The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: A Salute to the ‘Good Ones’

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: A Salute to the ‘Good Ones’
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.

For too long, the writers at The Root have ignored the plight of those whose labor goes unrecognized and unheralded. In our fight for equality and justice, we have forgotten one outstanding group of Americans who are willing to lay their lives on the line. But that ends today.


Today’s Clapback Mailbag is dedicated to the “good” white people.

This is for our Caucasian compatriates who “don’t see color” and know that “we’re all the same on the inside.” The ones who “don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.” The allies who wear safety pins and Black Lives Matter tees. The ones who have a black friend and marched with Martin Luther King Jr.

One day, this world will find a way to reward the people who do the shit they’re supposed to do. Hopefully, this country will eventually laud the efforts of people who found a way to not murder anyone or restrained themselves from committing a crime. But today, we salute the performative anti-racists who haven’t been recognized by the mainstream media.

This is for the “good ones.”

I received a lot of feedback on people who read the article about how to be a good white person in 2020. This is from the comment section:

From: Trying
To: Michael Harriot

I’m white and have no problem with any of this and already try to do these things. I think the only issue I have is it isn’t easy to keep those efforts in the forefront when so many black people can’t even give a minimum of respect to those of us that do. All we read is your negative comments about Chad and Becky and mayosapiens and so on.

We don’t expect a pat on the back when we do the right thing but we also don’t deserve the negativity all the time when we are trying to do right as well. It also doesn’t help when your comments section is full of people saying they have given up on white people and wishing pain and suffering on them or worse. Those of us who do care can only take so much of that before we agree with you that it is hopeless and give up and that sucks for everyone.

Dear Trying,

Please accept this response as formal recognition to all the white people who do the things you’ve done to warrant “the minimum of respect.”


Consider this the minimum.

Although some may vilify your comment, I would like to praise you for doing “the right thing.” Because I am so moved by your comment, I want to teach the negative people in the comment section a very valuable lesson.


This is an abbreviated history of “good white people.”

Many of the Founding Fathers were good white people. James Madison, the man who is most often recognized as the primary author of the Constitution wrote: “We have seen the mere distinction of color made, in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”


Thomas Jefferson, who once declared “all men are created equal, wrote: “There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.”

Alexander Hamilton said: “Were not the disadvantages of slavery too obvious to stand in need of it, I might enumerate and describe the tedious train of calamities inseparable from it. I might show that it is fatal to religion and morality.”


These men were good white people. They knew slavery was wrong and even argued against enshrining it in the Constitution. But when the founders came to an impasse on the question of slavery, they conceded.

Abraham Lincoln wanted to free the slaves but wrote that he told his political opponent, Stephen Douglas, “very frankly that I AM NOT IN FAVOR OF NEGRO CITIZENSHIP” because: “There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the fooling of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge DOUGLAS, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.”


Women’s suffrage leaders fought for equality—but only for white women. John F. Kennedy earned an endorsement from King. But King said there were “two JFKs”—one who spoke out for the end of Jim Crow and another who was reluctant to use executive action and push for Civil Rights legislation for fear of losing political support among whites in the South.

Still, my grandmother gave me Susan B. Anthony dollars, loved Lincoln and always said that JFK was a “good white man.”


Whether you think these people did what they had to do to save their political or social movements or ultimately hid behind their whiteness, I want you to consider something:

Imagine toiling in a cotton field from sundown to sunup and one night. Imagine submitting your body to your slavemaster to do with it as he pleases, knowing your daughter will suffer the same inhumanity. Imagine them dragging your son’s body from a Mississippi with an industrial fan strapped to his back by barbed wire while every white person in town pretended not to know who did it.


Imagine fighting Nazis for your country and then coming home to Jim Crow denying your benefits. Imagine knowing your children could finally attend a school that was neither separate nor unequal but, to do so, they’d have to navigate a Soul Train line of wypipo spit and slurs. Imagine knowing your son might die because he had a “wide-set nose.” Or because he ran from a stranger. Imagine knowing your kids could never get an equal education because you live in a black neighborhood. Imagine sitting in court knowing your nephew would get a harsh sentence because he is black.

Now imagine someone slipping into your slave quarters and handing a machete to a group of slaves. Or teaching your Black Panther chapter about self-defense and passing out shotguns. Or pistols.


Or, imagine you had a pen.

And knowing the all-too-true version of a quadruple-century of oppressive whiteness, you saw your people slitting throats. Or blasting shells. Or spitting bullets.


And suddenly, your group comes across a teary-eyed white man, cowering in the corner pleading for his life. And they began explaining what they did to fight for equality. In that moment of clarity, holding those machetes, those pistols or that pens, everyone paused, turned to you and asked: “What should we do?”

I know the answer.

