The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: A Teachable Moment

Photo illustration by Omar Bustamante/The Root/GMG

Welcome to the last Clapback Mailbag. We have thoroughly enjoyed sharing our reader correspondence with you, but since we will all most definitely be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust this weekend, let’s take these last few moments to do what makes us feel good:

Being petty.

From: Sarah S.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Shame on you!

I saw your post about the UM protests and punching a racists person in the mouth. It’s funny how your always writing about white supremesests t but not about Black Lives Matter and Antifa. I’m not a racist person, but I wonder what Dr. King would say if he saw this. If you are truly about what you say your about then you have to be consistent.

Some of us just want unity. What do you have to say to those of us who want a world without Confederate flags, Nazis, black lives matter or Antifa?

You have to be fair.


You’re right. Shame on me for advocating the mouth-punching of racists. Let me ask you a question, Sarah:

Have you ever punched anyone in the mouth?

You should, Sarah. It feels so good. It doesn’t solve the problem, but if someone gave me the choice between having a civil conversation with a racist and punching them in the mouth, I’d choose the teeth-knocking option every time. You may think it’s a temporary solution, Sarah, but trust me—the satisfaction lasts a long time. A long time. I know it doesn’t make them any less racist, but there is nothing that makes a racist less racist.

You see, Sarah, there is no way to reason with hate. When someone believes that you are inferior to them, by definition they can’t accept your logic as equal to theirs. Also, why is it incumbent on the people who are aggrieved to change the minds of their oppressors? Racism is evil, and I have no desire to rehabilitate evil and transform them into something a little less evil. I’d rather they flinch every time they think about saying the n-word.

Do you know what kind of world I want to live in, Sarah? I want to live in a world where Sarahs don’t conflate a movement to save lives and to end the brutality of the state with people who reminisce fondly about the terrorism, rape and torture of owning slaves. I want to live in a world where Sarahs don’t equate the anti-fascist position of getting rid of white supremacy by any means necessary with the Nazi position of ethnic cleansing and the genocide of Jews, Muslims and people of color.

I want to live in a world where grammatically challenged white girls never again ask me what Martin Luther King Jr. would have thought about my desire to kick the living shit out of people like the one who spattered his brains on a hotel balcony.

From: William W.
To: Danielle Belton
Subject: Rape????

This is obviously another attempt by white folks to blame a shithouse rat of a crime. Those white devils, are at it again………Arresting a choir boy, on the way to help his grand mammy make brownies.. it’s time for negro’s, the decent ones who “obey the laws” want to have a life free of shithouse rats to start speaking out against these fucking nasty ass fools…Because dickheads like yourself, who will never speak the truth about these fucking assholes!


Dear William,

I am going to clap back at this email so hard. I’m about to let you have it ...

As soon as I figure out what the fuck you’re talking about.

The next piece needs some explanation. Earlier this week, I wrote this story:


In the story, I misidentified the gender of Georgia Tech student Scout Schultz, who was killed by police during a standoff with a knife. When this was pointed out to me, I changed the pronouns in the story to fit how Scout identified themself. Some readers didn’t like it, so this happened:

The Root


Earlier this week, Damon Young wrote a piece entitled “Straight Black Men Are the White People of Black People.”


I am a straight black man. Many people’s response to his piece was basically “not all black men ... ,” and it would have echoed every sentiment black people feel when white people say, “Not all white people.” I recognize the hypocrisy in that.

I also recognize the double standard of me replying that “I don’t see gender” or “What I said had nothing to do with their gender.” I could have also gone with “Some of my best friends are trans” or “What about the straight black men who experience the same injustice, but the media doesn’t want to talk about it?”


I don’t like “the white man,” and when I speak of “the white man,” I don’t mean Caucasian males. I mean anyone who uses whatever authority or power they hold to oppress or belittle others. One of the mantras I try to live by is that I never want to be anyone’s “the white man.”

In trying to point out the difference between a young white person being shot and a black person being shot, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the person was trans. After I found out, I still didn’t think the specifics of the story made a difference in the point I was trying to make.


Obviously, to some people, I was wrong. My intent was to be provocative, but it was never to diminish the struggle of a community that I am not a part of.

During my time as a writer and interviewer, I have made a point to talk about and recognize the struggles of the trans community. I have had conversations with many about the importance of pronouns. I am not patting myself on the back for that—in fact, it is quite the opposite. In telling the story, I totally missed the fact that Scout Schultz was a member of the trans community. I didn’t pay attention to the pronouns people used to describe Shultz. As a journalist and a decent human being, I should have been more observant.


I was wrong.

This all illustrates a very important point: Racism, transphobia and homophobia don’t always come out as hate or fear. My intent was not to be transphobic, but if it felt transphobic to someone who is transgender, it sounds stupid and insensitive to say, “I’m not like that. I’m the least transphobic person in the world.”


Sometimes, you have to even clap back at yourself.

Stay petty, my friends.

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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.