The Root's Clapback Mailbag: An Annotated Guide to White Fragility

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“For Caucasians so loved the world that they gave to us their white tears. That whosoever believeth in it should not perish, but have everlasting whiteness.” - Wypipo 3:16


You weren’t supposed to get a mailbag today because Yesha and I are both off. But, as the Bible tells us in II Wypipians 3:16, “The Clapack Mailbag waits for no man.” (Except for Yesha, who literally just messaged me on our day off asking: “Where’s the Clapback?”)

Even though this was a banner week for people crying in the mailbag, they will have to wait because I think I may have received the whitest email of all time. Unlike most of the emails, comments, tweets and direct messages received by our staff, this particular submission wasn’t even hate mail. It was just white. It had all the elements, including:

  • White tears ...
  • from a fragile white woman ...
  • complaining about reverse racism ...
  • and how she feels attacked ...
  • by our unapologetic blackness.

There will not be multiple letters today. Today we shall focus on the Gospel according to Liah.

However, this one correspondence is so chock full of white tears, I have scrapped the usual format and decided to approach this particular email using my academic training in Wypipology, including footnotes. Think of it as Bible study from the White Testament.

Be ye not afraid. I have come so that ye may have clapback, and that ye may have clapback more abundantly.

From: Liah
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Can we talk

Generally I spot one of your articles on my google feed, and that leads to me reading dozens of your articles on the Root. I think you’re great. You’re an amazing writer, really funny and smart. (1) I read the comments too. Once you commented something like this website isn’t really for white people. I disagree! (2) Because I’m white, (3) and I read these articles you’ve written, and I die inside a little more with each article that I read. I’m embarassed as hell and disgusted.


1. Notice the technique of prefacing her explanation of what’s wrong with black people. Other examples of this method include:

  • “I just feel like ...”
  • “I don’t want to sound racist, but ...”
  • And, my favorite: “I find it funny how ...”

2. Of course you do.

3. You don’t say! I would have never guessed!

I know white people are gross. We’ve done awful things and continue to do awful things to people unlike us. I only say we because I am white and it’s the truth. (4) I don’t know why white people are the way they are. For as much as we’ve done that was amazing and wonderful in the world, we’ve done just as much, if not more damage to it. (5) That makes me really sad. Your articles make me sad. Also angry (6) because I know that nobody should get their money stolen or be harassed by police OR FORCED TO CRAWL ON THE GROUND WITH GUNS DRAWN ON THEM WHEN THEY’VE DONE LITERALLY NOT ONE THING WRONG OR ILLEGAL.


4. I’m starting to like Liah. However, I sense a “but” coming.

5. I’m really sorry that Liah didn’t mention the “amazing and wonderful” things, so I will:

  • The iPhone
  • Pornhub
  • Hamburgers
  • Memes

That’s it. That’s the list.

6. Oh, Liah! If reading words on the internet makes you sad ... also angry, imagine how living that reality must feel. I still sense the “but” coming, though.

I also don’t like the racial division though. (7) Not every white person is a Becky or a Chad or whoever. (8) I’m certainly not. I’ve never been privileged in any way. (9) I’ve lived in many many of the impoverished and rough neighborhoods that Northeastern Ohio has to offer. (10) I’ve spent most of my life living with and loving people of different races and their cultures. (11) I know I can’t understand the struggle of being not white in America. I try but I know I never will. I think about the times I’ve had to deal with police myself. (12)


7. Goddammit, Liah, you didn’t even give me the satisfaction of reading “but” before you started explaining how you feel butthurt! That’s mean, Liah. Just mean!

8. Ok. At least you redeemed yourself by starting out with a “not all white people...” This is going to be good!


9. How much you wanna bet that—before this email is over—Liah gives multiple examples of her privilege?

10. This is the narrative that I’m talking about. As soon as they begin talking about black issues, the first place they start is announcing that they, too, have been poor and downtrodden, which is the white person’s equivalent of a doctor showing his medical license. “See, I empathize with blackness because I did some shit I didn’t like one time.”


11. Try “all,” Liah. Try spending all your life living with people of different races and cultures. Saying “most” or “some” is like telling a man in solitary confinement that you, too, have been in a small room. Sure you could leave whenever you wanted because the door was never locked, but still ... Try “all.”

12. And those few times you’ve had to deal with police, try feeling it like this: every time you pass a flashing blue neon sign, you wonder if this is the time you’re going to die. Experience what it feels like to have your heartbeat speed up involuntarily when you notice a police cruiser in your window. Try teaching your son how to parallel park, make a 3-point turn, and what to do to make himself non-threatening so police won’t shoot him in the face for reaching for his license when he learns how to drive.


But, I know how you feel during “those times.”

