The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The State of the Clapback Is Strong

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The State of the Clapback Is Strong
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.

My fellow Americans,

I come before you today with good news. For nearly three years, we have addressed our readers’ emails, DMs, tweets, and comments in the weekly Mailbag. And in all those times, I have never shied away from an opportunity to clap back at my haters.


But this is not Michael Harriot’s Clapback Mailbag. It is The Root’s. So, because I’m all about diversity, this week, I’m going to respond to everyone’s hate mail except mine. 

I do this because I love you. Because I love this country. Because I love when white people are angry. Together, we can make white people more excited than Tomi Lahren watching interracial porn (That’s what she calls police shooting videos). More flustered than Bernie Sanders explaining how he’s gonna pay for Medicare for all. Angrier than Tucker Carlson watching a black person move in next door.

As long as we just keep telling the truth, our mailbags will never be empty.

Thank you.

And may God bless the racists of the United States of America.

Politics Editor Jason Johnson is The Root’s undisputed heavyweight champion of receiving angry white emails. And since the campaign season went into full gear, his volume has increased exponentially. Especially when it comes to one particular candidate.

To: Dr. Jason Johnson
From: Jamie
Subject: Stop assuming...

...that just because, at the moment, Buttigieg’s numbers are so low for the black vote in Carolina. You are very unfairly, and racistly, handicapping him before the moment arrives. I enjoy your commentating on AMJoy, but you are clearly a racist. Shame on your intelligent brains.

To: Dr. Jason Johnson
From: Melody

Dear Dr. Johnson,

I am a frequent viewer of MSNBC and enjoy your regular commentary on the network. One thing that really bothers me, however, is the lack of specifics provided by you and other African American commentators on why Mayor Pete does not have much support among blacks. All I hear are things like “He hasn’t made any progress with the African American community. He can’t seem to gain traction with blacks.” Ok— Tell me why.

Nobody has anything negative to say about Buttigieg’s policy proposals, intelligence, or personality. Yes, there is some griping about the police chief he fired in South Bend and the African American fatally shot by a white police officer there, but are such challenges truly unique to South Bend? Is it really all Pete’s fault?

I can’t help wondering if the real issue here with Buttigieg is his homosexuality but African American commentators don’t want to say it because it makes the black community look bad.

Dear Melody, Jamie, and Ellen,

You have fairly and unracistly touched on a subject that I’d like to address.

Aside from earning a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina; serving as a campaign manager in legislative races in three different states; working on the 2000 London mayoral election; monitoring elections Mexico and South Africa; working as a tenured professor at Morgan State University’s School Global Journalism and Communications; and objectively knowing more than you, the reason Dr. Johnson is on TV is because—unlike most political pundits—he talks to black people.


For a long time.

I would never disparage Dr. Johnson’s reputation but he’s one of a handful of friends for whom you must clear your calendar when his name shows up on your phone. Whenever he talks to anyone, it’s gonna take at least an hour. And he doesn’t just talk to politicians and voters. He teaches college students. He lectures across the country. He takes calls on radio shows. Black people stop him in train stations.


I don’t dislike Pete Buttigieg in any way. But one of the lessons Dr. Johnson has gleaned from these overly extended conversations is one that I have also recently learned:

A lot of black people hate Pete Buttigieg.

They don’t dislike him, nor do they simply support other candidates. They hate his fucking guts.


When Pete Buttigieg touts the fact that “every black elected official who has endorsed a candidate, has endorsed Buttigieg,” in South Bend, Ind., he conveniently leaves out the fact that the sum total of those endorsements is two. Aside from the fact that other presidential candidates aren’t soliciting endorsements from small-town council members, it also obscures the fact that most of South Bend’s non-white officials have refused to endorse him. A current member of South Bend’s Common Council messages me weekly about Buttigieg. Some of it’s relevant but you can tell that he just doesn’t like that dude. I have declined multiple requests from South Bend’s chapter of Black Lives Matter to appear on panels with local activists, victims of police brutality, regular citizens and academics who have seen the racism in South Bend. They despise Buttigieg.

