The Root's Clapback Mailbag: A Mood

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Image: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)
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.

This week, instead of answering each letter individually, I shall increase the level of difficulty by answering all the letters with one universal, overarching clapback.


You see, every Friday around 4 a.m., before I even wake up, I begin receiving messages asking what’s taking the mailbag so long. Here’s your answer:


I take the mailbag seriously. It is never among the most-read items on The Root but I feel like the Clapback Mailbag readers are our true audience. As such, I strive to give you my best every week, which necessitates a vigorous preparation ritual.

First, I must go to the bathroom, lock the door, and slap myself in the face with the fury of a thousand racists. Then I look in the mirror and call myself a nigger a minimum of four or five times. Then I have to get in the mood by listening to white people say something really stupid, which requires me to watch Fox News for at least 15 minutes.

Then, and only then, am I ready to wade through the emails, tweets, comments and messages to bring you the best mailbag possible.

This week features perplexing letters about how The Root’s articles made our readers feel “some type of way.” To be honest, I don’t even know that ways had types or what the phrase means, but I guess it’s a “thing” now, which is another phrase I don’t understand. And I know someone will accuse me of making these names in the mailbag up, but I swear I didn’t. It is what it is (another one).

Anyway, let’s begin before my face stops stinging.

Our first set of items concerns the article about Juán-Pabló Gonzalez’s incident at the Catholic University Law Library.


There were two types of responses we received about this post. The first came from an overwhelming number of librarians who insisted that I issue a retraction calling Brittany a “librarian.”

From: Abby:
To: Michael

...If you could simply change the headline to “library desk clerk” or “student worker” it would really help us to participate in this shared vision and goal of information access and inclusion for all in higher education...


From: Caroline

To: Michael Harriot

...I do worry that misidentifying this woman as a librarian when she’s just a student worker hurts our efforts, especially when the student who was the victim (and hero) here actually *is* a professional librarian in training. The stereotype of a librarian is generally of a mean white woman, and unfortunately, the white woman part of that is largely accurate, but the mean stereotype is not, and it is a barrier to the vital work that libraries and librarians do that we are so easily and frequently dismissed as shrill, nasty frumps.


The second type came from people who happened to be white who were explaining that just because the lady was wrong about the library’s policies, it doesn’t mean she is a racist.


This week, our requisite “not all white people” correspondence comes from a reader who objected to how I portrayed the teacher who wore blackface to a Halloween party.


From: Jillian
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Iowa Teacher/Blackface

I know you probably get a lot of letters during this time of year about blackface but I read your blog about the teacher in Iowa who wore blackface. I’m on her side. I’ve never worn blackface but just because someone paints they’re face doesn’t make them racism

Even with Megyn Kelly at NBC people have jumped on her but you never explain why this is considered racist. How can you call a woman racist if she didn’t know that what she was doing was offensive? I grew up in Iowa and it isn’t a very inclusive place but people there aren’t mean and racist like everyone says.


These next few are so short I’ll just group them together:

From: Balto

To: Michael Harriot

Go fuck yourself you fucking piece of shit lib motherfucker. Make America GREAT AGAIN. Red wave is coming. Ford is lying fucking lib. Fake news, Fake bombs.

From: Jack the cop

To: Michael Harriot

Fuck the root, collin kapernick and all you no good niggers who think all cops are racist. How do you think cops feel when they see you running down the street with your pants sagging like a monkey going to rob someone knowing you will cry about police brutality the same day.

Not all cops are racist. You need to learn it. If I catch you one day maybe I will teach you.

From: Diana T.
To: Angela Helm

For every brilliant Black like Clarence Thomas there is a countervailing dumb-ass, low-IQ Black idiot like you


Dear Jill, Jack and Diana; Larry and the Librarians,


Oh dear, where do I begin?

Of all the points I have ever made in this series, on this site and in my life, perhaps the most oft-repeated theme is my insistence that white people must understand that racism has nothing to do with intent.


While I doubt that Brittany McNurlin would have been so annoyed by a white man asking questions that she would feel the need to call the police, there is no reason to speculate because—in truth—I don’t know. What I do know is that she called the police on a black man simply because she didn’t like his tone and his line of questioning. What I do know is that, while white people are statistically safer when police are around, black people’s safety statistically decreases with each police encounter. This is the thing I wish people would understand most.

When cops object to NFL players kneeling, they believe it is an insult to police. When an NBC morning show host whines about why she can’t wear blackface, she believes that people are being too sensitive. And when a human Hefty bag of privilege and entitlement calls the police on a black man, librarians and random-ass white motherfuckers on Twitter decry me “painting” her as “acting from a place of prejudice.”


Here’s the thing:

Black people don’t give a fuck about the place from where an act of racism originates. Police officers might not have secret meetings where they put out a “dead black boy” quota to fill, but the result of laws, policies, police unions and public sentiment have made the police a protected class that is virtually immune to the law. Part of the problem is officers’ lack of education while implicit bias is another part. Becoming a certified yoga instructor requires more time and education than becoming a cop. Then we give them guns and the full authority of the law.


