For the last mailbag of 2019, we chose an email, a tweet, a DM and a comment that all ask the same question:
Why are we so racist?
How can we use the slur “wypipo” while condemning their use of the n-word? How can we make jokes about our Caucasian constituency? Wouldn’t we call them racists if they did it?
Although I’m sure it’ll be asked again (white people are nothing if not consistent), I decided to use today’s Clapback Mailbag to finally dismiss this oft-asked question, once and for all.
Here is a comment from a reader about our yearly honors:
To: Michael Harriot
Thank you as always for confirming a long held suspicion about the human condition; that everyone, regardless of race creed or color, are piles of fucking wasteful shit. Why should I try to be a better person when the most downtrodden and underprivileged individuals in our society are just as mean-spirited and bigoted as those that oppress them? You have an audience and clout in our media obsessed society and you choose to use that power to express tired racial cliches for a living. Thank you, Michael. You give me, a straight white male, the necessary information to realize that my inherent racism is perfectly acceptable by your own standards and this is just the way it’s gonna be until we all die in the fires of world-wide climate change.
An email poses the same question:
To: Michael Harriot
I read some of your articles , and you are extremely racist. I have news for you , if you switch black/white in your writing, and it offends you , then you are being racist. I saw in one of your articles that your referred to white people as “tartar-casian” , could you imagine your outrage if a writer referred to black people as “burnttoast-ians” or something similar.
I am not white and I am not black, what I am is a mixed race person of many races... also what I am is a person who has never seen such an openly racist/offensive article from any other race (backed by a website, and not just a comment section) Also what I have seen is a lot (and I mean A LOT) of hypocritical standards and values that “black” people get offended by/expect others to change ... yet don’t see how that also means they would have to change. This is a bit complicated issue/problem , and you sir are a big reason (and embodiment) of the antithesis to a solution/improvement. (Or go ahead and lie to yourself about not being a racist, while talking down on other races as a whole. If everything were flipped white/black in this situation, you bet “people” would be up in arms)
I also received this Direct Message:
And here are a few tweets:
These are questions or accusations that I receive at least once a week. Essentially, I am accused of displaying the same racism toward white people that I accuse white people of having towards non-white people. They contend that “wypipo” or “Mayonaissian” is as offensive as the n-word. They say The Root attacks white people.
Now, many people, including my fellow writers at The Root, dismiss this claim by asserting that black people do not possess the requisite power to disenfranchise and disempower white people. While this may be true, I reject this hypothesis. I do not adhere to the black-people-can’t-be-racist philosophy, and here’s why:
I am a poet.
I love stand-up comedy.
I am in a fraternity.
And yes, I am racist.
When I hang out with poets, they often talk about poets’ ability to translate their thoughts into words and turn those words into art. Everything is a form of poetry. The lyrics to your favorite song is essentially a poem set to music. Literature is a form of poetry. Poets take a common tool, language, and create art. Most poets will gladly explain why poets are smarter than everyone else.
Comedy is the truest art form because comedians use only use words, a microphone, and an audience. When I hang out in comedy clubs, comedians will dissect the art of comedy and explain how they elicit a raw, human emotion by putting words together. All comedians think comedians are smarter.
I have more of a connection with my fraternity brothers than I do with people I have known for years. Anyone will tell you that Omega Psi Phi is the greatest fraternity. Even Plies knows it.
I think most Asian people believe that Asians are smarter. I believe Jewish people feel the same way. So do doctors. And lawyers. And when I see a black doctor, lawyer or cashier, I—without evidence or reason—believe that the black person is smarter, more talented and more hardworking than their equivalent white counterpart. I know this is unfair and anecdotal, but most white people I meet are exceptionally mediocre and most black people I meet have succeeded far beyond the obstacles that they had to overcome. I also think that most black people believe this.
I believe all white people are racist.
Prejudice is part of human nature and self-preservation. I believe white people use the n-word privately just like I make fun of the Kappas. Whether it’s a group comprised of artists, college students, coworkers or people who want to make their country great again, everybody belongs to a fraternity. But what separates comedians, poets, fratboys, Asians, and black people from white people is not the power dynamics or the belief in their supremacy. It is this:
White people built a system.
White people’s racism has nothing to do with human nature. It is the result of their actions to cement and ensure their dominion. They enslaved Africans and slaughtered Native Americans for their personal gain. And yes, this happened throughout history and around the world. But very few places (South Africa is one of the rare exceptions) embedded color-based racism so deeply into their psyche and Constitution.
Not only did white folks build a system based on their superiority, but they believe that that the societal effect of that white supremacist system confirms the notion of their supremacy.
Martin Luther King Jr. said it best:
And so, to gain it, they rationalized—insisting that the unfortunate Negro, being less than human, deserved and even enjoyed second class status...
They argued that his inferior social, economic and political position was good for him. He was incapable of advancing beyond a fixed position and would therefore be happier if encouraged not to attempt the impossible. He is subjugated by a superior people with an advanced way of life. The “master race” will be able to civilize him to a limited degree, if only he will be true to his inferior nature and stay in his place.
White men soon came to forget that the Southern social culture and all its institutions had been organized to perpetuate this rationalization. They observed a caste system and quickly were conditioned to believe that its social results, which they had created, actually reflected the Negro’s innate and true nature.
Yes, all white people are racist.
The difference is, not all white people use their racism as a weapon, a crutch or an excuse to justify their behavior. I don’t think highly of white people as a whole, nor should I. Collectively, white people have done nothing to ingratiate themselves to me. Individually, I consciously and intentionally suppress my prejudice and look at a person’s actions. I don’t care what white people think. I don’t care what they say. I care what they do.
So, while calling someone a “tartar-saucian” may be distasteful or even racist, it is not the same as a white person saying “nigger.” One is a subjective example of poetic license and the other was historically used to beat, rape, torture and kill people who look like me. Stop pretending a butter knife is the same as a switchblade.
I refuse to argue that racism has anything to do with the dynamics of power. There are a lot of powerless racists. I also won’t pretend that some of the things I say aren’t disparaging to white people. I am not that oblivious or stupid. I know there are white people who might be offended by my words, and I am sure some people think it is unnecessarily provocative. But here’s the thing:
I want to offend racists.
I want to provoke white people.
I am a poet. I am a comedian. But conflating my jokes with the words and actions that embody the historical violence of white supremacy is the same as saying a clown is racist because he’s dressed in whiteface.
“Wypipo” is a punchline.
The n-word is a punch.
And if you are angry and want to fight about my disparagement of white people, you should know that is my intent. Nothing makes me happier. I want you to be angry about racism. I want you to confront it. I want your smoke.
Well...not all of it.
My only hope for the New Year is that wypipo would have this kind of confrontational vitriol for all the racists. Keep that same energy...
Save some for Tartarsaucians.