I don’t handle it like that man at T Mobile did. I get angry and I yell and talk shit. I’m difficult on purpose. I see that it’s silly, because if I wasn’t white, those police could shoot me or do whatever else and say whatever they want about it and enough people might believe them. (13) I know there’s a difference and I wish there wasn’t. Although I don’t understand black or other minority struggles, I understand my own. I know what it’s like to be judged and marginalized. I remember being angry in high school, because I was smart but I was so poor. And weird.  I got angry because all of the kids who were offered college scholarships from my school were black. (14) I see now how stupid I was. I try not to be racist but I think I am sometimes. (15)


13. And that, dear Liah, is white privilege. I win. Pay me my money.

14. Liah, I want to stop you here. And this is not a clapback. I want to really clarify something:

You felt marginalized because of something that is no fault of your own. Poverty is a condition that it is possible to escape. Being weird is a personality trait. Being black is not.


No one thinks of you as “weird” when you first walk into a job interview. No one calls the police on you when you drive through a neighborhood because you look “weird.”

And the reason for those mythical scholarships is because the American education system is unfairly tilted. Black children receive harsher punishments in schools. Black schools are statistically underfunded. Racial bias is built into standardized tests. Black children are not disadvantaged because of their condition or their personality traits, but because they are black. That is a harsh reality.


15. Thank you for trying Liah. But by the simple fact that you wrote this letter means that you are working. Furthermore, most people have thoughts similar to yours. It is natural. But the denial of these thoughts is what leads to racism. Most black people wouldn’t care if you had these thoughts if they did not manifest themselves in actions.

But my life really resembles the lives of many minority women I’ve met. (16) I put myself through college the best I could. I had to work two jobs to pay for a full time course load, rent, survival. (17) I started using drugs to stay awake, then I needed different drugs to put me to sleep. I became a drug addict, and a drug dealer, (18) eventually pretty much a prostitute. (19) I was also watching my nieces and nephews a few times a week and trying to take care of one or two dead beat men. I have no idea how I was able to do all of those things at once. Especially now, being that I’m 26 years old, and due to my ridiculous and difficult and seemingly endless life, I can hardly do anything anymore.


16. No, it doesn’t.

17. So, if all the black people get the “black people scholarship,” how are you working like a “minority” to put yourself through school?


18. That is a white thing. Multiple studies show that white people are more likely to abuse prescription and illicit drugs.

19. Fifty-four percent of the people arrested for prostitution are white, according to the FBI, which means one is likelier to find a white prostitute than a black one.

I have a multitude of horrible health issues now that mainly keep me in bed or in the hospital. I’m always exhausted and depressed. The people who saved my life, literally almost all of them were black or other minorities. From the police who arrested me out of kindness and pity, to the guards who looked after me, to my drug court judge and drug court coordinator. Most of the staff and clients of my rehab center were black, because of the location. My counselors after rehab were all black. My rape crisis pro was black. The staff and roommates at my sober house were black. At literally every AA, NA meeting I went to, I was the only white person around, because I was in East Cleveland. My sponsors are beautiful black lesbians who help raise each other’s children and they have the most amazing and pure love for each other and their family that I’ve ever seen. Shit even most of my doctors and nurses are black! All of my neighbors are black! I stand with black people. I stand with everyone. I love and appreciate so many people of color. I’m not like other white girls who pick up a fake black accent and try to dress cool and be cool. I’m just an odd girl who likes odd things. People of different races embraced me more than white people I know that much. I’m sorry for going on and on. The point I want to make is this. I can’t do a lot right now to help but I want to. (20)


20. You have to help yourself, first, Liah. This breaks my heart, despite the fact that I sense another “but” coming.

Since I can’t do much, I spend my time reading the news. And it’s not helping. I wish I could do more and I can’t. But you can. You have a platform. You’re smart and people listen to you. I’m not saying I think you should stop hating on white people. You absolutely need to keep doing that lol because someone needs to call out the truly awful ones. But I just feel like racism of any kind is not okay. I’m one of the few white people who’s honestly experienced rasism. (21)

I was living in a court ordered sober house in the worst neighborhood in Cleveland. When I first got there, people were mad at me for even being around until they met me. I told my neighbor about it one time. I was crying because a woman at the supermarket was telling me I needed to leave that neighborhood, etc. I told my neighbor what she said, and he told me “Just tell them that if you could’ve stayed in that oven to bake a little longer to come out a little darker, you would have!” He was funny like that. I’ve had experiences like that, I’ve felt the tension and racial divide. People like you saying what you say is so necessary and I know that.


21. Before I continue, Liah, I want to make a point:

Let’s assume that you have experienced “reverse racism.”

In your previous paragraph, you mentioned that the people who “saved your life, literally almost all of them were black or other minorities.”


Almost every black person in America would chop off their pinky finger with an unwashed steak knife from the Golden Corral buffet just to have most white people treat them with dignity, respect and love. The entire point of talking about racism is that it is not just a few isolated incidents that make us feel bad.

