The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: White People

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: White People
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

People are worried about me.

In the past two weeks, no less than three people asked me if I ever worry about my career as a writer. In so many words, each one of them said that I am increasingly becoming a one-trick pony. They wondered if I am worried about being pigeonholed or being held back from achieving my true potential because I use the phrase “white people” so much.


Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about it before. But since then, I have thought about it a lot. Then, I began to notice how many people bring up the subject of race with me. Maybe people perceive me as a Hotep-adjacent, race-obsessed, one-dimensional rambler who searches every nook and cranny to find a racial angle.

So starting this week, I am going to try my best to stop obsessing over white people and racial angles. I’m going to concentrate on seeing the big picture, because not everything is about race. I haven’t searched through this week’s collection of emails tweets, messages and comments from people who read The Root, but I’m sure I can find a way to address our readers without focusing on white people.

I’m more than that.

This week’s “not all white people” correspondences come courtesy of the article “White People Want Trump” and the article on the FBI’s approach to white supremacist domestic terrorists

From: Anna B.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: White people

I stopped reading Root because everything you write is about white people. It’s getting old. Even to the people who agree with you. I didn’t vote for Trump. There are many white people who aren’t racist. Why don’t you write about them?

From: Chris R.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: White People Want Trump

Mr. Harriot: I stumbled across your article in The Root. I just wanted to let you know how unimpressed I was. I really don’t know anything about you, but I can only assume you are usually a bit more insightful. Otherwise, The Root wouldn’t be the least bit interested in publishing your opinions.


Dear Whites,

I know a lot of white people read these kinds of articles, share them and agree with them, while others are turned off immediately. Although I sometimes joke and say that only racists are offended when people talk about racism, I notice that a lot of progressive, liberal white people are quick to raise their hands and say, “not all white people.”


Oftentimes, say, in the comment section of an Instagram post, aggrieved Caucasians will attempt to reverse the polarity of the argument by asking how I would respond if someone referred to black people as criminals, welfare recipients, lazy or some other connotation.

However, the vast majority of black people have never been arrested or convicted of a crime. The vast majority of black people work for a living. Most black people don’t receive welfare. Using disparaging stereotypes to describe black people isn’t objectionable simply because they are negative and racist. They are distasteful because they are quantifiably not true.


But in this case, I used numbers and data to show that I was referring to a statistical majority or a plurality of white people. More white voters support Trump than any other presidential candidate, according to a Quinnipiac poll. Among whites, Trump has a net positive approval rating among white people in polls by Harris, YouGov, Politico, and Civiqs. Only white people. Every other demographic disapproves of him. Unfortunately, there are a few people who are offended by those words, even when they are statistically correct, which makes me wonder:

What is the difference between the white people who are offended by the phrase “white people” and the ones who aren’t?


The truth is, there is no one answer. Some people don’t like it because they feel it is a personal attack while others shrug it off as “He’s not talking about me.” Others feel as if I am painting with too broad a brush. Some white people are simply not accustomed to hearing themselves grouped with others simply because of their skin color. They are accustomed to the privilege of individuality, which I understand.

Here is my dilemma:

What the fuck am I supposed to say?

I live in a country that puts black people in burlap sacks and beats them against a brick wall. There are people who hear the crunching of the bones and still gladly believe America when it proclaims that the people in the bag are perfectly fine. Some people have convinced themselves that it is the man inside the bag’s fault. Others will gaslight you into not believing your eyes and ears by pointing out all the people who weren’t beaten to shards. There are even people like Anna and Chris, who see the blood dripping out of the bottom of the sack and tell the man inside the beating bag to stop whining.


And there is only one way to stop this from happening. Luckily, I work for a publication that allows me to call a thing a thing. I would never say that black people don’t have their faults or that all white people are responsible for the actions of a few. But there is only one way to describe the people who have dismantled voting rights; racially terrorized people of color for most of the history of this country; sanctioned inferior schools; handed out unequal pay; passed racist laws; elected a white supremacist president; and—even if they didn’t participate—sat in willing silence and watched their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors stomp the skulls of black people for decades. For generations. For centuries.

