The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Fresh Prince of Mailbags

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Fresh Prince of Mailbags
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.

Now this is a story all about how
Every Friday, I turn white smiles upside down
I’d like to take a second...Maybe a minute or two
to tell you how I became a racist at a site called The Root. 


In Black America, I was born and raised
Poetry and economics is where I spent most of my days
But one day I noticed that when I shared facts
Or statistics white people would get really mad.

I wrote a few little articles that were black as fuck
And VerySmartBrothas posted some of my stuff
Then, Danielle Belton called me out of the blue.
She said: “Stop freelancing and come write for The Root.”

I...pulled...up to The Root in 2017
And my inbox and DMs became quite obscene
The other writers showed me their hate mail, too.
I asked: “Why is no one clapping back at these fools?”

I suggested that we take some time every week
To reply to nasty comments, emails, and tweets.
Ever since then, we’ve been making white people mad.
That’s how I became the Prince of the Clapback Mailbag

On a recent episode of Roland Martin Unfiltered, pundit Ameshia Cross questioned my obsession with Pete Buttigieg.

Dear Ameshia,

Why are you obsessed with me?

It is ok to disagree with my perspective. I can even respect your opinion. But this is not the first time you’ve focused solely on my writing about Pete Buttigieg.


Why do you want to destroy me? Sure, I’ve seen you tweet about other journalists but you seem to focus solely on Michael Harriot. We need to know what’s up with your obsession.

I’m cool with you not wanting to call me an “investigative journalist” (I’m not). Knowing that you once worked for Sinclair Media, a right-wing media outlet where the sole focus was to obfuscate reality with well-placed lies, I have no expectation that you could even recognize the truth if it bit you in the wig. But I also noticed notice how you adeptly slipped in the fact that our articles about Mayor Pete had “particular elements of them debunked,” while skipping over which parts have been debunked.


But, just for the record, I will share how many parts of the article have been debunked. After two weeks of correspondence with national (pronounced “wyte”) outlets, ardent Buttigieg supporters, journalists and the Buttigieg campaign; after being called homophobic and a “closeted gay man”; after being called an anti-white racist and a Bernie supporter, here is the total list of the parts of the article that the aforementioned entities have “debunked.”


That’s it. That’s the list. Not a single thing.

To be fair, there are people who criticized the article for not fully explaining the secret police tapes. The piece only mentioned them in one context—that they exposed racist senior officers in the South Bend Police Dept. Pete’s supporters have zeroed in on that portion of the report to explain why he fired the black chief, when he made the decision to fire the chief, and why he hasn’t released the tapes, none of which were pertinent to the thesis of our article: that Pete Buttigieg ignored racism in his police department.


Buttigieg’s campaign also asked us to add cherry-picked elements to give context, none of which explained why he ignored the letters, emails and personal requests from black officers in South Bend. We also didn’t add the criticisms from the South Bend Black Lives Matter Chapter, former employees and city officials who noted the incidents of systematic racism in South Bend. Additionally, we didn’t mention the fact that the city spent zero dollars with black-owned businesses.

Here’s a brief history of The Root’s “obsession” with Mayor Pete.

  • In February, a former Buttigieg staffer informed me that there were pay disparities in the South Bend Mayor’s office. I looked up the salaries of his hires and found nothing.
  • In April, we were one of the few outlets who painted Buttigieg’s relationship with black South Benders as “complicated,” noting his support among some black residents.
  • In June, a South Bend citizen wrote me about South Bend cops being known to confiscate money from suspected drug dealers. This happens in a lot of police departments.
  • When the clip of his comments about education first aired, every writer at The Root had the opportunity to write about it before it fell to me.
  • After the article, Pete called me.
  • Pete asked me to interview him.
  • Black police officers wrote me and offered the documents I used in my story.

But here is the biggest question for Cross, Pete for America and his legion of Buttigiegers:

What about the racism part?

We can dissect my motivation for writing this report all we want. But why is it no one wants to discuss the contents of the reporting? Why have I received more attention than the black police officers? Or the white police officers? Or racism?


Why has every condemnation of the article and every defense of Pete Buttigieg focused on the messenger and not the message? Why is everyone willing to overlook the documented evidence and cast aspersions on the people who put forth the evidence?

The only logical conclusion that one could reach is that the Michael Harriot-obsessed Cross and the legion of MayorSapiens would rather overlook the issue of racism for the sake of their political goals. They would rather gaslight seven years of discrimination than confront systemic racism.


Just like their beloved mayor.

One more Buttigieger letter:

From: Jo A.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: My Clapback

I am a 57 year old white woman. I have never lived ANY black experience. I am ending a 25 year teaching career as a secondary teacher in New Mexico. I have taught over 2000 students and less than 1% have been black. I live in one of the most socioeconoically disadvantaged communities in THE state that is rated last for child wellness. My DNA shows 0% African American. But I have lived white privilege because I am white. I think you are foolish in your political antagonism of Buttigieg.

Hear me out.

I read your clapback 1/10/20 barrage and heard a man stating the injustices of time and space of your race. Are you affecting change to any atrocities of another race than yours in this space, this moment, this century, this time, in this country?


Then don’t be such a hypocritical judge of others that don’t have the black experience to reach out using white rule paradigms that will build political clout.

You think Warren or Sanders have a black experience worthy of true effective change for African Americans? Hell, they are 2 generations ahead of me and didn’t get rich and political clout without paying their dues to white establishment. That power base isn’t going to change. Neither is malleable.

