The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Based on an Almost True Story

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Based on an Almost True Story
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

Happy New Year!

In 2020, we will be doing something different with the mailbag.

Don’t worry: the mailbag will still come every Friday. We’ll still answer a selection of emails, tweets, DMs and comments from our readers. We will continue to fuel the mailbag with white tears.


But this year, we’re also going to respond to nice emails. We’re going to answer random questions from serious, well-meaning readers. We want to make this more educational.

Not this week, of course. We have to receive some of those letters, first.

This week is the same old shit.

Our first letter comes from the writer of the upcoming Netflix series: The Savior of Ghettotown.

From: Ann S
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Mr. Harriet,

I was dismayed when I read your recent article in The Root. The implication that stating a truth, albeit not EVERY truth, implies prejudice is simply wrong, and more importantly serves to end discussion of this important topic.

I worked as a teacher in a mostly African-American school district. I had a very bright student who just threw anything down on paper so she had something to turn in. When I conferenced with her mother, I mentioned the girl’s abilities and college. I will never forget her mother’s response. “My Candace could go to college?” She was utterly surprised by the thought. I assured her the Candace not only could, but should go to college. I urged this mom to “light a fire” under her daughter so that she would work hard. I noticed that this way of thinking was pervasive among my students’ parents.

You may call me racist for speaking the truth and that is your right. Are there others factors which impede young people of color on their journey to college and beyond? Certainly. But I worry that the need to state matters in headlines which catch attention thwarts measured and meaningful discussion of important topics like this one. Stoking the fires of anger and resentment only serves to separate us.

Thank you for bringing to light the important topics you write about and thank you for listening.

Sincerely, Ann S.

Dear Ann,

First, let me say that I thank you for your concerns. However, I must say this:

I don’t believe you.

While your story sounds like an excerpt from the script of a Sandra Bullock movie in which a newly-divorced teacher signs up to educate the downtrodden negro ruffians at the local inner-city school and ends up learning a valuable lesson about herself, it is definitely not true. Was Queen Latifah the principal at this imaginary school? Was there a math teacher played by Keith David who was just trying to get to retirement? Please tell me there’s a scene where you pull up to the projects and everyone stopped playing double dutch and stared at you as you walked past the backward-hat wearing drug dealers sitting on the stoop.

I’m always curious about white people’s ideations of blackness. What do you think happens when I “stoke the fires of anger and resentment?” Are you worried that black people are going to angrily storm into your home and demand direct reparations? Or do you fear that this Michael Harriot-fueled resentment could result in some measure of equality?

Stop lying, Annie.

But, just for shits and giggles, let’s imagine that your imaginary white savior fantasy is true. It would mean that Candace’s mom knew that college existed; knew that it was important for her child’s future; wanted her child to attend a college but—for some reason—had no idea that it was a possibility until that day you informed her that your Caucasian psychic abilities allowed you to read through Candace’s wrong answers and see that she was not your average negro.

And this fictional niggamom didn’t previously give a fuck about Candace’s schoolwork or work ethic until she decided to come conference with you. It wasn’t until you informed Candace’s mom about the existence of this thing called college that she even gained interest in making Candace work hard.

Sure, Ann.

Again, I’m playing along, so I have a few essay questions:

  1. How do you think the “mostly African American school district” where you work came to exist?
  2. How many of these oblivious black mamas and daddies did you poll before you concluded “that this way of thinking was pervasive” among your students’ parents, and why do you think they think this way?
  3. Do you think that black parents are born not giving a fuck about their children until a benevolent white teacher shows them a better way?
  4. What are the other factors you mentioned which “impede young people of color on their journey to college and beyond?”
  5. Finally, and most importantly: Do you believe providing equality in education, fixing resource disparities and focusing on the underfunding of black school districts could eliminate these factors more efficiently? Or should we address the problem by asking fine teachers like yourself to schedule individual, one-on-one conferences with every parent in the black school district to tell them the good news about this mythical thing called college?

Also, Ann, you sent this letter to my email address, which has my entire name spelled correctly and you still managed to spell it wrong. I’m sure you are a “very bright” teacher who “just threw anything on paper.”

I’m gonna schedule a conference with your mother to tell her about this thing called “spellcheck.”


In spite of the fact that we actually wrote about the attack on a Hanukkah celebration, a few of our readers wanted to know why we were ignoring it.


From: Burnfart33243
To: Maiysha Kai


From: Lester
To: Michael Harriot

I’m wondering how you’re going to blacksplain the black aantisemetic attack on a Jewish Christmas party.


Dear guys,

Hopefully, this year, the Google “White Tears” filter will stop blocking all of the articles we wrote criticizing black people so that you won’t have to address this issue anymore. Until then, please allow me to share the official 2020 position of The Root from our employee handbook:

After speaking with our legal department, The Root, G/O Media and our subsidiaries will continue to enforce our “no murder” policy this year. As such, our writers are strictly forbidden from stabbing, shooting or otherwise inflicting death on fellow employees and those outside the employ of our organization.


Furthermore, we will continue to refrain from advocating racism, sexism, homophobia, inflicting bodily harm and terrorism in all forms. We will continue to call out violence against women and people of color, no matter who commits the act. In past years, we have called out Bill Cosby and R. Kelly for acts of violence against women with the same fervor as Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. While we are committed to covering more acts of black terrorism, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have informed us that white people commit most acts of domestic terror and extremist killings.

But thanks for the heads-up, guys.

