We interrupt our usual clapback session for a very special Mailbag.
I am often asked why my writings don’t contain more solutions. Instead of complaining about racism, I guess I’m supposed to fix white people. It’s like robbing someone and then telling them to stop complaining about their money problems and work harder.
But I’m gonna try this solution thing, just once.
So today, instead of just clapping back, I am going to take advice and offer solutions.
Some people objected to the fact that I included Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez’s tweeting an article about Kobe Bryant’s rape case in our piece about mistakes in reporting Bryant’s death.
To: Michael Harriot
In what the fuck way did Sonmez make a mistake? If Michael Harriot, but don’t act like Kobe didn’t rape someone.
From: Carrie Mathison
Yeah, at the very least that didn’t fit into a story alongside mistakes like showing a video of the wrong Black guy.
And the backhanded “Sonmez was subsequently shocked when she received thousands of messages of “abuse and death threats”” comment was uncalled for. You can criticize her actions without pulling some “what did she expect to happen” bullshit. Why would she deserve threats, even if she said something awful?
Dear Radderarburner and Carrie,
You know what?
In my attempt to combine multiple stories about negative reactions, I made it seem as if Sonmez was wrong to tweet Kobe Bryant’s story. Although many people believed Sonmez’s tweet was insensitive, as an advocate for not whitewashing anyone’s history, I understand that can’t dictate how one should remember Kobe. If I can drag George H. W. Bush and Roger Ailes after their deaths, then Sonmez has the right to remind people of Kobe’s alleged transgressions. There is no doubt that he is a hero to some and a pariah to others, depending on one’s privilege.
This is also how I feel about America.
There are people who think of this country as a bastion of liberty and justice. For those people, anyone who dares to kneel during this country’s anthem is unpatriotic and those who point to the real history of the nation’s slaveholding past must hate America. Both things can be true.
Thomas Jefferson was our greatest founding father and he was also a slave rapist. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and Abraham Lincoln was a white supremacist. Bill Clinton was a better president than his predecessor and he contributed to mass incarceration.
Most of the way we remember people comes from our individual perspective. As a heterosexual male, I understand that my privilege informs the way I think of Kobe Bryant in the same way that white privilege colors the way people think of this country.
I say all of that to say this:
I did it wrong.
One person wrote about my lengthy diatribe on race:
To: Michael Harriot
If you were bored with talking about race, why do you do it so much? Maybe Daniel Kaluuya has a valid point. Aren’t you more than just a black man?
Instead of being victim you should take a hint and focus on the good things about this country or even yourself.
Thank you for your solution-oriented email. From now on, I’m going to apply your suggestion to all facets of my life.
Next week, I have a dental appointment to have my wisdom teeth removed. Instead of going through the actual surgery, I will suggest that the dentist focuses on the teeth that are not impacted. Thankfully, I’ll never have to spend another dollar on oil changes because even if my motor seizes up, I’m sure any reasonable mechanic will just focus on the alternator.
I’m also relieved that I can now eat anything I want. Fuck heart attacks! As long as one ventricle is working, I should be good. Even if one artery is“playing the victim” by being blocked with cholesterol, the rest should be fine, right?
This approach only works in the one arena that white people are all-too-willing to ignore:
This is deflection at its finest. It’s a variation of “all lives matter,” “not all white people” and “why does everything have to be about race?” Instead of fixing the problem, you’d rather close your eyes and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
I know that confronting white supremacy and racism is hard and sometimes painful. But now I see that instead of doing the right thing because it is difficult, it is much easier to ignore the problem and focus on the good stuff.
Thanks for showing me the inner workings of the Caucasian mind. Not all minds, just the ones who...
You know what?
I’m bored with this.
I’m just gonna focus on the other clapbacks.
A number of Bernie Sanders acolytes told me that this piece was very bitter and jaded:
Hey Micheal. I’ve mentioned this in previous comments, but you are one of my favorite writers. It is unfortunate that some people within the online community have hurt your feelings... It shows in your writing. You sound bitter, pessimistic, and almost fatalistic. It’s affecting the quality of your work. Maybe take a vacation, listen to some Marvin Gaye, and clear your head.
