The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: America, the Brutal Fool

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

Since yesterday was America’s birthday, let’s begin the Clapback Mailbag with a patriotic song:

O brutal fools, those racist whites, with grammar that’s a shame
For mountains of hate mail we receive, filled with white tears of pain
A mailbag’s here! A mailbag’s here! Our readers love when we
Clapback at all the racist trolls who email, DM and tweet. 

...Or whatever TF America be singing.


Our first email comes from someone who’d like to set the record straight on racism in America and how to cure it.

From: Frank
To: Michael Harriot

It’s funny how you protest bitch and moan about all the racist things that Americans does to black people and never mention the violence that black people have committed against Americans.

Your people have always been the most violent out of any group. Black people resort to violece as the only way to solve your problems. No wonder they have madeso little progress in the past 300 years. If you could fix that, maybe you could fix all of your other problems and join the rest of Americans.

Dear Frank,

I think you’re on to something. I think black people should look at how our superior, intelligent white brothers and sisters have gained their freedom and liberty. Using their tactics to stimulate our societal advancement would probably be far more productive than our savage, violent ways.

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Let’s see:

When colonial Americans complained about economic disparities and their lack of political representation, a paramilitary group called the Sons of Liberty rioted, looted and burned property, with the Boston Tea Party being the most famous “protest.” Although it now seems quaint, the violent tea partiers attacked one their detractors, cracked his skull, doused him in boiling hot tar, and rolled him in feathers.

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When native Americans objected to the colonialists taking their land, the Europeans slaughtered them by the millions in the name of “civilization.” The prospect of ending chattel slavery prompted a war with more casualties than all other wars in American history combined. The Ku Klux Klan was founded by people who wanted to disarm newly-freed former slaves. When black soldiers returned from World War I and peacefully demanded rights, a nationwide campaign of terror-lynching ensued during the Red Summer of 1919. White people bombed black neighborhoods when they wrongly assumed a white woman had been attacked. They wiped out entire towns based on lies. They bombed little children at church. They cracked the skulls of peaceful protesters. The greatest white Americans were rapists, murderers, and thieves.

Make no mistake about it, Frank, there has never been a country as violent and murderous as the white citizens of the United States of America. And the fact that black people, Native Americans and every other demographic have restrained themselves from being like you might seem stupid but you should thank whatever great and benevolent God you serve.

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Time and time again, America has proven that the only thing required to be included in this nation’s bountiful harvest is that one must get some blood on their hands and evil in their hearts. If you want to compare genocide, slavery and lynching to a few gangbangers in Chicago, feel free to do so but just know that all the robbing, stealing, drug-dealing and drive-by shootings in all the inner cities in America pale in comparison to the atrocities committed for the sake of white people’s comfort, greed, and supremacy. Maybe black people are just resistant to being jumped into the most brutal gang of all.

Or maybe you’re right. Perhaps if we could fix this problem, we could fix all of our other problems. But if assimilating to the standard of whiteness is what it takes to achieve the American dream, I think I speak for all of us when I say:

“No thanks.”


Our next email is in regards to our continued coverage of the debate surrounding reparations.

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From: Stephen
To: The Root
Subject: Reparations For Slavery

The same people who died during the Civil War (750,000) and those who died afterwards for your Civil Liberties, Civil Rights and Human Rights, you want their ancestors to pay Reparations for Slavery. I say go Fu’k yourselves. You want reparation go back to West Africa and get reparations from your African Ancestors who traded you during the Slave Trade. Gospel According to St John Chapter 8:1-59 The woman taken in adultery. Christ justifies his doctrine.

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Dearest Stephen,

First, I’d like to admit that I made no effort to read John 8:1-59 simply because I already know the story about “he who is without sin” casting the first stone. Plus, I don’t think a 2000-year-old religious text should inform economic and political policy.

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But hey...that’s just me.

However, I would like to address the repeated assertion that those who favor reparations somehow want white people to pay for the sins of their ancestors. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have never heard anyone seriously suggest that America issue a tax on just white people. Instead, they are asking this country to pay reparations for what this country has received in free labor. No one is asking only white people to pay reparation because no one suggests that only white people have benefitted from slavery.

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Instead of casting a stone, allow me to share my sins.

The people who benefitted most from centuries of free labor were white Americans. But black people also owe an unpaid debt to slavery because we have also reaped its rewards. Everyone who doesn’t live in one of the original thirteen colonies lives on land purchased in part with the proceeds from slavery. We attend educational institutions, patronize businesses and work for companies that were built with the dollars from America’s “peculiar institution.”

