The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Celebrity Edition

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Celebrity Edition
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.

Some mailbags are different.

Every Friday, we respond to questions and criticisms about the articles that appeared on The Root during the week. But each mailbag is unique. Sometimes the mailbag just wants to have an honest and open discussion without lobbing baseless accusations around. In fact, these emails came from all kinds of people’s inboxes and, therefore, they don’t see color. We treat tweets from white people the same as we treat mail wrapped in brown paper. Some of our best envelopes are manila.


When you read our collection of emails, tweets, direct messages and comments from readers of The Root, don’t put them all in the same category. They don’t all clapback.

This one will. But what I’m trying to say is:

Not all mailbags.

This week, we published two pieces about Taylor Swift taking a break from her banjo to become a freedom fighter with the White Panthers.

As soon as the articles went live, there was a furious outcry from Swift’s supporters. Here are a few examples:

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Celebrity Edition

From: Anthony A.
To: Michael Harriot

My name is Anthony A. You don’t know me from Adam, but I just read your article on Taylor Swift. Perhaps it is a stretch to ask, but I would like to have a verbal conversation with you to share my thoughts and hear what you have to say. I completely understand where you are coming from, but I don’t think that your approach and venom towards Taylor helping us our people, so I wanted to share my thoughts with you because maybe I am off-base in my thinking and you can teach me something. I think it is important that we are all pulling in the same direction, so I want to ensure I understand what you’re trying to do so I can pull in your direction to, or get you to pull in my direction. My number is [redacted] Email is [redacted]


Dear Swiftboaters, Swifties and Taylbones:

First, let me say this:

As I clearly stated in the article, I have no problem with what Taylor did. I am glad she did it. This point was so overlooked, I think it should be repeated so it won’t be lost as you read the rest of this reply.


I once read about a guy who said, “[T]he African been reduced to this bondage by force, in flagrant violation of his own consent, and of his natural right in his own person,” adding: “There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.”

This guy hated slavery and was one of the first people to call himself an “abolitionist.” Because he was well-respected, he pushed his anti-slavery agenda to everyone who would listen. Two years before the United States was founded, he publicly told the Founding Fathers that slavery was contrary to the laws of nature.


Slavery was not just the “practice of the time.” Because of this man, and people like him, we know that there were a lot of people who absolutely knew slavery was evil 100 years before it was abolished. This man was a hero whose fight would go unnoticed for years.

Oh, there’s one more thing you should know about this man who bravely fought against the tyranny of human bondage:

He owned 607 slaves.

He owned more slaves than almost anyone he blasted for owning slaves. While he was explaining human nature and consent to his peers, he was raping a sex slave he kept in the basement.


To be clear, everything this man said about slavery was true. And every single thing Taylor Swift said about voting was true (See? I said it again). I agree with every point she made (again) but someone should point out that, like Mr. Abolition, she benefited from the homophobic and racist rhetoric that she condemned. Even worse, she stayed silent about it until it was comfortable to speak up.

Taylor Swift knew that she had been made into an icon by the alt-right. When a tiny little website called Popfront suggested Swift should disavow the white supremacists using her as their mascot, her lawyers wrote a threatening letter to them:

Ms. Swift has no obligation to campaign for any particular political candidate or broadcast her political views, and the fact that her political views are not public enough for your taste does not give you the authority to presume what her political opinions may be or that her political views correlate to the support of white supremacy.

And even if Ms. Swift has remained silent on the issue of white supremacy ... silence does not mean support.


Then Taylor went on a world tour and collected every dollar from those Trump-supporting, homophobic racists who love her music, fans I have dubbed “Beyoncé-billy.” But it wasn’t just a tour. It was a stadium tour. 

And do you know when it ended?

Let me explain the essence of whiteness to you, Anthony A. et. al. Let me explain how privilege works. Let me show you how people, especially white women, get to stand on a pedestal made from a pile of dead black bodies and still complain about bumping their head on the glass ceiling. And when you ask them about the river of blood, they will assure you that they had nothing to do with that.


Can’t you see how clean their feet are?

The last date on the U.S. leg of Taylor Swift’s world tour was Oct. 6, 2018, less than 24 hours before she shook up the world.


Isn’t that convenient?

But we should still applaud Taylor Swift for her actions. She’s not a white supremacist. She’s a hero, just like that abolition-loving, slavery-hating rapist who had 130 slaves (not counting his children) when he died ...


Thomas Jefferson.

From: J
To Monique Judge
Subject: Rate my dick?

Hello, Ms. Judge. Longtime reader here. Was wondering if you’d give me the pleasure of rating my dick? Should you agree, you are free to be as honest as you’d like and write about it in any way you see fit.


Dear J:

While Monique only gave your penis a 2.3, the average rating in the office was a 3.9. I didn’t think we should use a 50 point scale, but that’s what we agreed to.


Now J, I could make a few jokes about your penis, such as:

  • You spelled “clitoris” wrong.
  • Everyone wants a car like your dick: one owner, barely used.
  • I bet it’s tough trying to find a pair of tweezers every time you want to masturbate.
  • Do you have to dry off your balls after you urinate?
  • Your dick has some redeeming qualities. For instance, if Ray J had a dick like yours, we’d never know who Kim Kardashian is.

But I would never make a joke about your penis. I’m sure it’s tough dealing with your handicap.

Sorry, one more thing.

If a random woman was walking down the street and you showed her your penis, you’d be arrested for sexual assault or public indecency. How is this any different?


