The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Top 10 Clapbacks of All Time, Part 2

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

As we continue our stroll down memory lane listing the greatest moments in the history of the Clapback Mailbag, I thought that we should focus today on how the writers at The Root have changed the world. According to our readers, not only have we increased racism by talking about racism, we also made Hillary Clinton lose the 2016 presidential election, pushed people toward white supremacy, destroyed the good names of Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift and contributed to white oppression.

Here are number seven through five in the countdown on our list of the Mailbag’s greatest clapbacks of all time.

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7. The Root is trash for calling the Democratic Party “trash.”

Despite the belief that The Root’s corporate headquarters are located in the main building on the complex of the “Democrat plantation,” our readers sometimes lambast us for criticizing the Democratic Party. On Dec. 22, 2017, an article about U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones made this reader expose The Root’s covert plan to destroy Hillary Clinton.

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From: Starr C.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Who sent you?

Niggers like you are why black people can’t get anywhere. First you wrote that piece of trash about Doug Jones flyer, then you bash the democratic party. Your always bashing Hillary and democrats, because you and the rest rest of the Bernie bros are still mad that she beat him FAIR AND SQUARE!!!!

You at the reason Trump won. I bet you voted for him, but even if you didn’t you spent so much time bashing Hillary that you paved the way for him. You don’t even realize that the republicans don’t mena black people no good. Every time you bash the democrats,you’re helping them. You might as well be the KKK.

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You’re right, Starr. You figured it out. I’m the reason Hillary lost.

It wasn’t that she took states in the Rust Belt for granted. It wasn’t that she called black people “superpredators.” It wasn’t because she has such a long history of underhanded shenanigans that President Barack Obama’s voters felt no enthusiasm for her. It wasn’t that she popped up at black churches and barbershops pandering to black people with the see-through bullshittery of how one of her best friends from college “is African American.”

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It was me the whole time.

Had I been “with her,” she would’ve won because I would’ve told her ass to stop cheating so much. I would have told her not to try to rig the primaries. I would have told the Democratic Party to stop assuming they had the black vote by default. I would have told her to put something about black lives and police brutality in her platform before Black Lives Matter literally forced her to do it.

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I would have told her to stop lying and fainting. I would have given her something better to wear than pastel-colored karate suits. I would have told her to stop warmongering and nation-building. And lying. And fainting. I would have asked her why the fuck was she so moderate? I would have asked her why she was chasing white voters like they owed her $20. I would have made her secure the bag.

Most importantly, had I been with her, I never would have made her, Doug Jones, the Democratic Party or any other white person on the face of the earth into a savior.

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The reason they treat black people like shit is that too many of us believe that just because Hillary, Doug or any other Democrat is slightly better than a Republican, we should be afraid to publicly criticize them. The Democratic Party is the proverbial plantation from which black people are afraid to run because our massa is slightly more benevolent than the other slave owners.

I am sorry Donald Trump is president, but I am not sorry that Hillary Clinton is not my president.

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Fuck her.

I do not want a slightly better slave master.

I want to be free.


6. Watch your tone, young man.

After an article criticizing the National Review’s Kyle Smith, on Oct. 19, 2018, we received this letter complaining about our lack of civility. It was shortened for brevity but you can read the entire email in the comment section of the original Mailbag where it appeared.

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From: Ali
To: Michael

Hey there, thanks very much for your work. Obviously ignore this long comment/question as needed, but I’m curious for your thoughts, if you have time/interest. My main question is about how we use language in public spaces, particularly when white people/“allies” on the left talk about race - are we helping, or hurting?

I know that the National Review has no leg to stand on when it comes to race/actually standing up for black people, and you (always) make very good points in your work. Still, when I read Kyle’s article and yours, I see some truths lying clearly on your side, and some lying somewhere in the middle...

One larger question for the immediate future seems to be this: Is there room for conversation among black and white writers on the left about strategy when it comes to language (in public forums, including online articles)? I fear that the most accurate part of Kyle’s article was the ending: “White men, long since written off by the Democrats, have responded not by meekly accepting their place at the rear of the Democratic coalition but by exiting it. They voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 63 to 31 percent. The Left will have only itself to blame if white women increasingly feel put off by its nasty ad feminam attacks.” ...

Whether or not using phrases like “white women” is justified (yes, I absolutely agree with you it often is), his point may be accurate: some white women in the middle, not deeply engaged in politics, not understanding why the term is being used in a negative way or the history of racial oppression and dynamics, may feel it as a personal attack and eventually become persuaded to join the other team. Or may feel confused and discouraged and sit at home, rather than getting out and actually doing something useful. I know it sounds like I’m suggesting tone policing, and tone policing has been categorically rejected by the online left for a variety of often very good reasons. Yet I fear we all let the conversation end too early if as far as we got is: Don’t tone police.