Biden was President Obama’s best choice to garner a confidence close gap for the numbers he needed to win his race. Biden was a vanilla choice that would compliment without distracting. Now by default he has black experience? Really? What will he do with his cabinet or policy that will go against status quo whiteness? He was chosen for his whiteness, silly man, not because he was a “brother”.

Now consider Buttigieg did not act judiciously in South Bend in some real black experiences. But they were REAL. Did he show wisdom or just base ignorance in his black experience responses. The furor of attacks your words are generating are SO counterproductive to what you seem to be so rabid to express.

Buttigieg is an academic immigrant’s son of a white woman who named him Peter Paul (as in Peter,Paul and Mary who were civil rights advocates). Let’s see, President Obama was the son of an academic immigrant married to a very left minded white woman. Buttigieg is ripe for the black experience advocacy...because he HAS to be.

He has neither longevity nor “Obama” name association. He HAS to make promises and make good to get the vote you could sway. Just as President Obama had to assuage the white vote with Biden as running mate, Buttigieg to take the Presidency will have to flip the coin and take on a running mate that will bolster his weakest base. Meaning if you could choose a person of color to advocate for ALL of your black experience needs who would it be? Why are you so blind to the potential of opportunity that Buttigieg could allow you in a Vice that DOES understand the black experience? Why not make an “in” to enact the Douglas Plan because he/she understands the changes you advocate. He is the only one young enough in time and experience to be malleable to the benefit of your heartily proclaimed injustices.

Or, you can throw in more attacks and risk more Trump.

Yeah, as if HE gives a damn about any black experience.

Dear Jo,

Here are a few questions I have for you that no one seems to be able to answer:

  1. Why are white people so smart? Why are so many black people—who have seen and experienced racism—less informed about issues of race than white people? It’s cool to disagree, but would a referee listen to a lecture on officiating from a 57-year-old woman who has never scored a single point or played a single game of basketball? What if they admitted the only reason they were criticizing your officiating is because they didn’t want their team to lose?
  2. WTF does Pete’s name have to do with anything? While the fact that Pete is named after two of Jesus’ besties and his mom (That’s who Peter, Paul and Mary were, right?) is insignificant, it still might be the greatest “I’m-not-racist” excuse ever.
  3. What did I win? This is the part I still can’t figure out. No one has yet to explain why I’m unfairly attacking Pete. To get more hate on Twitter? For the clicks? Let me tell you a secret: I wouldn’t spend two months researching Pete Buttigieg for a measly 154,000 clicks. I’ve written more popular articles about zoo animals and random people fighting at McDonald’s. Check my resumé.
  4. What’s wrong with the truth? Let’s say you’re right. Let’s say that my only purpose is to antagonize Pete and not affect change. Let’s say that Joe Biden, Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg would be terrible presidents. I’m even willing to concede your point that a white person could advocate for black people as well as a black person could. How does this negate the fact that people have the right to know the truth about the candidates?

Hopefully, you can answer these questions.

Yours Truly:

Michael Jesus Martin Luther King Tupac Shakur Harriot

I’ve been expecting this email addressing a very important issue:

From: Ethan Brown
To: Michael Harriot

Please explain how you can be individuals if Pressley and AOC’s credentials apply to Megan markle? And for God’s sake, give me a definition! What percentage white is white? What ancestral countries count as white? If you think I’m a racist for objecting to people being persecuted for being the slightest bit black, then why should I help you? Do I have to watch the news? It’s so depressing! But how else will I know when AOC coins another phrase like lived experience that we’re required to know?


Dear Ethan,

Meghan Markle invented magic markers when those AOL CDs were the only way to get on the internet. This was well before Ayanna Pressley’s father Elvis died. Also, all the white ancestral countries are countries where they eat really hard bread and white gravies. White countries also don’t provide washcloths in hotels.


You shouldn’t watch the news. It’s a tool of the Satan unless it’s Roland Martin Unfiltered and Ameshia Cross is on. She’ll cheer you up. Trust me. I’ve lived the experience.

From: Oth
To: Michael Harriot

I’m white]

Dear Mr. Harriot,

I grew up largely oblivious to race and racial issues. Thirty years in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the only time I ever heard about the “Tulsa Race Riot” was ten minutes in one class period in a junior high school Oklahoma history class. My parents had never heard of it. It’s only in the last fifteen years or so that I’ve begun to wake up to reality, and start to undo decades of apathetic conditioning. You’ve helped a lot. If life is a journey from bad to better, your writing has given me a lot of hard shoves down that path. It’s eye-opening, funny, painful stuff. Thank you.

P.S.: Please bring back the classic “honkey.” “Mayosapiens” is cute, but it’s clunky and tries to hard. Some of us honkies don’t even like mayonnaise. #notallmayosapiens


Dear Oth,

In the early days of The Root, we often used the word “honkey” until we received a cease-and-desist letter from Sherman Hemsley’s estate. Every year, I try to coin a new phrase for white people. I was having a tough time figuring out what word we’d use for white people this year until Elizabeth Warren revealed that she never washes her face. I wanted to use the word “cracker” (as in the opposite of “black don’t crack”) but I was informed that that word has been already used.


I needed something to aptly convey the historical viciousness of their deeds and the paleness of their skin. But it needs to be original, funny and easy to spell. I finally narrowed it down to five choices.

  1. Toastface Killers
  2. MAGAmuffins
  3. Klanamaniacs
  4. Woo! Tang Klan
  5. Amber/Lances

Pick one.

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


The Thugnificent Pangaean
  1. Toastface Killers

*dead as a motherfucker*