The Root's Clapback Mailbag: A Learning Experience

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: A Learning Experience
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

Today’s mailbag is dedicated to the people who inform Black people on how to overcome racism. That’s why we’re all here, right?


I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m here to learn about how to appreciate this great country. I’m here to soak up the knowledge about how to move forward and forget the past. I’m here because no one can whitesplain away whiteness like the white people who manufacture, distribute and profit from white supremacy.

I’m here to learn about racism from white people.

Teach me, a humble negro servant, how to get past it all.

Teach me.

From: Harvey M.
To: Michael Harriot

After reading several of your articles it’s my opinion that you truly are a racist.

As a person of Cherokee descendants that’s been identified as white at birth by my mother I have been on the receiving end of much discrimination due to my being born into a life of poverty not race. My mother was a drunken whore. The school that I attended as a young child never let me forget it. I was kicked out of school the first time in the sixth grade for not being able to maintain a haircut that was acceptable to school officials. Then I was kicked out again for the offense of smelling offensive to the teacher. I was raised ghetto poor and was never given the opportunity to take SAT tests during my high school years at Hoquiam High School. This type of discrimination wasn’t due to my race. It was due to the economic situation I was born into. I was regularly beat up and bullied. Right in front of school teachers who turned a blind eye to it every time. The only reason I attended was in order to get a free lunch every day.

For you to insinuate that I was born into a advantageous life over that of Black Americans is a false narrative. Otherwise known as fake news.

Now through many years of hard work in the timber industry I have risen to the position of supervisor at a whole log chipping facility.

I’m not a supervisor because I’m presumed white. It’s because of my many years of hard work and dedication to my employer.

If anyone has received racial preference it would be African Americans who were allowed to enter college with lower SAT scores than their presumed white counterparts. Discrimination in America follows economic lines more closely than it follows racial lines.


Harvey M.

Dear Harvey,

After reading several of your words, it is my opinion that you are truly a person named Harvey. But instead of insulting you, let me explain how white privilege works.

First of all, there isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support your belief that “discrimination in America follows economic lines more closely than it follows racial lines.” It is a fact that Black males whose parents have the same income and grew up in the same neighborhoods as white families still suffer from higher incarceration rates and wage inequality—even if they grew up on the same block. It is a fact that a child born to wealthy Black parents is more likely to end up poor than the child of white parents who are already poor. It is a fact that Black men receive longer prison sentences than similarly situated white men. It is a fact that majority-Black schools receive fewer funds than majority white school districts. It is a fact that Black women are paid less than any other group in America, even when wages are adjusted to account for education and experience.

Now that we know you are wrong, allow me to explain the concept of white privilege using a theoretical example that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Let’s say there was a poor little white boy who suffered because he was poor and uneducated. Being poor is bad; no one would argue with that. And I would never say it is impossible for Black children to succeed in America. But let’s look at the facts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last month, the Black unemployment rate was 13 percent, nearly twice the white unemployment rate of 7.3 percent. The racial wage gap is 26.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The Sentencing Project notes that the Black incarceration rate is five times the white incarceration rate. Therefore, we can safely assume these economic and social disparities are not due to race but because Black people are lazy, uneducated criminals who don’t want to work.


But wait…

According to the American Council on Education, the Black high school graduation rate (89.1 percent) isn’t twice as low as the white rate (94.1 percent). The percentage of Black people with Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees doesn’t explain the pay gap. And even though Black people are stopped, searched and investigated more often than whites, we aren’t arrested at five times the rate of whites. We aren’t even convicted at the levels that we are arrested. Criminality still doesn’t explain the incarceration rate. Racial crime rates don’t explain the disproportionate police killings.


White privilege doesn’t mean that white people don’t work hard, aren’t smart or aren’t poor. It simply means that smart, hardworking, poor white people can overcome their circumstances without having to deal with the additional burden of white supremacy. Being white may not have catapulted you to chief tree-chipper but you had the privilege of avoiding those previously mentioned pitfalls.

What I’m trying to explain to you is that Black people are discriminated against because of these disparities. And these disparities persist because people discriminate against Black people.


And despite your insistence on the “economic” explanation, there has never ever been a single person on the face of God’s green Earth who could explain away the racial disparities in police shootings, pay, wealth, education or criminal justice with logic, sociological differences or economic data.