I readily admit that I would contemplate all the good white people who ever existed. Like Jefferson. Like Hamilton. Like Lincoln. Like JFK. Like feminists...


Like America.

I would advise them to give you exactly what all the “good white people” in the past have given us:

The bare “minimum.”

That’s what you wanted, right?

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but I wrote a thing about Pete Buttigieg.


His supporters were not too pleased.


Dear Buttigieg supporters,

I wanted to follow up on your allegations of homophobia, an obsession with Pete or the inaccuracies in the report.


First, I am not obsessed with Mayor Pete. You should know that I actually offered the video clip of Buttigieg that led to the article “Pete Buttigieg is a Lying MF,” to any writer at The Root who wanted to write about it. After a day passed, I accepted the task.

Then, Pete called me.

He didn’t call me to discuss educational disparities. He didn’t even call to ask why I called him a “lying motherfucker.” He called me so he could tell people he called me. As soon as the conversation was over, I was ready to ask his campaign if it was an on-the-record conversation when someone sent me a clip of him talking about me.


Soon after, Pete’s campaign called again asking if I’d like to meet with him in person. I didn’t want to be a stooge for Buttigieg’s campaign so I said I would only agree if he would answer some questions on camera. As for hating Pete because of homophobia, I quite literally only remember Buttigieg’s sexuality when one of his supporters brings up the subject.


Pete’s supporters have insisted that the article was incorrect or contained falsehoods. In fact, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign contacted me soon after the article was released and asked me to correct a list of “inaccuracies.”

They couldn’t find a single inaccurate statement.

What they really wanted was for me to provide “context.” This is a common ploy among politicians. When an organization issues corrections, retractions or clarifications—no matter how small—they use that as an opportunity to say: “I told you it was wrong” because people rarely read the clarifications. I restrained myself from going into full clapback mode and responded to their requests.


Two days later, on Friday, they sent another list asking to provide context. They also forwarded it to their campaign communications director, to The Root’s Editor in Chief, Danielle Belton, and to the Root’s Politics Editor, Jason Johnson.

They still couldn’t find a single inaccurate statement.

BUT, for the sake of transparency, here is their unedited list, complete with their response to my restrained clapbacks.

