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The Root's Clapback Mailbag: A Look Inside Our Secret Location

Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: A Look Inside Our Secret Location
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante
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.

Making our way in the world today
Takes all black people got.
Taking a break from wypipo
Sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where the Karens can be shamed
And the cops don’t cock and aim
You want to be where they clap on beat
and reparations can be claimed.
You want to go where white people aren’t insane.

You want to go where people can see
that racism causes pain.

You want to go where white people aren’t insane.

Before I respond to an email, DM, tweet or message, I try to understand the writer’s point of view. Oftentimes, they make good points. But more often than not, readers who object to some of our content don’t like what we say simply because most of the writers at The Root are writing from a secret location whose existence most people aren’t even aware of.

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I can honestly say that, since I’ve been here, I have never been told what opinion I should have, nor have I seen or heard anyone tell one of our writers which side of an issue they are allowed to take. We have debated some stories among each other, but the only directive I have ever seen given is that everything we post here must come from the same secret place.

Your authentic Black self.

We don’t just write. for Black people. We don’t just write about Black people. Here, we center the conversation around Black people as if the white gaze has blown a bulb. And in a society built on the supremacy of whiteness, some people can’t even fathom such a place.

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So they write to us.


The first email was in regards to Jay Connor’s article about NBA star James Harden...

And Stephen Crockett’s article about Donald Trump:

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But not really.

To: Danielle Belton
From: Gabriel “the patriot”

Hi, I stumbled upon your page in regards to a James harden article, and it took all of two sentences to realize that this “news outlet” is nothing but a group of biased childish “adults”. Also an article addressing our president as someone come get there racist uncle out of the White House. Now I don’t know your history or anything about you or the others associated with this site, but this a blog not a news outlet. Your “authors” share painfully obvious personal opinions and it’s one of the worst forms of journalism I’ve seen in a time of total dog shit journalism. Congratulations. Also the blue patriot mask is to support our police. You ignorant dumb fuck, not the murderers who played cop for a bit. Either you are all stupid or you just type what people want to read regardless of the truth.

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Dear Gabriel,

I understand what you’re saying. What you’re talking about is our collective objectivity, which is a pillar of journalism.

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The Root staff contains journalists that have worked all over the industry. In fact, the organizations and outlets you know and trust—from the New York Times to academic journals—regularly solicit our writers for contributions and even try to steal them away. I’m telling you this to explain that the idea of objectivity is relative. What you consider as “objective” is really the white point of view.

Tony Kornheiser, one of my favorite sportswriters, often says that “The chances of rain are always 50/50. It will either rain, or it won’t.”

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One of the ways in which white America gaslights Black people is to try to convince us that it is not raining, when we can actually feel the raindrops.

Take Donald Trump, for instance. Very few outlets that we regard as being the bastions of journalism will explicitly call Donald Trump a racist. They don’t say it because they want to appear as if they are being objective. However, they’re not taking a neutral position, they are taking the white position.

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If an objective person saw a convicted serial killer standing over a pile of dead bodies while holding a bloody knife, a reporter would be committing malpractice if they didn’t mention the guy holding the knife and wrote: “We should consider all the possibilities before we assume this guy is a murderer.” An objective person makes an evaluation by considering all the evidence and it is incumbent upon a journalist to tell the audience about the evidence. To be clear, no one should be convicted and sentenced based on holding a knife but that is a job for a prosecutor. It also wouldn’t be objective to not mention the knife.

Donald Trump is holding a bloody knife.

Even before he was president, there was a mountain of evidence that Donald Trump is a racist dating back nearly half a century. He was literally charged by the Department of Justice and entered an agreement to stop being racist. He castigated Mexicans, Muslims, African immigrants, Black people and every non-white constituency in America.

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Not calling Donald Trump a “racist” isn’t objective. It’s malpractice.

The police are holding a bloody knife.

The reason that Blue Lives Matter even exists is that cops want to disrupt the conversation about police killing Black people. Cops shot and killed a disproportionate amount of Black people n 92 of America’s 100 largest cities, according to Mapping Police Violence. These killings don’t correlate to the racial crime rate, the rate of violence against police or even the overall crime rate. They just kill people.

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When Jay wrote about James Harden, a Black man, wearing a face mask that represents the attempt to disrupt the conversation about Black lives and police brutality, Jay wasn’t being biased; he was actually being objective by including the relevant information. You can’t write about the outrage without explaining why people were outraged and you can’t explain the outrage without mentioning the indisputable facts.

But here is the important part:

You’re not used to seeing these points of view from news outlets because white people get to determine the standards of journalistic objectivity. When outlets report on police, they write from the white viewpoint because cops actually protect and serve white interests. They kill white people at a lower rate than white people’s percentage of the population. When outlets write about Donald Trump, they report on him from the white point of view because most white voters voted for Trump. They truly believe they are being objective by not reporting relevant information that doesn’t affect them.