Finally, some have complained about the Root’s repeated insistence that America is a racist country founded on white supremacy.

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Based on an Almost True Story
Screenshot: Twitter
Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Based on an Almost True Story
Screenshot: Michael Harriot (Twitter)

White people hate when someone disparages their country. They’d rather you talk about their mama than to say a bad word about America because they live in an alternate universe that’s loosely based on a fictionalized version of America.


The dictionary defines the phrase “be founded on” as:

to be based on a particular idea, principle, fact, or quality

First, we must establish the definition of white supremacy and racism. The easiest way is to look up the terms.

Racism: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

b: a political or social system founded on racism

White Supremacy: the belief that white people are better than people of other races


Now let’s examine whether or not America is based on:

  • the assumption that race is the primary determinant of human traits
  • that racial differences produce an inherent superiority; or
  • the belief that white people are better than people of other races

Let’s go back to the first Virginia Charter of 1606, when the first English settlers founded “that parte of America commonly called Virginia, and other parts and territories in America.” The charter explicitly states that the settlers’ goal was: “propagating of Christian religion to suche people as yet live in darkenesse and miserable ignorance ... and may in tyme bring the infidels and salvages living in those parts to humane civilitie and to a setled and quiet govermente.


One may argue that the uncivilized infidels and savages might include white people but this would be a stretch. Of course, some would contend that this wasn’t the real founding of America. It wasn’t until the founders wrote the Constitution that America was founded.

Well, everyone knows that the founding document of this country enshrined slavery into America’s DNA by proclaiming that slaves would count as three-fifths of a person. It is impossible to own an equal. Therefore, slave owners were, by definition, superior to their human chattel. Scholars still debate why this happened but James Madison’s Federalist paper No. 54 explains why he wrote it that way, writing:

The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property. This is in fact their true character. It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live; and it will not be denied, that these are the proper criterion; because it is only under the pretext that the laws have transformed the negroes into subjects of property.


Madison’s intent or his personal feelings do not matter here. It is invariably true that the founding document of America made white men superior. And while everyone mentions the three-fifths clause, rarely mentioned is Article I Section 9, which legalizes the importation of slaves until 1808, at the very least.

Now, the constitution did not define citizenship until 1868. But two years after the Constitution was ratified, the Naturalization Act of 1790 offered citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who lived in the U.S. for two years. In fact, when the Supreme Court looked at the issue for the first time in Dred Scott v. Sandord, it determined that black people “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution”


Now, I don’t know about you, but the highest court in the land affirming that black people were “considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings” who “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” sounds like the definition of white supremacy and racism.

Now the question remains, is America still a racist and white supremacist country? Well there is no way to figure our how many people hold racist and white supremacist feelings. Instead, we should ask ourselves what is America?


If America is a set of laws, then we know that black people are arrested more often; sentenced to longer prison terms and paroled less often than whites who commit the same crimes.

If America is opportunity, then we know that a wealthy black child with two parents has less opportunity than a white child from a poor, single-parent home. Black school districts receive less funding. The black unemployment rate has hovered at twice the white unemployment rate ever since it was first recorded. Whites are paid more than blacks with the same education and experience.


White people are overrepresented in state legislatures and every branch of the federal government. They make the laws, own the land, run the corporations and keep all the money. There is not a single part of American society that is not disproportionately run by white people.

They are supreme.

Imagine that the only food you were allowed to eat was a bowl filled with 330 million M&Ms of all colors. Now, you knew that some of these M&Ms were poison, but you didn’t know how many. Maybe 50 percent were tainted. Maybe it was 2 percent. There was no way of knowing but, occasionally, someone would eat an M&M and keel over dead.


Now imagine someone tried to explain to you that there was nothing wrong with the bowl of candy.

“Sure, some of the candy was poisoned, but some of it was fine,” they’d say. “You’re wrong to call the candy ‘poison.’ Not all M&Ms.”


Technically, they’re right. But I’ve noticed that there’s only one kind of person who makes this stupid argument.

The ones who are immune to the poison.

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


kidelo (i have a tiktok)

SCENE: A mostly black school district. Mahalia Jackson music plays quietly in the background. The classroom is dingy, the windows rain-streaked and filthy on the outside. An occasional clang comes from the radiators struggling to heat the room. An attempt has been made to brighten the classroom walls with posters of black heroes and sheroes, and construction paper art.

TEACHER enters. She is dressed in a bright pencil skirt and sweater set combination. She is thin, but shapely, her bright blonde hair in a twist. Her makeup is light and clean, cat-eye eyeliner and popping red lips. a small pearl necklace and matching earrings and a tiny watch her only jewelry. Her face is tired, but kind.

After a knock on the door, MOTHER enters. She is worn and walks slowly. Her coat is clean, but dirty. She wears a plastic rain kerchief over her curled but frizzy hair. Her face is clean of makeup. She wears mens shoes and her stockings have a few small runs. She carries a market bag.

TEACHER: Oh, hello Mrs. McCathern. I’m so glad you could make it.

MOTHER: Yes, Miss McGillicuddy. I make sure to come at least once a year to the parent teacher conferences.

TEACHER: I’m so glad. You know, our Candace is such a smart girl! I think she may even...well, Candace may even go to college one day!

MOTHER: College!

TEACHER: Yes! Can you believe it?

MOTHER: Gethefuckouttahere, bitch! I’m still paying off my student loans from 1979! I still live with MY mother. At least my child will have a chance. Fuck your college.