It is pervasive. It is systematic. It is legally-sanctioned. It is Constitutionally-approved. It is embedded in the hearts, minds and subconscious of America.


I will not dismiss your experiences because it is entirely believable that you, and most people, have experienced some form of discrimination. I will not excuse that.

For example, there are men who have been sexually assaulted by women. There are also men who have been wrongfully accused of rape. If those men dismissed the pervasive anti-woman culture in America by saying, “I experienced it one time,” not only would it be stupid, it would discount the pervasive reality of sexual assault.


Just like dismissing rape culture by pointing out statistically negligible incidents is a form of misogyny, pointing out the rare incidents of “reverse racism” is actually a form of racism because it wrongfully equates the two. Both are problems, but they are nowhere near equal.

But sometimes it seems like you’re contributing to the racial divide more than you’re helping it. I assume it isn’t your goal to make different races understand and learn to love one another. I know you just want to show black people what’s going on in the country, telling them that they should not tolerate this shit from white people. I get that. But we’re not all so bad. (22)

And many of us understand more than you know. Black people, white people, brown, yellow, green people, can hold on to their cultures and beliefs without hating each other. I believe that and I’ve seen it and been it. We need to learn to live and let live and appreciate and love one another. We need a level playing field for everyone. That’s what will make this country great. I don’t care how stupid that sounds. I don’t care how stupid this sounds either. White people (mean ones) are certainly a problem. But not the problem. Someone needs to write what you write. You’re so smart, you don’t bullshit. You could help bring people together instead of encouraging division you know? (23) I appologize for this. If you read it, thank you. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone would care a lot about anything I have to say.


23. Let’s examine this, Liah.

When you described your poverty, you compared it to black people—even though most black people don’t live below the poverty line. When you described your struggles in education, you pointed to the scholarships awarded to black students in spite of the fact that most black people in college don’t receive scholarships.


But it didn’t bother me because I understand the point you were trying to make. My sisters are not drug addicts, Liah. My mother is not a prostitute. When you use those things as examples of “minority women” with whom you share the same struggles, I understand that you are not referring to my aunts or my neighbors.

But when I use the words “white people,” why does it bother you?

I think I know, Liah.

It bothers you only because you aren’t used to it. You might not be a racist just like my Aunt Marvell is not a lesbian AA sponsor. But I understand that and white people do not.


And if the truth encourages division, then so be it. White people will have to deal with it.

I bet it’s easier than dealing with racism.

But Liah was not finished. She replied to her own letter:

From: Liah
To: Michael
Subject: Re: Can we talk?

Also please don’t do that it’s not all about you or I’m a not all of us person. If you wanna use the general terms you use then this is the stuff you’re going to get back. I was raped by a black guy cause he said he saw me waiting for my bus and never had a white girl before. I’m not gonna post something on the internet saying black men are rapists. I bought a lot of drugs from black people and went to college with lots of black people too. And racism isn’t only against black people. You’re kinda racist just like everyone else. If it’s not fair for one race, then it’s not fair for anyone. (24)


24. There we go, Liah! Let it all out!

You said it: “I’m kinda racist, like everyone else.”

Because I grew up in a poor home, I sometimes mistook the struggles that I experienced as a universal black experience. I assumed that all black people ate cereal with water when they couldn’t afford milk. I would think that everyone had spent nights without electricity. Everyone knows how to break the lock on the electric meter when the power company shuts off the lights ... amirite?


Now I realize that those were not black experiences, they were unique to me. Like me Liah, you assume “everyone else” is kinda racist just because you are.

Unlike many people, I don’t believe that black people can’t be racist. So okay, Liah, I’m a racist who disparages white people. Let’s see what happens. For the sake of this exercise, I will admit that I am a racist. Let me show you how my racism has manifested itself:

If I see anyone being treated wrongly, I will say something. I have never denied a white person a job because of their race. I have never committed an act of violence against anyone because of their race. I have never denied anyone their constitutional rights because of their race.


In fact, the only way my virulent “kinda” racism manifests itself is by saying the words “white people” when I point out the actual racist shit that some white people do. My “kinda” bigotry prevents me from saying: “not all ...”

At the end of this clapback, I was going to clarify that I have never, ever meant all white people do anything. But you have convinced me, Liah, that all white people are at least “kinda” racist. I have met some nice white people in my life, but you would know better than I do, so I’ll take your word for it.


From now on, I don’t even have to worry about being a little bit racist, because Liah’s fragile whiteness has taught me that everyone is like that. Thank you for clearing that up for me.

Thus sayeth Liah.

May the tears of whiteness be with you all. Amen



Liah’s first letter tried... then she took a Beckybreak and came back fully Becked out and gave it her best Becky and Beck’d on down the road.