy Ghost in that belt. It had obviously been moisturized with anointing oil and the blood of Jesus because when you got hit with it, you were going to call on his Holy name and make a less-than-joyful noise unto the Lord.

Like when I discovered interim reports.

When I started going to school, I had heard of report cards from after-school specials and episodes of Diff’rent Strokes. But when I was introduced to interim reports, I was flabbergasted. What the hell is an interim report? If a school year has a beginning and an end, aren’t all report cards essentially interim reports? But interim reports were about more than grades, they were about behavior., so I was appalled that my teacher, Mrs. Sellers, wrote on my interim report that I “sometimes disturbed the class.”

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HOW AM I DISTURBING THE CLASS WHEN I’M JUST MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH?

I demand evidence and a trial by a jury of my peers! I have seen no actual evidence of my peers being disturbed. OK, maybe there was that science project that explored whether or not snot was the only ingredient in a booger or did it require a foreign object (yes, that was an actual thing), but no one seemed disturbed when I offered my classmates a quarter per booger (which, I think, should have been refunded by my mom because they were technically “school supplies”).

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But I had a trick for Mrs. Sellers’ azz.

I was gonna forge my mama’s name.

My plan was simple. I gathered all my tools and convinced my sisters to stay quiet about this interim fuckshit. I waited until bath time and slid all the required forgery tools into my folded washcloth (OK, white people, a washcloth is...never mind). All this scheme required was my interim report and a pen (In my youth, you had to be grown to use a pen. Until then, you just used a #2 pencil. Unless, of course, you were the child of a multimillionaire oil magnate or something, in which case, you could probably afford those mechanical pencils all the rich kids had. I didn’t want one anyway. The leads were fragile than white women’s egos)

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My plan was to do all of this in the bathroom because the bathroom mirror had fluorescent lighting and I could put my mom’s signature under the interim report and just trace it. And I know you’re thinking: “Dude, your fifth-grade teacher was checking for signatures like that?” To answer your questions, I will need to switch to italics, so hold on:

I.

Was.

Eleven.

But if I was going to carry out this supervillain forgery, I had a very important decision to make. Anyone who grew up in a Black household knows my dilemma.

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Do I lock the door?

You don’t lock the doors in a Black mama’s house. In a Black house, you can’t even jiggle a doorknob unless you got half on the light bill. If you were dookying and you wanted some privacy, then I suggest you find a mama who gives a damn and see if she has an open room. It’s common knowledge to every Black child that, no matter how big your house is, that ain’t even your room. Your mama just allows you to sleep there until you can learn enough Bible verses and long division to survive in the real world.

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I knew that if my mama jiggled the bathroom doorknob and found it locked, I might as well flush myself down the toilet, so I decided to leave the door unlocked. And because I was little and the vanity mirror was like...I dunno know...18 feet high, I had to climb on the sink and lean in the mirror to complete the forgery.

And wouldn’t you know it, she walked into the bathroom!

I don’t even think she had to pee. She would later say that she got a sign from God but I think she was just wondering why she didn’t hear water running in the tub (that was the flaw in my plan). But when she opened the door, I jumped off the sink and damn near knocked myself out.

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“Mikey, what is you doing?” she asked.

“Nuffin,” I replied (I know that’s not a very creative answer, but I was dazed.)

And just as I said that, like a mighty wind, the interim report came fluttering right to her toes.

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This was Jesus Belt territory.

If you lived in a Jesus Belt household, you’d understand that it is used sparingly and with great ceremony. Your mama has to contemplate its use and pray over her decision (Or maybe she just has to warm up her whipping arm, I’m not sure). I just know that I’ve never seen the Jesus Belt in the daytime. It only comes out at night right before bed. So after I took my bath (I wasn’t grown enough to take showers, yet) I just lay in bed waiting for the Jesus Belt.

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But, of course, a great genius like me always has a plan. So I came up with a very complex strategy based on logic and science:

I was just gonna take it.

Even if your mama didn’t have a Jesus Belt (During a pre-pastor’s anniversary suit-shopping expedition to J.C. Penny, I would later find out that they were widely available) everyone knows the cardinal rules of getting a belt whooping:

  • “Move your hand or it’s gon’ be worse.”
  • “Don’t cry! You weren’t crying when you were playing Pablo Picasso in the bathroom!”
  • “Don’t make me run after you or you REALLY gon’ get it!”

So, according my precise calculations, keeping my hands by my side, staying quiet and standing still would decrease the Jesus Belt’s intensity by at least 18 percent.

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Just as I was crossing the threshold where your fake sleep turns into real sleep, I heard my mother rummaging through the secret mama compartment where she stored the Jesus Belt. I heard her footsteps approach the door. Even though my eyes were closed, I could see the light come on.