Language is a powerful weapon, and a tool. If we want to be successful, it seems we need to wield this weapon as effectively as possible when in public spaces. I’m especially thinking about white writers who use phrases like “White people” or “white women” in a pejorative way without a clear explanation; is that the best choice? White writers have the privilege of *not* facing racial oppression each day; it seems we should have the time and emotional energy to be more selective and effective with our words.

Our public online spaces are, whether we like it or not, part of our political discourse. They’re not just personal, not just a place to share, vent, heal, support, empower, mobilize, etc. I wish they were; for instance, I wish white people who read the Root could recognize “This isn’t my space; it’s a privilege for me to be even able to access this space and these words; just read, listen, learn, and do better.” I wish conservatives reading the New York Times or Twitter or etc. could ask themselves, “I wonder what they meant by “white people,” rather than taking it in the worst, most defensive way. But the world doesn’t go according to my wishes. People of all different types and political ideologies read each other’s spaces/articles/memes and interpret them how they wish. People read a phrase like “white people suck” and even if written by a white writer, many readers will feel defensive and assume there is a hidden “all” before this phrase and shut down...

So how do we get more white women/people to listen and hear and actually do better? It seems like language is an essential key, whether we like it or not. Not to capitulate to Kyle or the rightwing, not to make white women feel special, but to make more white women (and men) actually get off our butts, fight for others, vote, and help make real change.

Language can be a powerful weapon used to activate white women (and white people in general) for good, rather than allow us to wallow in complacency or evil. It seems worth it - at least for white writers trying to do better - to be precise in our targets and our explanations, as much as possible. It seems important for white so-called “allies” to stop trying to show off our wokeness through our sweeping statements and negative tone we use when discussing white people/white women; it does not appear to work or actually support the cause of justice. It seems self-serving and not actually helping at converting additional readers to the cause.

What do you think?

Dear Ali:

This isn’t a clapback as much as it is a clap in general.

I am often asked about the state of political and social discourse and how my tone and the tone of other writers here pushes people away. I want to answer this question specifically as it pertains to The Root.

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The Root is an online news source for a black audience containing content from black writers. We try to make it clear that when you read one of our stories, you are reading a black perspective. Not the black perspective, but one of many. We try our best not to obscure this fact.

There are stories in The Root that you cannot find anywhere else because there are many outlets who do not find some stories important, even though they have a great impact on the black community. We exposed a controversy at Morehouse when mainstream outlets only offered shallow coverage of HBCUs. No white outlet would use their resources to send a reporter to cover a Pennsylvania State Board hearing involving Dr. Umar Johnson. Monique Judge spent a week in Sacramento covering the aftermath of the Stephon Clark shooting. Terrell Jermaine Starr is on the ground in Georgia right now covering the Stacey Abrams gubernatorial race.

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Even though there are many of these examples, the vast majority of the stories you read at The Root can be found in a number of other places. Every news organization from the Washington Post to NBC shares content that is not necessarily based on original reporting. But unlike those other outlets, our readers come here to get a black perspective.

And sometimes, because our content reflects that black perspective, it cannot be civil. In some cases, it would actually be a disservice to our readers to tone our language down for the sole purpose of civility.

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Every outlet in America covers this dumpster fire of a presidency called the Trump Administration. The only reason to read any political content on The Root is to read it from a black perspective. The New York Times refers to the current Attorney General as “Mr. Sessions” because he still gets a modicum of respect from their readers. But it is Senior Politics Editor Stephen Crockett’s responsibility to refer to him as the founder of the Keebler Elf chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, because that is how many black people see him.

Anyone can print a story about the underfunding of schools, but they will hide under the cloak of political correctness and not refer to it as an arm of white supremacy. We won’t. We are duty-bound by our audience to refer to the tear-stained pink pussy-hats of white women who put a man in charge of the country who would have our race wiped off the face of the world if he could.

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When the rest of the world mentions the unconscionable oppression of white women, we are obligated to point out how they benefit from white supremacy. We would not be doing our jobs if we did not point out that the whole of non-white America would saw off their left arm to give their people the same status and opportunity enjoyed by white women whose only knowledge of seasoning exists in the salty tears that accompany their whimpering whines as Beckies.

But not all white women.

Here’s a DM I received on Twitter about the exact same article:

From: Miss Rain:

I appreciated your piece on the “white women” term. I am one, and sure, it makes me cringe every time I hear the phrase. But actually listening to all the people who have something real to say about white women, even if you’re no Becky, is like being gifted a list of stupid shit you may be doing that is hurting others, which you yourself are blind to. We are granted a shortcut to self-improvement, if you will. I’m willing to be a little uncomfortable in order to receive that, and as such I appreciate the wypipoligizing. (Is that your own wypipologism?) Thank you for sharing your intellect and for doing the work of writing. - Rain

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Apparently, there are some white women and some white people who seem to be strong enough to bypass what you call “incivility” and grasp the overall meaning.