The Young Turks have recently done reporting on the black fire chief and union leader that supported Buttigieg before he kicked them to the curb. The Buttigieg campaign has admitted that there wasn’t a single factually incorrect statement in our article about racism in South Bend’s police department. (We do disagree as to whether they responded to “an email from The Root and The Young Turks.” They contend that they were only responding to the request because it was from my email address.) Locals have begged him to fire racist police officers since 2016. South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes (who, for the sake of transparency has interviewed me in the past) has described Buttigieg’s history with black residents as “rocky,” noting that it has led to “walls of mistrust.”


Black reporters have noted that he sometimes uses his disproportionately small amount of black supporters as props. The cover of his campaign material just happens to have a picture of Pete smiling at a lovely black woman, who is looking into his eyes like: “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”

We all know the look.

I bet she was mad as fuck when she saw her face on the cover of his campaign material. I’d wager that she was just working at an event at her church and was caught on camera.

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The State of the Clapback Is Strong
Photo: N. Samuel

And if you’re thinking: “Damn Mike...project much?” You should know one other thing.


I’ve known that woman my entire life (she’s a cousin of a cousin).

She is still mad as fuck about that shit. She seriously thinks I can just call up Mayor Pete and holla at him about this pressing issue.


But it’s not just black people who have pointed out these problems.

Since 2017, Ricky Klee, a white reporter from South Bend, has been doing excellent reporting on racial inequality there. His data-based series, “The Buttigieg Era, African Americans and Accountability,” is unassailable. When Buttigieg first announced his candidacy, a (white) former South Bend employee suggested that I would find a lot of racial pay disparities in South Bend’s mayoral office. When I dug through the data, I didn’t find anything so I set it aside. Last week, another former employee told me the exact same thing.


All this evidence leaves me with one question:

Why don’t white people believe black people?

Even though Buttigieg is a frontrunner for the presidency, none of the above articles link to a major outlet. Pundits will mention Pete’s dismal polling numbers among black voters, but won’t get into detail because history shows that white people don’t generally care what black people think.


How do you think Trump became president?

Even you are willing to believe in a vast, unfounded conspiracy theory rather than accept black people’s repeatedly substantiated reasons for Pete’s lack of support. Black voters have always supported white candidates, so if they aren’t supporting Buttigieg, they must have a reason. Your illogical, white-centric blind spot won’t even allow for the possibility that black people might be right and you might be wrong just this one time.


But of course, instead of listening to black people, you just “can’t help wondering” if it’s just a bunch of anti-gay negroes trying to attack poor Mayor Pete. There isn’t an outlet the size of The Root, black or white, in the entire world that has written and spoken out more about homophobia in the black community than we have. Not a single one.

But there’s probably a good reason why I don’t figure homophobia into the equation and why Jason doesn’t mention it when you see him on MSNBC. In all the conversations I’ve had about Pete Buttigieg, there’s only one subject that no detractor has ever even brought up:

His sexual preference.

But go off, sis.

Maiysha Kai’s piece on Democratic women wearing white made one commenter raise an interesting question:

To: Maiysha Kai
From: Certain12

I guess my question is why is the USA remaining a white centric nation a negative? I think diversity is great, but it seems POC just want the shoe on the other foot...and traditionally, countries that are predominantly POC are impoverished, war torn and lacking many freedoms and rights for their citizens. So, instead of considering whiteness a negative and something to be overcome, why not support its continuation?


Dear Certain12,

I was so happy that you raised this point. When Maiysha pointed me toward your comment, I damn near applauded because I have wanted to make this point for years and your timing during Black History Month was perfect!


The “go back to Africa” contingent often defend their beloved country by explaining: “You should see how people are living in ___.” I have always wanted to ask them how they know that “traditionally, countries that are predominantly POC are impoverished, war torn and lacking many freedoms.”

But I know how they know.