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What if white people couldn’t get wet?

Would you trust a weatherman who always reported the chance of rain as 50/50 If he explained his prediction by saying “well, it’s not raining inside the studio where I’m standing right now” would you still consider his weather report?What if you peeked out the window and saw the storm clouds and heard the thunder rolling. What if you saw the raindrops. What if you got soaking wet?

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From his viewpoint, it was not raining. Was he just being objective?

Or could it be that he just being white?


Here’s another letter about the article on Nick Cannon:

From: Ryan

To: Michaelharriot

Hello Micheal,

I’ve postponed this letter many times because I’ve tried to understand your writing to the best of my ability. I started reading your work at around age 14 ( I am now 24) throughout my years my philosophy has changed. In the beginning I took your word as true and tried to adapt it to my life, only to realize it did not fit. I grew up in the pacific northwest. The demographic there is mostly white do to historic laws the state and territory imposed. I’ve never denied the struggle of those less fortunate than me no matter their melanin level. But here is where I differ from you, no friend, coworker, fellow student or brother has ever blamed his skin color for his circumstances. I met someone years ago who did and because of your writing I inquired why, to my surprise it was because his brother was in a gang and he had been arrested before. I immediately thought that was because of race. I later learned it was less because of race and while this is just anecdotal I listened. With every story from white, black or brown I realized that race had less to contribute than the actions of the man. I continued to follow the trail through bank loans and housing loans and homelessness rates.. again finding that the actions of the man outweighed the race. It was disheartening to learn that a man had more to overcome than his race and that he had to create his own future and that only his actions stopped him. I was lost. I tried to read every source I can (this was 6 or so years ago). I kept on reading your articles. You were a balance to the rest. I admired (and continue to admire your dedication to what you perceive as true) but also saw flaws in what you believe. The definitions you gave weren’t holistic, they were narrow and were written to silence opposition. I believe in free speech although I’m sure you will use this against me to some extent (again I’ve read many of your articles) but I would say the only reason you have the success you have is because of free speech.

Recently I read an by you article about racism and white supremecy and felt like this was a straw too far. In all the articles I read you have had some logical inconsistencies but we’re all human and we learn. However this inconsistency was a paragraph away. You said black people can’t be racist and then tried to define the difference between white supremecy and racism. You said that racism is hate by the color of the skin whether it was black white or brown no matter the power behind it, and I agree with that; but supremecy was a power structure. (Of course I paraphrase) I agree with you that black supremecy doesn’t exist today but I disagree that black racism doesn’t exist(black Hebrew isrealites, 5 %ers etc) I’ve seen you make arguments for it before and respect them but this was plain as day contradictory. Is there something I’m missing? I love your work; you’re one of my favorite journalists because I don’t believe you can be bought. Although I may not agree with all of it, I hope to hear back or at least make your clapback mailbag.

Thank you,

Ryan

Dear Ryan,

Thank you for this letter.

I think you may have misread that article because your letter gives me the opportunity to explain my belief.

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I believe Black people can be racist because I believe that we have misunderstood the difference between racism and white supremacy. Both Black and white people often think that white supremacists are super-racists who wear Nazi insignias and organize marches, while racists just don’t like Black people, for whatever reason. In fact, that article prompted a discussion with News Editor Monique Judge, who edited that article and gave me permission to share our conversation.

Monique: I disagree with this:

“3. Black people can be racist.

While I understand people who contend that black people can’t be racist because racism requires power, I have repeatedly written (including here, here and here) that the idea of power is subjective. A black police officer wields as much power as his fellow white officers. Whether they are black are white, cops are all subject to the same racist notion that black people are more dangerous, which leads to disproportionate murders of black people. A powerless white man who stocks the shelves at Home Depot and hates black people is a racist, even if he can’t materially affect any black person’s day-to-day life.”

Michael Harriot: I think a lot of people disagree with it. But I stand by it. Candace Owens is racist.

Monique: I know you do. We agree to disagree. [Candace Owens] is ignorant.

Michael Harriot: A lot of cops are racist. A lot of niggas who date white girls are racist against themselves.

Monique: this is a really good piece.

Michael Harriot: do those toothless white motherfuckers who work at the gas station have any real power?

Monique: likely not but they are part of a system of power and that’s what i mean

Michael Harriot: They vote for Trump because they are racist

Monique: lol we should have this debate on video: “Can Black People Be Racist?”