The police are racist.

That is not an insult. Every single objective statistic verifies it. They pull over, search and frisk black people disproportionately. They arrest, jail and give higher bail to black people disproportionately for crimes perpetrated equally by both races. They kill black people disproportionately, even though studies show there is no relationship between criminality, crime rates and police killings.


Jillian, wearing blackface is an act of racism.

Even if the wearer is unaware of the history and the meaning, like most things in the universe, ignorance of the law is no excuse. If a cop pulls you over while you are driving 90 miles per hour, try explaining your position to him using the logic of white people wearing blackface.

You: What’s the problem officer?

Cop: You were going 20 miles over the speed limit.

You: No one told me that it was wrong to speed. And why is it wrong to speed? When I was growing up, it was ok to go as fast as you wanted. No one complained.

Cop: But there are speed limit signs everywhere and you could have hurt someone. Did you know you have an 90 percent chance of death if you’re in a car accident going more than 70 miles per hour?

You: I really feel like you’re attacking me right now. Just because I was speeding doesn’t mean I was trying to hurt someone. Not all speeders officer, not all speeders.

Cop: What?

You: Well I didn’t see the signs. Plus, no one saw me speeding and no one was hurt. I didn’t mean to break the law so that means you shouldn’t give me a ticket.

Cop: That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

The whitest part of Jillian’s argument is the first part. And the middle part. And the last part, too.


I just can’t understand the inherent white ethos that always responds to pain with privilege. When people of color tell them not to say it or do something that hurts black people or makes us angry, white people’s response is always:

“But why, though?”

To answer their question, I need to switch to all caps.


Is it so impossible to summon the sliver of humanity hidden on the deep recesses of your caucasity and—for once—do something just because? I recently had a conversation with some actual, verified, white people who needed an explanation for why they couldn’t say the n-word. They (two gentlemen who wear Asics and cargo shorts) would not settle for “just don’t do it.” They needed the answer broken down to its smallest bits. Every time I gave them an answer they had another question and I was finally able to satisfy them by running the entire psychology, history and legacy of the word until they finally accepted an appropriate explanation.


Then they went into the parking lot and had a lightsaber battle.

That is the essence of whiteness. It needs but never offers. It abuses but can’t take a punch. It calls the police but can’t take being called out.


Which is why I feel the need to apologize to our brave men and women of the libraries across America. I have no idea why anyone would call her a librarian just because she was an employee of a library standing behind the desk at a library doing library shit.

I would never impugn your reputation by smearing your fine card cataloging and decimalizing of Deweys. By protesting the racism of Brittany the not law librarian, I was not attacking your people. I should have thought to ask her for her librarian badge number or at least looked up her library license. I want to clarify this because, as a black man, I have no idea how hard it must be to live in a world where people assume things about you based on the preconceived notions of society. I bet it is so hard.


I’m glad you injected this very important point about librarians in a story that was essentially about black lives. I bet it is so hard to read a story about a man who was subjected to an injustice without making it about yourself, yet you still managed to find one microscopic point that specifically bothers your narcissistic ego.

And that’s exactly why they call the police on black people so often. It has nothing to do with evil intent or hate. It is the insipid belief that everything—the world, black people’s feelings, the NFL sidelines, law libraries and even cautionary tales about law libraries—it all belongs to them.


Their actions are racist but it has nothing to do with hate or intent. Their actions are about privilege. It is about territory. It is about ownership. It is about whatever they want it to be about.

They are the owners and we are all trespassers. And with the simple push of a button they should be able to make you stand in the locker room; address them by their correct professional title; shut the fuck up about their Halloween costume; stop speaking in that tone or get the fuck out of their face.


Regardless of her intent, Brittany McNurlin committed an act of racism. By calling the cops because she was annoyed, McNurlin, if only fractionally, put a man’s life in more danger than it was before she picked up the phone dialed the police. Even worse, she admitted on video, in front of the cops, that she was in no danger and didn’t feel threatened.

No, they don’t feel some type of way.

If only they could feel, at all.


To my dearest Diana,

Your motherfucking, countervailing, douchenozzle-making mama’s vagina is an EZ Bake oven for shitty human beings.


Tell her Angela said hi.

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


Nunna Yorz - American Justice Is A Joke

Damn, this was brutal. This went from just clapping back to the verbal equivalent of throwing hands, and those poor wypipo just got the two piece and a biscuit. NICE!

Because seriously, I hate the double standard that white people push on us for how we respond to their fuckery. If we speak out or complain then we’re the problem. We’re told we’re ‘fighting hate with hate’, and how expressing anger doesn’t help solve the “race problem” in America. (Notice how that’s always somehow the responsibility of black people.) Then they quote MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech because that’s literally all they know about him, and ask us why we don’t just smile, and sing gospels and turn the other cheek. Turning the other cheek just gets you two bruised cheeks. And then the person who hit you will tell you it shouldn’t hurt. (“Nigger is just a word!”) If someone walks all over you and you’re passive in your response, what’s to stop them from walking all over you again? Sometimes you have to push back to let someone know they crossed a line.