Because white people are taking pictures and writing their proprietary whitewashed version of history. So, for Black History Month, I am going to show you what happens when white people show up.


The richest man who ever lived was Mansa Musa, the 10th Mansa (or king) of the Mali Empire in West Africa. A Spanish cartographer said of Mansa Musa and his empire: “So abundant is the gold which is found in his country that he is the richest and most noble king in the land.” While Europe was slowly emerging from the famine, war, disease and mass poverty that killed 1 in every 10 Europeans between 1315 and 1316, Musa was building universities, mosques, and city centers throughout the empire of Mali. Instead of conquering through war, he expanded his empire through annexation as he used his control of gold and salt to connect disparate city-states into one empire. It is said that by the end of his life, it would have taken an entire year to go from one end of the Mali empire to the other.

Around the same time, a region in Africa known as the Kingdom of Kongo dominated the western portion of the Congo. They established trade routes, split the kingdom into provinces, collected taxes, had a civil service, and traded throughout Africa.


Then white people showed up.

Portuguese traders arrived from Europe in the 1400s and realized the vast amount of natural resources. There was even one resource that the Kongo or the Mali hadn’t taken full advantage of:

Human beings.


Today, the 10 poorest countries in the world are in Africa and most have abundant natural resources that only benefit resource-poor (white) countries. The poorest ones have directly been affected by colonial subjugation and the slave trade. Even when you look at the internal and “tribal” conflicts in Africa, you will discover that many of the despised dictators are, or were backed by, colonial interests who have struck deals to strip the countries of their wealth.

But it’s not just poverty and it’s not just Africa. When Columbus arrived in Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) there may have been a million native Taino living on the island. Twenty years later, there were 32,000. The native Lucayans were entirely wiped out of the Bahamas. The same thing happened in Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It happened to the Incas too. And the Mayans. And the Aztecs. And the Native Americans. And the Aborigines in Australia.


Perhaps the biggest unsolved mystery in the history of the planet is why damn near every non-white civilization coincidentally disappeared from the face of the earth or cratered the exact minute white people showed up.

Or maybe it’s not a mystery at all.

But, I’d like to ask you one follow-up question.

Name one indigenous population in the world that survived and prospered after white people showed up?


Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Finally, everyone at The Root receives complaints about how we don’t respect President Trump and his accomplishments. Especially Politics Editor Stephen A. Crockett.


From: BurnedCauseUKnowWhoUAre
To: Stephen Crockett

Plantsy was pretty ridiculous - did you see her having imaginary conversations with Pence’s kneecaps?

WTF was THAT about?

And you’ve got a Tuskeegee Airman there, his grandson - both getting recognitions;

you’ve got a black single mom 4th grade daughter getting a school-choice scholarship;

you’ve got a formerly homeless vet; permanent funding for Historically Black Colleges:

a huge cash investment into poor neighborhoods via the opportunity zones

and the Democrats couldn’t stand up and applaud that shit?

Come on - these are DEMOCRAT promises being fulfilled!

What, it only counts if Democrats get the credit?

Fuck them - that’s why Trump is going to get re-elected and Plantsy will likely loose the House - petty bullshit and throwing your own constituents under the bus for political posturing points?

Again, I say FUCK THEM.

When people challenged this assertion in the comments section, Burned responded.

From: BurnedCauseUKnowWhoUAre
To: Stephen Crockett

You’re confused - Trump, as President has DONE the things I listed. They happened already.

My question was why, since they are objectively GOOD things - things the Democrats themselves have often promised (witout delivering) - why wouldn’t they stand and applaud thingsthey have championed coming true?

In your own life, if you try to do something, want tot do something for another person and it happens but, not because of you, would you not celebrate it anyway?


And here’s another from Maiysha Kai’s story about women wearing white at the SOTU:

From: Slamtime
To: Maiysha Kai

Aren’t these the women who refused to clap for historically low black employment numbers, $100b investment in urban opportunity zones, massive funding for HBCUs, and helping kids in poor urban neighborhoods go to good schools? Leave it to the Dems to take a speech about how well America is doing right now and make it all about them.