Michael Harriot: Right, my contention is that if you are black and have power in a racist system, then you are racist

Monique: explain give power. you mean like what Candace Owens does? and Tim Scott and Ben Carson and Van Jones et al

Michael Harriot: No, I think there needs to be a denotation between white supremacy and racism. racism is personal and individual

white supremacy is systemic. That’s why we add “systemic” to racism” when we talk about white supremacy.

Monique: hm

Michael Harriot: For instance, a KKK member is racist but might not have any influence on a black person’s life

He believes in white supremacy just like a lot of people believe in Christianity but aren’t Christians. But, if you call a police officer racist because they subconsciously believe that black people are more dangerous, that person will swear up and down that they aren’t racist because they don’t hate black people

And THAT is why we can’t reform police

Monique: because the issue is tied to racism

Michael Harriot: Because a lot of white people believe that we think police officers hate black people

that is how they define racism

and technically they’re correct

What we’re actually talking about is white supremacy

Monique: ok i can see your point on that

Michael Harriot: So we can never get to where we want to go unless we explain that we don’t care how white people FEEL. We care about the OUTCOME of their ACTIONS

Monique: this is good

have you written this before?

Michael Harriot: ALL the time

It’s been my mantra for a long time. It’s also why White people can contend that they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies

They think racism comes from the inside of their bodies.

That conversation prompted a larger discussion, but my point has always been, if we talk about police shootings using the same term as we talk about someone who says the n-word in Target, we will never be able to discuss police brutality or school funding because white people assume that they aren’t racist if they don’t shoot a Black person in the face or hateBlack people in their heart. You can’t legislate feelings but we can legislate systemic issues like redlining and use of force.

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So we (myself included) must stop using racism as a catch-all when we really mean white supremacy—the system that gives white people more opportunity for prosperity and life.

You mistakenly thought I said “Black people can’t be racist,” which is an easy mistake because a lot of Black people believe it. But not me. You just assumed I did.

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Which makes you racist, Ryan.

(Not really. But Monique thinks so.)


Finally, this:

From: Jeff
To Michael Harriot

I think your afraid to admit Owens knows what shes talking abut. I know many black conservatives who have realized that the Democratic Party is patronizing black people to get their vote. When will your people realize this?

would you be willing to admit that you don’t know everything?

Dear Jeff

I don’t know everything.

I don’t know why they still make black jelly beans. I don’t know why doo-doo porn is so prevalent in Germany. I don’t know why Post Malone is.

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There’s one other thing that admittedly befuddles me:

Why do you think white people are so smart?

Why do you think white people were able to collectively bamboozle 88 percent of Black people into voting for the Democrats? Why do you think we were too dumb to notice the flim-flam? And why can’t the Republicans use that same hypnosis trick and convince us to vote for the GOP?

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Why don’t Asians vote Republican? Or Hispanic Americans? Why is it that no other racial group or ethnic demographic in the entire country vote Republican except for white people?

Why is it impossible for you to fathom the possibility that you might be right and everyone else might be right? Why is it so hard for you to believe that every other group in America are voting for their own interests in the same way that white people are?

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And, as far as Black conservatives go, I’d share a part of that article that I deleted for brevity:

The black conservative has bought into the racist idea that black people are lazy and irresponsible and it is that, and not racism, that stops us from advancing like the hard-working, sexually demure Caucasian class.

No one has worked harder than black people. No one recognizes the need for black fathers more than black people. Black people also believe in unity and faith. But white supremacy keeps fucking it up. If white people eliminated white supremacy and black people still had all of these problems, I’d be retweeting Candace Owens every day with the caption: “Yass sis! Love your edges!”

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See?

I admit it.

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

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DISCUSSION

There is this one brief part in The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring where the Fellowship, stuck deep in the oppressive maze of the Mines of Moria, sit down and take stock of which of the paths in front of them they should take to escape the dank pits infested with goblins, trolls, and all manner of ill creatures.

Finally, Gandalf stands up and points to one of the passages, declaring it as the path to take. Frodo declares that Gandalf finally remembered, to which Gandalf replies No, I didn’t remember. It just smells less foul down that path. “Whenever in doubt, Master Baggins, always follow your nose”.

Non-white people, at least those who don’t have their heads shoved far up Fox News’ colon confusing its gastrointestinal rumbles as objective truth, know this: We follow our nose and take the Democrat path not because we ain’t going to run into white supremacy of all degrees nor because we won’t see how the Democrats consistently fuck up/fuck over racial progressiveness in this country to please the perpetual convenience of their white constituents. It’s because it stinks less down there than that Republican path, which is an utter guarantee of extinguishing equanimity. Neither path is free of racist trolls, “good” people who declare colorblindness but do nothing for systemic justice, and whatever white wizardry that conjures up wealth to reward racial mediocrity, but it sure as hell is a better option to escaping this darkness even if we still have to put up with shit along the way. That’s the desperation as it stands.