Usually I like to debate and challenge people on their ideas, but right now, I wish to just help you.
Your articles are now full of gripes, but no solutions. You allude to a solution, but it is not clear cut and spelled out for others to follow. I work for a fortune 500 company and see this happen to several co-workers all the time. Overcome with stress, disapproval, frustration, and tension, they stop creating solutions and are stuck moaning- being unproductive. This mindset is infectious to those around them.
I think it might serve you better if you were to engage in a new exercise and write an article about what your perfect, ideal candidate would be, and then challenge all of the candidates to meet that bar. Be clear and concise in what they would do, what they would say, and how the public would react.
Please don’t let your frustrations get the best of you. Bruh, clear your head. Then get back to informing and guiding the community to work the problem.
To: Michael Harriot
Man, you have changed. What used to be playful and funny is now dripping with cynicism
Dear Larry and Zac,
Long, long ago...
Or maybe on a date that can only be pinpointed as “Once upon a time”...
Somewhere in a lush, harmonious tropical forest with leaves as green as emeralds and sunshine as yellow and bright as the eyes of God, there was a lion—a very proud lion—who roamed the jungle every day with claws as sharp as razors and teeth honed perfectly to grind bones and tear flesh. In the mornings, he would bathe in the shade of the high grass, and in the evenings, he hunted for food to feed the young. He was silent and strong, but all knew that he was the swiftest and fiercest beast in the jungle.
In the heat of the day, the other creatures drank from the same watering hole, and sometimes even dined on the tall weeds near the lion, but they always watched him because they knew he was a hunter, not to be frightened of, but respected. Sometimes before he began his hunt, or when he awoke from his slumber, he would roar loudly, like the voice of the almighty; like the warning of thunder before spastic lightning, and every animal within earshot would know the lion had been awakened. But instead of fearing the lion, they were comforted by his presence. They knew that the lion protected their corner of the forest from outsiders.
But one day, strange men came to the jungle, and with trickery and medicine, caught many of the animals in cages. They carried them far away to a place strange and terrible where they whipped the animals until they all learned tricks for the biggest circus in the world. All of the animals eventually learned how to perform, and how to interact with humans...
Except for the lion.
The people who ran the circus tried to coax him with treats, but he would not perform. They tried to be nice to the lion, but he would not perform. Instead, he stubbornly continued to behave like he always had. He roared when he awakened, growled at anyone—beast or human—who dared to approach him. He stared off into space, longing hungrily for the hunt. While the other captive animals were eventually allowed to roam free, the trainers and lion tamers were forced to keep the lion inside a cage. They were afraid of his sharp claws and his pointed teeth but they didn’t stop trying to tame him. They whipped him day and night, to no avail. The lion still roared. The lion continued to pounce.
The other animals were still comforted by the lion’s roar. It made them feel good knowing the king of the jungle would not be broken. Even as they complied with the animal trainers, they took pride that the lion was untamed. At night, inside their cages, the lion would hear their whispers of approval. Some, concerned about the constant whipping, would plead with the lion to calm down. Others assured him the humans weren’t so bad. None of them were exactly good, but at least their cages were clean and they didn’t have to worry about food.
But the lion still roared.
The lion continued to pounce.
So they called in a lion expert, who assured the circus ringmasters that he could tame the lion. He came up with a plan. Every morning, the lion expert would rouse the lion and throw a piece of meat at the beast from a distance. Each subsequent day, the trainer would inch closer to the lion until, after a few months, the expert could stick his hands through the bars and the lion would eat from them.
Pretty soon, the trainer could enter the cage and play with the big, wild cat. He had truly become the lion’s friend. Soon, like all the other animals, he began to show signs that he would perform. Still tied to the chain, he eventually learned how to roll over, and even jump through hoops. The lion still pounced at any man who passed by his cage, but he liked the lion trainer. He would wrestle in the hay on the cage floor and wouldn’t hurt the human. He would lick the tamer’s face.