One more to Jason Johnson:

From: LN
To: Danielle Belton

Jason Johnson says Trump, “is somehow going to must the authority to shut down voting in the largest state in the union for the 2020 election.” — The National Sentinel 

Why are these non intellectuals allowed to put out these obvious lies? I want an answer. This is not something that most Americans think should be rewarded monetarily. Are you even aware what this guy has said? And he is insulting our President?!?

Please reply via email.


Dear Y’all,

I would like to apologize for the blatant disrespect shown to President Trump by certain (damn near all) staff members. Even though he is a dumb, corrupt racist who probably forces Melania to wear Nazi lingerie under a modified Klan robe with a hole in the front to accommodate his pussy-grabbing fetish, we should objectively compliment him for what he has achieved.


He’s managed not to fuck up Barack Obama’s thriving economy while giving money to the wealthy and to large corporations. Even though he hasn’t totally defeated ISIS, it’s clear that they are at such low levels that they are routinely outperformed by our homegrown white supremacist terrorists. And opportunity zones have increased gentrification and displaced poor people, but wealthy developers are getting really rich.


But I won’t stop there. I’d also like to give credit to some of the other people that black America largely disregards.


First, to the slave owners, we applaud your business acumen for somehow reducing labor costs for 244 years, and creating a cotton economy that made America the wealthiest country on earth. The economic growth indicators before 1865 were off the chart!

Also, we applaud the real estate developers who built the suburbs after the great Depression used government loans that were off-limits to black people. If we haven’t done so, let me thank you for taking our tax money and handing it to white people. America is better for it. Furthermore, we thank white people for contributing to HBCUs and negro schools because white people didn’t want our children near their kids.


Speaking of segregation, you know who else we don’t thank enough?

The people who spit in our children’s eyes during integration; the bastards who threw Molotov cocktails at our Freedom Riders and the white citizens’ councilmen who lynched our civil rights workers. Those were the members and the offspring of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” When they were beating our grandparents and bombing our churches, the economy was booming! We should be grateful they allowed their “great” saliva to wet our pupils.


Also, we rarely give shout-outs to the people who incarcerated us in massive numbers, created mandatory minimums and poured crack into our neighborhoods during the 90s. The economy was so strong back then, at 2 a.m., you could go into any black neighborhood and find a great price on a VCR. Thanks for that.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ll be waiting on an apology for slavery and a “mea culpa” for the mass lynchings during Reconstruction. Let me know when you’re ready to give us our share (plus interest) you stole by utilizing our free labor; the political advantage you received from disenfranchising us; and the tax money used for government programs we didn’t have access to.


I bet you can’t wait to tell us how your ancestors didn’t have slaves but benefitted by not having to compete with black people for college admissions, jobs, land or housing. I’m sure you’re going to tell us how your great grandfather worked his fingers to the bone on a farm to earn New Deal subsidies given only to white people. How your granddaddy stormed the beaches in Normandy and then built generational wealth using GI Bill funds that were denied to black veterans. 

I need you to do me a favor.

I’m trying to teach the staff here to be more objective and sensitive to white feelings. To do this, I need you to send me the news articles of Republicans praising Barack Obama for rescuing this country from going off a financial cliff. I think I misplaced mine.


While you’re at it, could you also send the clips of GOP members condemning Rep. Joe Wilson for screaming “you lie” during Obama’s first SOTU? I also need a clip of Tea Partiers praising the Affordable Care Act because it’s pretty popular now. I need a video of Mitch McConnell congratulating Obama for the Osama Bin Laden raid and one more of Trump mentioning that the First Step Act freed thousands of prisoners by retroactively applying the criminal justice reform bill written by Democrats and signed by Obama.

When you gather all of this info, please also include a location where I can purchase a bulk quantity of whatever gave you the fucking nerve ask a black person to give credit to a white supremacist.


Please reply via email.

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


The Thugnificent Pangaean

Give them out, Michael...