The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: A Teachable Moment

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

Dear White People,

Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for oppressing millions of people and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying your fragile spirits—but I will. I’ve given you samples with respect to previous Fridays.

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The writers at The Root have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let white people down. You can stop being stupid. I am enclosing copies of emails, tweets and DMs we received to prove my point.

History will look upon you favorably if you start doing things the right and humane way. It will look upon you like the devil if good things don’t happen. Stop being racist. Stop being a fool.

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I will call you later.

Sincerely,

Clap B. Mailbag


Our first two correspondences concern two articles in which people say I “demonize” police officers:

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From: Sam
To: Michael Harriot

Nice job piece of shit.

It’s good to know that you won’t call the cops. If white people are as racist as you say we are, you just gave them open season to do anything they want to you. Let’s see what happens when someone is in your face.

From: Scooby
To: Michael Harriot

Since you like to like to use statistics to show that every white police officer is a POS here are some facts:

Diabetes kills hundreds of thousands of blacks every year. Black people kill thousands of black people every year. So does cancer. Cops kill a few hundred black people every year. maybe you should work from big to small and focus on what’s really killing you people and stop demonizing cops.

But you don’t want to look at facts because being a victim makes your paycheck.

Dear Sam and Scooby,

You guys make some good points.

Black people, diabetes, heart disease and cancer kill far more black people every year than police officers, and I let all of them off the hook. So, to end this incessantly stupid argument, I offer this statement condemning all of these things:

I, Michael Harriot, being of sound mind and decent body, would like to formally announce that I am no longer in favor of murder, manslaughter and all forms of black-on-black crime. While I have no formal training in crime-fighting, many people assume that when I speak against the disproportionate deaths of black people at the hands of police, it somehow empowers black murderers. I don’t know how this works, but I have a few ideas:

Apparently, before anyone commits a black-on-black crime, they check with The Root first to see if we condone their actions. Even though we write about black criminals every day, our unwillingness to specifically say “murder is bad” makes them think we are fine with it. So here it is:

Murder is bad.

And, although we write about health care and overall health every day, we admit that we have done nothing to stop the racism in the cancer cell community. As someone with no medical training, I now see that it is important that I point out how white supremacist pancreases refuse to release insulin into black bodies. For that, I apologize.

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Although these two letter-writers didn’t bring this up, I would also like to confess that I have also failed the black community when it comes to texting and driving, swimming after eating, sex without condoms, zombies (just in case), crack, bootleg vape cartridges, malaria, and man-eating crocodiles (or alligators, I get them mixed up) which have all killed black people in some way.

Speaking of reptiles, I would also like to apologize for attacking snakes. I know that most snakes aren’t deadly and the large percentage of them are just innocently slithering around minding their own serpent business. I am even aware that five or six people a year die from snakebites.

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Knowing this, I’m sure that Sam and Scooby have no fear of snakes. I’m sure their hearts don’t start beating fast when they see a snake. They would probably think it was stupid to tell their kids what to do if they ever encountered a snake. I bet that they write letters to paramedics who tell people how to treat snakebites. I don’t know the 7,000-8,000 people bitten by snakes are always playing the victim but, according to Sam and Scooby, those people need to stop demonizing snakes.

But most of all, I am sorry for not knowing the power of my pen.

Because, apparently, my words have the ability to turn honest police officers into criminals and murderous black people into heroes. I had no idea.

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And to all of the snakes, police officers and white people who are offended by my words...

Stop playing the victim.


Many people were outraged by Senior Reporter Terrell J. Starr’s attack on Malik Yoba, which caused the actor to storm out of an interview. BlackPress Radio seemed particularly incensed by the incident.

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Screenshot: Instagram
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Screenshot: Instagram

Dear BlackPress Radio,

I can see that you are perturbed that Terrell “ambushed” Malik Yoba with questions that were already in the public sphere and Yoba knew would be asked. I don’t know how you define it, but my definition of “ambush” doesn’t include a four-hour discussion beforehand where I inform them about all the things that I’m going to do when I attack them. And yes, Yoba’s 18-year-old daughter was present during an interview which contained subject matter which Yoba knew about beforehand.

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But you’re right, Terrell wanted his “Gayle King/R. Kelly moment.” Of course, you had no complaints when he “ambushed” Kamala Harris on her criminal justice background. You didn’t think it was out of bounds when he confronted Nancy Pelosi on Black Lives Matter. You didn’t call him “unethical” when he asked Julian Castro about reparations or when he confronted Bill DeBlasio about Eric Garner and the NYPD.

Was Starr being “unethical” when he asked Andrew Yang if he’d let his kids drink Flint, Mich.’s tap water? Was he also looking for a “moment” when he ambushed Marianne Williamson about her stance on prescription drugs and why black people should vote for her? Is it a “punk move” to question John Delaney about police brutality, capitalism and HBCU funding; to “ambush” Seth Moulton about racism or debate Beto O’Rourke about cash reparations?

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The Root and Terrell Jermaine Starr have conducted and aired more unedited, long-form interviews with 2020 presidential candidates than any other outlet, black or white. And in every single one, he has challenged his interview subject and specifically asked about issues that relate to black and underrepresented communities.

You know what would have really been embarrassing?

If Terrell had sat down with someone with public accusations of abuse swirling around him and just ignored it all.

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Or—and I’m just spitballing here—if he was representing the “black press” by incessantly harassing someone on Instagram to get a comment for The Tea! Magazine.


Finally, I received this direct message on Twitter about a Georgia school district that banned a teen novel about race and Martin Luther King Jr. 

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From: Shelby T.
To: Michael Harriot

Did you ever think that people aren’t racist any more but learning about race is something parents want to teach their kids at home?

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Dear Shelby,

My daughter likes Sloppy Joes.

My mother used to make them all the time because it was easy to eat and kids love it (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s made like a sandwich but tastes like a meal). Once a year, I’ll get a taste for a Sloppy Joe and I’ll make some. Now my daughter is damn near a semi-vegan who is always talking about the health benefits of kale and avocados. She rarely eats beef because she says it makes her feel bad but when I make sloppy Joes, she will eat that greasy shit up.

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Her mom tells her that Sloppy Joes are terrible but her mom is a physician who eats smoothies and takes 537 different vitamins every day. It’s not like my daughter doesn’t know better but I have infected her with my pro-Sloppy Joe ethics.

Racism is like that.

I live in Alabama, so whenever I meet a white person my age who has lived in Alabama their entire lives, I instinctively wonder if their grandparents passed down racism like Sloppy Joe sauce.

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It was only 45 years ago that 83 percent of the people in Alabama voted for segregationist George Wallace. Those were the people who spat on black children integrating schools and cheered terrorist church bombers. Those people also raised the white people of my generation and passed down their values.

I didn’t create the morals, ethics, and tastes that I taught my children. I simply passed down the values that were given to me. And just like my daughter will gobble up a Sloppy Joe even though she logically knows it is bad for her, white kids can’t escape the racist leanings of past generations even though they logically know that racism is bad.

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And that’s why they need to read shit. That’s why they need to be taught.

My parents spoke English and could do math, but they didn’t tell the teachers not to teach me long division and grammar. Race is the only thing we think people can learn about without talking about it. And that’s because talking about it makes white people uncomfortable.

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My daughter is a freshman in college now, and before she left, her grandmother, like all grandmothers, tried to give her a mountain of things to take to school. She brought my daughter about 178 plush, oversized towels, an industrial-size bottle of Tylenol (just in case she catches a cold) and...

An entire case of Manwich Sloppy Joe sauce.

So, yes, Shelby.

I think about that all the time.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

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