It is not just me. The numbers say it. The data says it. The statistics say it. The polls say it. The vote totals say it. The research says it. Every objective political, social and economic measuring tool used to describe discrimination in this country all say there is one group of people that benefits from and perpetuates inequality:

White people.

I don’t know what else to call it.

Contributing Editor Angela Helm wrote a piece about an incident between a Trump supporter and Pose star Indya Moore. Many people were upset that we characterized the incident as Moore being attacked by a Trump supporter.


From: Harley
To: The Root

how can yall lie about this? indya moore attacked that poor man. yall should be sued and shut down. yalls site is full of trash and all of you are P.O.S


From: Mr. and Mrs. Pankey
To: Angela Helm

I read your story about the trump supporter attacking the trans person. ARE YOU KIDDING? Are you blind? I have never seen such one sided, misguided crap in my life! You call yourself a reporter? Girl, sit down! You are making the rest of us look bad!


Dear Harley, Alvin and Pankeys:

Although Angela and I are very good friends, after reviewing the video, I must agree with you, Angela described the incident totally wrong.


Here is the video in question:


Now a lot of people will point out that though Moore did not touch the man at any point, it is obvious that she attacked him. First of all, she looked a white man in the eye, which most white people feel is an attack in and of itself.

And, although I am not a constitutional scholar, the Supreme Court has ruled that burning a flag is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment, so Moore was ultimately using her freedom of speech. But again, everyone knows that a free hetero white man has more free speech than a woman of color. This is America for Chrissake!


Now, it is true that the sign belonged to the man and Moore had no business destroying another person’s property. Does that give him the right to put his hands on her twice? Again, I am not a lawyer so I can’t answer this question. But I think I understand why you are upset at the people who are praising Moore and painting her as the victim.

To you, Moore could have easily kept walking and ignored this Trump supporter. Instead, she chose a confrontation. By your logic, she started this chain of events.


But imagine if there was a powerful man who was advocating that people like you shouldn’t be able to serve their country. Imagine if he was kicking people who looked like you out of the country. Imagine if people like you were being killed in cities across America and no one cared. And one day, while you were minding your own business, you ran into someone who supported this powerful bigot.

What would you do?

I know what you would do. You would ignore him. You would keep walking. You would let him express himself. But you aren’t targeted by Trump’s racist, transphobic policies. He’s not trying to wipe you or people like you off the face of the planet. You are white.


And that, dear motherfuckers, is what is wrong with America. The reason why Trump enjoys so much support is not because of people like the man in the video. It’s because of people like you. It’s because of people who can stomach a racist, bigoted, dimwitted, fuckboi being the most powerful man on the planet and won’t speak out. You won’t put yourself on the line. You won’t do shit. White people’s hate isn’t the only problem. Their apathy is the problem. Their silence is the problem.

I don’t know if erasing this man’s freedom of speech is worse than Trump erasing trans people’s freedom to exist, but the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.” Indya Moore is not the government. She is a human being.


Furthermore, exercising one’s freedom of speech does not make you immune from the consequences. I recognize your absolute right to call me a nigger. But it doesn’t mean I won’t punch you in the mouth for it. I’m sure the Founding Fathers would agree that there needs to be a “Deez Hands” amendment to the Constitution.

So, shame on both Indya Moore and Angela Helm for not respecting white supremacy.


Clearly, they were wrong.

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



Mr. Harriot: I stumbled across your article in The Root. I just wanted to let you know how unimpressed I was.

See, its shit like this that amazes me. I see unimpressive shit everyday. Across the street from me there’s a fancy $6 pour over coffee shop. I went once. Wasn’t impressed and never went back. I’ve never so much as thought about the place when i wasn’t walking by it. It would never occur to me to go by the coffee shop and stand in line to tell one of the coffee artists how unimpressed I was. I guess I don’t have what it takes to be white.