  • In the section about the 2011 donors, can you please add in that “both donors deny having such discussions with Buttigieg” and that this ever happened?
  • From Harriot: The piece doesn’t say the donors were trying to get rid of Boykins, only that the WHITE COPS ALLEGEDLY SAID they were going to use donors to get rid of Boykins. Also... Our story doesn’t mention two donors. Pete claims he doesn’t know what’s on the tapes so where does the idea of “both donors” come from?
  • PFA Response: You stated an allegation: “with the help of top donors to Buttigieg’s then-ongoing mayoral campaign” without including the context that the donors denied ever having such conversations with Pete or how the officers allegedly said on the call that they didn’t think Pete was aware of their actions, which shows he was not working together with these officers. It’s critical to show that the claim has never been substantiated. And “the idea of both donors” comes from the TYT piece we linked to that Jonathan wrote, which the reporting on donors in your story is based.
  • The piece ignores how a judge ruled in 2015 that every recording DePaepe made after first discovering the lines were being wiretapped was done illegally. Can you note that when describing her actions?
  • Harriot response: We repeatedly affirm that US attorneys say tapes violated the federal wiretap act and quote them on two occasions. Also, the case is still ongoing.
  • PFA response: You did not note this with relation to DaPaepe’s actions and that is what led to her termination.
  • The piece says, “Buttigieg claims he has never listened to the tapes because that would be illegal.” Can you note that position was affirmed by that judge in 2015?
  • Harriot response: We note this no less than THREE TIMES. I honestly believe (as do almost everyone I’ve talked with) that Pete has never heard the tapes. However It strains credulity to think that he doesn’t know what’s on the tapes but his chief of staff, his officers, his attorneys and everyone else seems to know the broad details of what the tapes contain. Here’s what we say: “[A]ll he knew was what federal investigators had told his office,” explained a spokesperson for Pete for America. “[T]hat the Chief was improperly recording officers’ phone conversations of his employees to determine who was loyal and disloyal to him.” It’s literally the entire sentence.
  • PFA Response: straining credulity isn’t a fact — a judicial finding is worthy of mentioning here because, at its core, this is an issue that is currently in litigation. Also, knowing broad details means nothing as an elected official and leads to speculation, which could expose a very poor city to more litigation. That is why Pete hasn’t released the tapes, listened to the tapes or speculated as to their contents as mayor. The judicial ruling confirms this approach.
  • Can you please include the full quote in the “all he knew” line? It said “When Pete took action, all he knew was...” This is true and the incidents you describe in the following paragraph happened after that time.
  • Harriot response: [Our legal team] actually made this point and we included the full sentence TWICE. Here’s Pete’s entire bulletpoint from the email: “Though it is important to note that when Pete took action, all he knew was what federal investigators had told his office: that the Chief was improperly recording officers’ phone conversations of his employees to determine who was loyal and disloyal to him.”
  • PFA response: You left out the first part of the sentence — and the words “When Pete took action” are critical considering all of the events you use to say that isn’t all he knew happened after he took action and demoted Boykins. We are asking for the full context and by not including it, it creates a timeline that is incorrect and you did not include “literally the entire sentence.” The first part which establishes timeline for when Pete made the decision to ask the chief to resign.
  • You say word got out about the tapes and the officers complained. The officers alleged that Boykins made threatening comments to them that referenced conversations they had on the phone, leading them to believe they were being illicitly wiretapped.
  • Harriot response: We don’t reference how the word about the tapes got out because that is still a matter of dispute. The officers allege the threatening comments and that Boykins was protecting gangs. DePaepe and Boykins allege that they were fixing tickets and protecting criminals. We don’t take either party’s side.
  • PFA response: Again, not noting the context leaves the reader with an inaccurate impression. Would you consider saying that how the tapes were discovered is in dispute?
  • This timeline doesn’t make sense: -> “police as saying he agreed to get rid of Boykins before he even became mayor.” Pete did not agree to get rid of Boykins before he became Mayor. In fact, he decided to retain Boykins in December, 2011 which would have been months after this allegedly happened, which means any alleged plot to replace Boykins would have been unsuccessful. Can you note that?
  • Harriot response: That allegation is detailed In Boykins and DePaepe’s lawsuit as well as the police report on the tapes AND her deposition. We don’t say it. DePaepe says it. Boykins says it. Even the cops allegedly say it. PFA response: Can you add Pete’s response here, which he provided during a Facebook Live with Brother Jeff in Denver? First of all, when I became mayor, literally the first thing I did was appoint a police chief who was Black, and he had served under my predecessor. And I chose him, among all the people who wanted to be chief, for a lot of reasons, including his ability to navigate racial issues in our community and community policing. But soon after that, there was a federal investigation into practices going on in the police department under his watch. And it was a very serious investigation and I did not hear about it from him. So I’m not saying he’s a bad person, I respect him. But, when you put somebody as one of your appointees in charge of the department and the FBI comes to look into the department and that person doesn’t come to you and tell you, it changes your ability to trust that person to be in that role.
  • Additionally, can you note that the Young Turks reported that the police involved allegedly said they think Pete was unaware of their efforts to replace Boykins?
  • Harriot Response: It might be true that the cops who talked to TYT said this. I spoke to four cops and none of them made this claim or seemed to believe this is true. In fact, they pointedly and repeatedly made this clear. But again, we don’t claim that Buttigieg was going to get rid of Boykins
  • PFA Response: Were the four cops the same ones on the tape? We don’t know if TYT talked to any cops but their reporting says the officers on the tapes who allegedly talked about trying to get rid of Boykins also allegedly said Pete was not aware of their efforts...this goes to our above point regarding when Pete demoted Boykins.
  • Can you note that Pete appointed a majority-minority Board of Public Safety?
  • Harriot response: We included the steps he said he took to address diversity. PFA: But you did not include that, which is incredibly relevant since the Board of Public Safety conducts civilian oversight over the police department.
  • What’s your proof point for saying that “white officers were rarely disciplined?”
  • Harriot response: This is a charge made by the police officers, not The Root. In the August 4 email, they wrote TO PETE saying: “The white chief allows other highly ranking white officers to violate the duty manual and he will subsequently cover up their violations...yet the white chief will bring forth alleged charges against a black police officer for littering.”AND “The white chief has charged more black officers with acts of misconduct than he has promoted.”But, I agree that is a great question, one that Pete should have asked if he ever addressed this issue.
  • PFA Response: Can you please note that Buttigieg’s campaign pointed out that discipline substantially increased for both white and non-white officers after Buttigieg’s administration updated the duty manual, making it easier to hold officers accountable when they used excessive force, engaged in improper conduct or violated citizens’ rights. Theo Robert, the lead organizer of the letter you center this piece on, fell into that category and it was documented publicly. Here’s a link to the incident, again.
  • Additionally you appear to note that the cops involved in the wiretapping were promoted in SBPD — they all work for the county and my understanding is that they never received promotions in SB. They work for St. Joseph’s county which is a completely separate agency and has nothing to do with the mayor.
  • Harriot response: Here is a screenshot of what I wrote: This story was thoroughly fact-checked and your points are not inaccuracies. We didn’t make any allegations except:

Here’s what the officers said happened.

Here’s what Buttigieg says happened

But the officers never saw or heard Buttigieg address this ongoing issue. You’re not refuting the substance of the article or the specific claims, you’re asking to make it Pete-friendly.