On Wednesday, I was engaged in a debate with a co-worker here about the tone of the article about Republicans and voter suppression. He made a valid point that coming out so hard and referring to voter suppression as an underhanded tactic of lying, cheating and stealing might turn some readers off. I pushed back by trying to explain what I was trying to do.

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The Root exists on the internet. While I am proud of the article, none of it was new information. It could easily be discovered by anyone looking to learn about voter suppression. In fact, even though I have been beating this drum for years, almost every news outlet is reporting on voter suppression lately. Just this week, the Washington Post’s headline intimated that voter suppression was caused by Republicans trying to combat voter fraud. They didn’t call it “lying” or “cheating.” They didn’t even call it “voter fraud.” They called it “ballot access.”

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How nice.

But again, when other outlets report on voter fraud, they couch their tone. They talk about it in a civil fashion.

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The reason they do this is that, for the most part, the people doing the reporting and the people reading their reports are not black. Their votes aren’t being stolen. This country hasn’t tried to duct tape their people’s political mouths shut since it was founded.

So here’s your answer about civility language and tone:

Imagine there was a serial killer on the loose. Imagine that you had seen him before and you know how he looked. Imagine that you have seen your aunts and uncles, your grandmother and grandfather terrorized by this serial killer.

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Now imagine this:

What if there were people who denied that this killer existed? What if, when you pointed at your friends and family members who still had strangulation marks and stab wounds, even though they managed to barely escape his wrath...what if everyone said those people were just “playing the victim?” What if they tried to convince you that you lived in a “post-serial killer society” and that the murder victims must have done something wrong?

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And when you actually had evidence, what if they ignored it? What if they told you to be quiet? What if the killer was on your family’s doorstep with a knife in one hand and a rope in the other, and you screamed and yelled and pointed the killer out?

And what if there was someone who was born with a quality that made the killer ignore them? What if this person’s skin was made from a suit of armor the killer’s knives couldn’t penetrate? And what if that person sent you a long direct message on Twitter explaining why you shouldn’t scream about killers?

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What if this oblivious asswipe wrapped in privilege, protected by a serial killer deflector shield, tried to explain why people might help you if you were more civil about the murderer on your family’s doorstep? What if they said:

“So how do we get more people to listen and hear and actually stop the killer? It seems like language is an essential key, whether you like it or not.”

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You know what I’d be forced to think? You know what the only logical conclusion I could come up with would be?

“This motherfucker must be a killer too.”


5. Not all white people...

After the news spread about the Trump administration’s child separation policy, we published an article that garnered a lot of attention and a record number of responses, including one on June 28, 2018, that shows what can happen when people are willing to listen.

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From: Andrew Scibetta
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: 123 Dems against “some Gestapo shit, man.”

Hey Michael,

So I read “White people are cowards” on Tuesday, where I saw:

“Just before he shook my hand and said it was nice meeting me, he explained that it was entirely possible that those children might never see their parents again. Then he said something that I still cannot erase from my brain. He paused, his hand still gripping mine, and looked past me as if he were recalling something, and said, ‘This is some Gestapo shit, man.’”

Tuesday night our office wrote a letter to Sec. Nielsen demanding answers on how this could be.

Today, we’re leading 122 other Democrats in demanding our government investigate DHS and HHS and hold this administration accountable.

If it wasn’t for your piece, I wouldn’t have known about the degree of this tragedy. You moved the needle.

Thank you for that.

Andrew Scibetta | Communications Director
Office of Congressman J. Luis Correa (CA-46)
1039 Longworth Building | Washington DC 20515

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Then I saw this CNN report, which stated:

In a letter Friday to the inspector generals for the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, a group of Democratic lawmakers write that they are “deeply concerned” about the the Department of Justice’s “zero-tolerance” policy that has resulted in family separations and “gravely disturbed” over reports about separated parents and children and the possibility that they might “never be reunited again.”

The letter, organized by California Rep. Lou Correa and signed by more than 120 House Democrats, outlines a series of questions such as, “How quickly (average time) can DHS and/or HHS locate a child’s parent?” and “What is the process for DHS and HHS to reunite parents with their children?”

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Then this happened:

The visit was part of an expanding campaign by Democrats to attack the president’s policy of splitting up families caught entering the country illegally, with lawmakers on Sunday joining protests at detention facilities in New Jersey and Texas...

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, [emphasis added] echoed that sentiment: “When these kids are growing up in Central America they’re given a choice. At a certain age, you either join a gang, MS-13 that the President talks about, or you die. They pick a third, which is go north in search of possibly a survival alternative.”

House Republicans are now making tweaks to a so-called compromise bill on immigration reform that would allow many immigrant children to be detained with their parents.

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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.