After months and months, the trainer had reached his final test. All the circus workers gathered around to witness the rehearsal of the ultimate trick. The lion tamer was nervous at first. He walked inside the cage and—just as the lion roared loudly at the people surrounding the cage—he stuck his head inside the lion’s mouth. The lion held his jaws open until the expert removed his head from between the lion’s jaws.
The animals were shocked that the king of their jungle had been conquered. The other trainers at the circus were equally astounded. The lion expert had taught everyone at the circus a valuable lesson: It is easier to tame a savage beast with kindness than with whips.
On the night of the big show, they brought all of the animals to the center ring. The huge elephant received great applause when the trainers rode his back. The people cheered when the monkeys danced. The bear even rode a bicycle. But it was obvious to all who attended that the swift, strong beast—now tamed and uncaged—was the star of the show and a testament to the awesome power of trust and allyship. The audience went wild when they unveiled the proud lion standing on a box, jumping through flaming hoops.
When it came time for the big trick, the lion roared as loudly as he’d ever roared. The roar didn’t mean anything to the animals who knew their king had been domesticated. But the audience’s heart stopped as the trainer inserted his head into the lion’s mouth.
The lion held its jaws open.
The people cheered.
And then, with its sharpened teeth and powerful jaws, the lion ripped the trainer’s head off.
After chomping on the lion tamer’s neck, the beast turned toward the audience. Many could not run fast enough to escape the lion’s razor-sharp claws. They were slaughtered by the savage beast. It had been a long time since the lion had hunted, so it only took a few minutes for men to rush in, shoot the lion and kill it.
In the following days, many experts were summoned to investigate and figure out the reasons for the attack. Laymen formed hypotheses about how the lights may have stunned the animal, and how the thousands of different voices, and sounds and smells from the audience may have overwhelmed the beast’s senses and confused him. But he had been trained by a master of beasts who used something more powerful than a whip—true friendship. “How could the lion attack his only true friend?” they wondered.
They decided that the only way to get an animal to obey was to use the whip. So they went back to the whip. Dismayed by the beatings, the other animals promised that they would always obey the humans and never attack their masters. Like their freedom, the lion became a distant memory. In fact, the lion’s taxidermied body became a symbol of what could happen to the untamable. There was even a mantra:
“Stop acting like a lion.”
But why did the lion attack? Was he insolent just for the sake of being insolent? Was he a hero or a clueless cat? A savage beast or a martyr? Will lions always be lions?
Well, Lawrence, the lion attacked the trainer for the same reason that the elephant allowed a tiny, fragile human to ride its back. It was the same reason the monkey danced and a bear rode a bicycle. It was the same reason that some black people support Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, and it has nothing to do with the food-related friendship or existential fear of the whip.
It’s the cage, motherfucker.
Many of us are content with living in a cage as long as the people outside don’t revert back to the whip. Some of us will lick the hands that imprison us and convince ourselves that they are our allies. Some of us will even do tricks in exchange for food. I believe all these are valid approaches because I cannot dictate how anyone—man or beast—will react to their own oppression. Ultimately, we all want to be free.
I believe that none of them will ever set us free. Bernie, Pete, Biden, Warren—they are all the same person to me: The people with the key to our cage. Like many black people, I will vote for them over a whip-wielding Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean I trust them. None of them want to dismantle our cages. Most of them won’t even acknowledge who built and maintains the cages.
I imagine that the bear at that circus was named Lawrence. I bet Lawrence sometimes wondered, his paws strapped to the pedals of a Huffy, why the lion was always so angry. Lawrence probably convinced himself that “someone within the lion-taming community” had “hurt the lion’s feelings.” As Grizzly Larry watched the lion’s killing spree, I bet he thought the lion’s roars sounded “bitter, pessimistic, and almost fatalistic.” But Lawrence, there is one thing you don’t seem to understand:
The lion had a solution, too.
I’m sure the lion didn’t sit in the cage every day and think to himself: “Look at that bitch-ass bicycling bear.” Instead, he used his god-given instincts. Whether you approve of the lion’s actions; or think of the deceased beast as someone who was “moaning” and “being unproductive,” there’s one thing I know:
I bet they stopped fucking with lions.