  • PFA Response: We’re asking for important context that goes to Pete’s understanding of what happened. You leave out key details that would leave the reader with conclusions that have either been refuted in court or by others involved. Can you note that none of the four still work for the city’s police department?

Additional points:

  • You mention that Theodore Robert wrote a letter filing a complaint about former Chief Hurley. Can you note that was after Hurley asked the Board of Public Safety to fire Robert in 2012 over an excessive use of force incident (for which he was later indicted by the Department of Justice)?
  • Additionally, you mention that Robert was suspended by Teachman after noting his complaints about Teachman — which makes readers wonder if it was because of retaliation — and you fail to explain why until much later in the story (because of excessive use of force. More here.)

We could not find a single black complainant who said Buttigieg responded to their concerns personally or in writing. Can you add Pete’s remarks below this week to the story? PFA Response: Pete talked about this yesterday on a FB Live and said the following:

Our department, the department I inherited, did not have a lot of discipline going on at all for police officers. That changed. And a lot of officers found that they were being disciplined, some white, some Black. And a lot of officers were unhappy about that. So without getting into any individual cases, when somebody threatens to sue you, you obviously have to be careful in terms of how you talked to them versus how much lawyers get involved and the rest of it...I’ve gotten to know officers, right and left, and many of those officers were Black. I was not invited to meet with a kind of organized caucus or a kind of a group that was dedicated for Black officers.Claim: Responding to an email from The Root and The Young Turks (TYT) asking if he had ever been informed that there was racist language on the recordings, Buttigieg’s campaign said:

PFA Response: This isn’t true — The Root never indicated it was working with TYT. The response was to The Root directly with the understanding that The Root was doing the story.


Though he tried to parse infinitesimal details and gaslight the black officers, his attempt to erase and obfuscate racism is telling. The story is not about tapes, or donors or comments he made last week. The story is his continued ambivalence and apathy toward a very real problem.

But, in all fairness, there were some very important elements we failed to include in the story:

  • We didn’t mention where Buttigieg acknowledged the letters from black officers and spoke to them about racism in the police department.
  • We didn’t mention when Buttigieg gathered the white officers and spoke to them about racism in the police department.
  • We didn’t mention where Buttigieg gathered the Board of Public Safety and spoke to them about racism in the police department.
  • We didn’t mention the time when Buttigieg told the Common Council about racism in the police department.
  • We didn’t mention when he spoke to any of his police chiefs about racism in the police department.

In our defense, there is a good reason that Pete for America, The Root and The Young Turks failed to mention a single instance of him publicly or privately acknowledging racism and discrimination in the South Bend Police Department.

Because it never happened.

And that is the story.

From: White Collar
To: Michael Harriot

Hi Michael,

For what it’s worth, I wanted to provide some feedback on the article you wrote regarding how to be a better white person in 2020. I’m a white male and know very well what that has entitled me to in this country and I don’t dispute anything you wrote.

Having said that, not that this is a reason not to speak up - but in my personal experience, when I have spoken up regarding somebody’s racist or sexist remarks in the workplace or outside of work, it comes with a cost. In the workplace, you’ll quickly find yourself “cast out” of circles and opportunities, while outside of work the invites no longer come for events etc. In general, these types of folks seem to have a “you are either in or out” type of world view - upon making a are “out”. Personally, I haven’t found a good solution in terms of handling racist behavior without experiencing negative consequences. That hasn’t stopped me from speaking up, but I don’t feel like it has any effect other than to make my life worse and has done little to change minds.

Rather than speaking up, a potential solution might consist of being “silent with purpose”. Bear with me on this train of thought...but the idea would be to “play along” and keep your mouth shut, except extreme cases, or something involving safety, in an effort to get into a position of power or influence and infiltrate the ranks. Once that position is obtained, you can then start making incremental cultural and behavioral changes to slowly push out the racist folks and bring in a more diverse and open minded workforce. This is a strategy with a longview and it’s not without it’s faults and it would only potentially be effective at the workplace - outside of work I still don’t have a good answer...but I’m trying.

For some context, I say all of this as a someone who was raised as a racist/bigot/homophobe/etc., but wound up at a great college (privilege) with a very diverse student population that flipped my world view on its head 20 years ago. In that regard, immersion works, but establishing a culture where immersion is possible is the challenge that we have to overcome.



Dear White Collar,

Are you Pete Buttigieg?

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


“Having said that, not that this is a reason not to speak up - but in my personal experience, when I have spoken up regarding somebody’s racist or sexist remarks in the workplace or outside of work, it comes with a cost.”

Boo hoo. Doing the right thing MIGHT get you in trouble with the shitty people in power? Cry me a fucking river wimpy bitch. People of color live in fear of White repercussions and deal with White punishments every damn day.