As I opened my eyes, she gave the pre-Jesus Belt speech about how this hurts her more than it hurts me and how this was just a lesson on honesty and trust because now she would have to check out my book bag to see if I wasn’t smuggling notes from my teacher like I was the Indiana Jones of interim reports because the art forgery game wasn’t very lucrative and why did I enlist my sisters in this scheme, which was really a bad idea and I needed prayer. But first I needed to get this Jesus Belt.

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As she lifted the belt to the heavens like when Abraham sacrificed Ishmael, I vowed to stay still and quiet. Even before I felt the mighty pain of God’s wrath, hit my little 11-year-old thigh for the first time...

I cried like a motherfucker.

I ran like Usain Bolt on cocaine. I was hurdling furniture like I was in the bedroom Olympics. I wasn’t worried about being struck down by God’s fury because his swiftest archangel couldn’t have caught me that night. By the time I made it to the kitchen, I had to wait for my mama to catch her breath. I tried to juke her but she had somehow gotten faster. She grabbed a handful of my pajama shirt and—you know little boy pajamas are made of extra-strength material like Wakanda silk or something—I knew she had me.

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Somehow, I took off my pajama shirt before she could swing and I darted through her legs. I knew there was nowhere for me to run. I didn’t even want to run. I still wanted to stick to my plan but I couldn’t stop my legs from moving, so I ran back to my bedroom and I...

*I know y’all won’t believe this, but I....

**It’s one of the worst decisions I ever made in my life but I...

I locked the motherfucking door!

Readers, please believe Black women when they say that shit about Black girl magic. Know that there is something special inside each one of them that comes from the supernatural because my mama twisted the knob off the door with her bare hands!

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Now she was mad. Now, there was nowhere to run. (Again, I didn’t even want to run.) My mama stood in that doorway with that Jesus Belt, huffing and puffing like a leopard about to pounce on an antelope. And I, a mere wildebeest fawn, just curled up in a ball on the bed, wrapped my arms around my legs to stop them from moving and started crying, yelling:

“I’m trying not to run but I can’t!

I’m trying not to run but I can’t!”

And you know what my mama did?

She turned around and went to bed.

The end.

We know police use deadly force because they are trained to use deadly force. Perhaps they disproportionately inflict violence on Black people because this country’s criminal justice system has always seen non-white citizens as criminals who can only be controlled with violence. Or maybe they perceive us as more dangerous. Or perhaps we’re just prey.

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As an adult, I’ve had conversations with my mother about corporal punishment. She now says that she raised us in the same way that she was raised and admits that she probably wouldn’t ever hit us if she knew then what she knows now.

We are trying to get you to know now.

But let’s say there is only there are only a small number of police officers who kill Black people. Let’s say Cardi B and The Root caused all these Black men and women to run away or resisting or sleeping in their own house or reaching for a legally registered gun or trying to breathe.

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There is a flaw in your argument.

Black people resist for the same reason every animal, man or wildebeest, always does: Because we want to live. But...

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If the tiger was not a predator, couldn’t he stop himself from pouncing?

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

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DISCUSSION

detroitkidelo
kidelo *if you support racists, you're a racist too*

Whooo, Michael you made me laugh. Dag. But then you made me remember something, like you usually do.

Your allegory works, and it made me think of another one.

We had beatings in my house, too. Sometimes it was my father, though that stopped when he moved out, but just around that time he came down to the basement to whip my brothers and I for being so loud (we were cracking each other up drawing farts in a coloring book). As he descended the stairs and was removing his belt, I said, “You better be careful your pants don’t fall down.” and put my hands over my traitorous mouth so fast my father cracked up and went back upstairs.

My mother was a different story. She only beat me. And when my father moved out, the only person who got a beating was me. At first when I realized this, I tried the stoic approach, like you. I let her hit me with her tennis shoe (she’d hit me so hard she’d break blood vessels in her hand and then be mad at me for it) while I stood silent and still, refusing to cry in front of her. When she finished, I’d slowly walk away. This seemed to work pretty quickly, and when she stopped getting a reaction from me she stopped hitting me. (The verbal and emotional abuse got worse, though.)

I watched her with my younger brothers. It didn’t take long for me to see that they never got spanked, whipped, beat or really punished in any way. They didn’t have chores, either. I saw how the ‘justice’ was meted out in our house. I got it. They didn’t. It didn’t make for good sibling relationships.

When I was 16, we were all enjoying a pizza dinner at the table in the dining room. My brother said something mean to me and I called him a very un-PC name (by today’s standards) which for some reason lit my mother’s hair on fire. She leapt from her chair, grabbed my hair and dragged me backward out of my chair and told me to bend over for a beating. I laughed at her and said, “No.” She took off her shoe and started to hit me with it, and all of the anger and frustration and pain and humiliation I had over being the only kid in the family to be corporally punished erupted. I fought back. She never tried to strike me again.

This is what happens when you mistreat a people over and over and over again. They can only swallow so much. You think they’re just being quiet, but stoic isn’t the same as just taking it. There is thinking and planning going on. There is hate happening. There is a fuse being lit. You just don’t know how long that fuse may be.