And God knows, white people have tried.

Actual economists guffaw when dumb white people bring up Thomas Sowells’ name because we know he is a Piggly Wiggly bag filled with cherry-picked assumptive nonsense. Roland Fryer’s own school debunked his so-called “study.” Tucker Carlson’s opinions are routinely exposed as lies. Charles Murray’s research is based on the premise that society is racist with cause.


So Mr. Timberland, when people say inequality in America is due to “economic” or “class-based,” all I ask is that you prove it.

I’ll wait.

Here is something from an actual Jason Whitlock defender:

From: Tony
To: Michael Harriot

So when a black persons disagrees with your agenda, he is not black! What an asshole! And you wonder why we have racial issues in this country? Writers and journalists are a bigger issues than police in this country! Words affect people way more than 99% of the good cops

Just to follow up that you are obviously the one with race issues judging from your timeline. Can it count the times black is used but yet you always want equality! No, you don’t, you want to be put on a pedestal


Dear Tony,

You’re right.

Just last night, a bunch of journalists and I were out shooting white people in the face with our words when I was approached by Jason Whitlock. As you know, Jason is a pretty big guy, so I quickly unholstered my Bic pen, jumped on my pedestal and asked him if he had a problem.


“You look like you’re causing trouble for the white man,” he replied from beneath the edges of his lopsided shapeup. “All lives matter!”

Fearing for my life, I released a barrage of multisyllabic metaphors straight into Whitlock’s distended belly. He dropped to the ground immediately, looked up at me with a quizzical look in his eyes and whispered: “Why?”


But before I could answer, there were Whitlock protesters everywhere, screaming “Whitlock Matters! Whitlock Matters!” I called the writer’s union and they sent me a lawyer who delayed my interrogation while I got my story straight.

I eventually opted for a jury trial and laid out the evidence before a jury of my peers and testified on my own behalf. Under oath, I explained that Whitlock deserved my verbal assassination because I was only protecting the public after Whitlock said LeBron was “dangerous” and called him a “liar.”


“If he said that about LeBron, what would he say about me or other innocent Black men?” I argued. “I used an equal and appropriate amount of force. But I had to kill him because I feared for the safety of everyone involved.”

“Objection!” screamed the cross-examining attorney. “There is no evidence that Whitlock’s words would have hurt anyone! He didn’t have on his writercam. Move to strike from the record.”


The judge turned to me and said: “Can you prove that Whitlock’s words presented a threat to anyone?”

The courtroom fell silent. It felt as if everyone was waiting for me to provide something, anything that could prove that what I did to Jason Whitlock was warranted. How could I show that he presented an existential threat to the nation?


“Well, your honor,” I said slowly. “There’s this.”

That’s when I pulled out your letter.

So Tony, thank you for reminding me how “words affect people” and that dangerous journalists like Whitlock “are a bigger issues than police in this country.”


Because of you, I’m a free man.

Finally, a DM from someone who was angry at history.

From: Carson
To: Michael Harriot

I’m tired of hearing snowflakes talk about statues and people who lived 100 years ago. Why do you wallow in the self pity of history? When will you ever get over it?


Dear Carson,

You’re right.

Let’s “get over” history together. First, you rewrite the Constitution. Then you should randomly assign Black people homes in white neighborhoods to erase the history of redlining. Then you gotta give back the money (plus interest) to the generations of people whose ancestors’ work was stolen without pay. Then you gotta refund the cash taken from Black people whose tax dollars were siphoned away from their communities to build Black schools.


You also have to find a way to pay back the families of the people who were lynched and killed. Then, we want the stolen property stolen from Native Americans. You can deposit the GI Bill money stolen from Black soldiers.

You have to let us tell your daughters they were ugly and allow us to criminalize your sons. You have to agree to keep quiet while we inflict generations of trauma on all white people and pay us to build statues that remind you of it. And finally, when all of this is done, you can’t say a goddamned word about it lest you be accused of playing the victim or “wallowing in self-pity.”


And then I’ll delete my tweet.

You go first.

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



Funny this came up today, because I saw something so galling today that I’m STILL angry:

Imagine the gall, the nerve you have to have - or the ignorance you have to have - to tell Bernice Albertine King, a daughter of THE REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. how to eradicate racism and what church is and can do.