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Like whites, black people enjoy the might of America’s armed forces and its standing as an economic superpower. All our fundamental way of living was purchased and established with slave money. Yes, reparations will come out of Black America’s pockets, too. Yet, we are willing to pay reparations just like our tax dollars paid for schools we couldn’t attend, front doors we couldn’t walk through and police officers who kill our sons and daughters.

Plus, you can’t cherry-pick history.

When we honor the Founding Fathers, we must acknowledge that they had the opportunity to craft this great nation because most of them had slaves back at home working in their absence. Enslaved Africans fought in the American Revolution. When Lewis and Clark explored the West, they had slaves clearing the way. Slavery made New York an international banking power and America into an economic superpower. In fact, in 1860, the value of U.S. slaves alone was three times the amount of money America invested in manufacturing, three times the amount invested in railroads and seven times all of the money in U.S. banks according to historian Steven Deyle’s Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life.

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Without slavery, there is no America.

And white people have always received reparations.

America paid the descendants of the Civil war until 2017 but black Civil War veterans were routinely denied pensions. A million black soldiers were excluded from the GI Bill when white soldiers received benefits. The New Deal handed out jobs and built homes for white people suffering through the Great Depression while blacks were redlined and unemployed. To this day, white farmers receive subsidies as payment for feeding the country while black farmers do not. Small business loans are handed to white entrepreneurs to stimulate the economy while black borrowers are stiff-armed.

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Now you want to cast stones and act as if whites are without sin. But since you’re cherry-picking history and Bible verses, you should read these quotes:

“The unfortunate condition of the persons, whose labour in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret. To make the Adults among them as easy & as comfortable in their circumstances as their actual state of ignorance & improvidence would admit; & to lay a foundation to prepare the rising generation for a destiny different from that in which they were born; afforded some satisfaction to my mind, & could not I hoped be displeasing to the justice of the Creator.” - George Washington

“The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.” - Psalm 37:21

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But hey...that’s just me.


I received a direct message on Twitter from someone in reference to this article:

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From: Martin
To: Michael Harriot

Your article on reverse racism is ignorant. You act like we still live 500 years ago. The whole world has moved on. Any group(person) can be racist towards any other group and all derogatory words hold the same value. If the intent is to demean, its racist. Period.

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Dear Martin,

I would guess that you don’t study discrimination, inequality and economic disparities. I love to educate people about how racism still exists today. But before I pull out all of the statistics, studies and peer-reviewed research, let me gather some more information about you so that I may cater my response to your sensibilities to give you a greater understanding of the issue.

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Hold on while I check out your Twitter profile...

Screenshot: Twitter
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Umm... never mind.


From: Linda
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Mr. Harriot

I’m a 71 year-old white lady, a former American who left Ohio in August of ‘68 and came to Canada. Eventually, I became a Canadian citizen, and at the same time, I renounced my U.S. citizenship; education was what drew me here, but Viet Nam and the state of civil rights in the U.S. are what made me decide to stay. The Trump presidency has now turned the world on its head, and somehow on this Fourth of July 51 years later, with Trump’s attempted hijacking of the celebration, America has been much on my mind, and I realize I haven’t left it as far in the past as I had thought.

Because you thoughtfully put it there, today I read the entirety of Frederick Douglass’ 1852 address before the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association, and you are completely right: “Douglass’ unapologetic criticism of America’s hypocrisy still rings true to this very day.” However, it wasn’t Douglass’ eloquent castigation of hypocrisy that caught my breath; it was the communication of his people’s overpowering sense of exclusion.

I also read Lawrence Ross’ piece “America the Beautiful, America the Cruel” in which he says, “If this Fourth of July were to be completely honest . . . we would celebrate America’s true exceptionalism by celebrating those communities America has hurt.” He goes on to imagine everyone listening to Miles Davis, eating Indian fry bread, and finally “storm[ing] the private concentration camps that hold human beings in appalling conditions.” One day, he hopes, America will “celebrate a new version of the Fourth of July.” And the ideas in the two articles sort of came together for me.

There has been talk of reparations lately, and some of it has centred around what is “appropriate.” I have wondered what could possibly allow America to finally move past the debt of slavery? I don’t know the answer to that, but now I wonder: Could there ever be a Fourth of July celebration for those slaves Douglas evokes? And for all those who, since those times, still feel excluded as those slaves were made to feel? Because surely, some rite of inclusion has to be part of any national reparations. And if so, what might such a Fourth of July look like? Perhaps the kinds of soaring imagination that produced the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice could be brought to bear on the question someday. I think it deserves no less.

Anyway, I want to thank you for including Douglass’ powerful speech in today’s Root, and so giving me the chance to ponder and to imagine such things. I am sure others will, too, because you did that.

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Dear Linda,

Stephen, Martin, and Frank would like a word.

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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.