The Root is a business, J. We have an entire staff filled with some of the best computer experts in the country. They can trace your IP address. Because your email traveled to servers in different states, you just committed a federal crime. If Monique wanted to report you to the authorities, she could — even if you only meant it as a joke.

But your dick is famous now.

Isn’t that hilarious?

This week Staff Writer Anne Branigin, desperate for clicks, wrote a celebrity story about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being cast to play a role in the movie of John Henry.


Of course, people were mad about it.

From: EASportsSucksAss
To: Anne Branigin
Subject: The Rock Playing a Movie Role

You all cry like little bitches when a role is specifically white like James bond but if someone isn’t dark shit black you ridicule them for taking on a role. Get over yourself dumbass, you weren’t a slave and niether were the rest of your stupid millennial generation.

From: Joseph T.
To: Anne Branigin
Subject: John Henry

Im gonna say this outright...for years people have tried to force feed political correctness upon the unsuspecting public....with race as a thing when it came to casting anyone in anything.....was “the aforementioned “Mr Duncan”perfect as a black man playing a mafia type criminal mastermind as the “KINGPIN” the “DAREDEVIL”MOVIE?????...NO...not by a longshot....but l believe that Dwayne Johnson “would” make an honorable choice for “JOHN HENRY”....he is a marvelous actor and an outstanding physical choice....also anyone that doesnt see Dwaynes did in blind as a bat....lets get over racial steriotypes...”pro...or con “...Dwayne Johnson will become... John me....or would you rather let Shaquil Oneele play it because.... hes darker??? stupid choice right?.....?

From: Jared
To: Anne Branigin
Subject: John Henry

Hi Anne

I am a child of the 80s, from Texas, mostly white and around 5/32 mvskoke. I grew up on the Disney channel and MTV. I watched the tall tales version of John Henry many times as a child and still recall it with fondness. I feel like this discussion is asinine. Dwayne Johnson isn’t black enough to play John Henry? He doesn’t explicitly mention Henry’s blackness?

Is the complaint solely based on the fear that todays children will only know this version and not understand he was a black man? I could almost understand that. However, John Henry isn’t just an African American folk hero. He was always just a hero to me growing up. I have to believe that is the consensus for my generation. Is it not more important (to what degree i don’t know) that he was slave? Maybe I feel like this because to me John Henry was always a black man by virtue of my introduction to the story.

Apologies for this email, but I read these comments and while the majority were lighthearted, some struck me as ridiculous and unacceptable.

What am I missing? We are criticizing a man over our how we perceive his perception of his degree of blackness? It’s not our business how black or samoan Dwayne Johnson believes himself to be, is it? Sure it would be a stretch for me to claim I’m native American on the merit of my 5/32, but this seems different to me. And even then, how I see myself is still, ultimately none of anyone’s concern. His memories of John Henry, like mine, like yours, are personal and unique to him. We don’t get to question that. That is his.

As irrational as it is for a grown man to be typing a rambling email at 4AM to someone he doesn’t know about a movie star, I feel like someone should defend the guy. He is neither too samoan nor too light skinned for me: a huge fan of the man, the black man and the hero John Henry was.

Again, I’m really trying to understand where everyone is coming from here because this really rubbed me the wrong way.

Thank you, ma’am


From: C

I’m vexed to read that racial identity of John Henry by Johnson is deeply troublesome to you. The narrative is one drop of black blood, makes one black. Yet, here you fused the brown paper bag test of skin tone with racial purity, and birthed a mongrel theology that defies logic, genetics and identity.

Most will not catch it, but I am truly scratching my head of how Johnson strayed “out of his lane” but Obama is identified as undeniably black and the first black President and deserved of an unquestioned label of being authentically black but didn’t grow up as black but “Hawaiian” in a Bruno Mars kind of way.

If you’re uncomfortable with Johnson in thus role. May I ask how black does a President have to be to classify as black authentication? Was Obama the first? More specific is it RACIST to identify authenticity by skin COMPLEXION and identifying Johnson as not black enough.

I challenge you to carefully think about my questions. I remind you that less than 1% of our DNA separates us all people by skin complexion and tone, but 99% of people identify Obama as being truly black equal to his wife.

I respectfully submit this question, and appreciate your time and contributions to the world. C


Even the host of Cassius Life’s “We Tried It” spoke up about Anne’s blatant grab for clicks.


Guys, calm down.

Look, I’m gonna tell you why Anne wrote this piece.

Anne is crazy.

That’s the only thing I could come up with. I honestly don’t know Cassius, nor would I speak on the things he tried in his life, but I can assure the host of whatever “Cassius Life We Tried It” is, that Anne was not stretching for hits.


But let’s just hypothesize that she did it for clicks. Here’s a secret that I shouldn’t reveal about the inner workings of The Root. Here’s how much more money and accolades we receive when a story goes viral:

Zero dollars and nonety-none cents.

Maybe it’s my fault. When I saw the story, my first reaction was “nuh-uh,” which spurned an office-wide discussion in which almost everyone agreed that The Rock was not the right person to play the Role of John Henry. But again, I don’t think that’s what made her write the story.


Nor do I believe that Anne was prompted by the large number people online who disagreed with the casting. She probably created those Twitter accounts herself. No, she made it all up.

I’m going to speak to Anne about this. After she dries off from the white tears rained on her from people who are still crying about the possibility of a black Spiderman, James Bond, Annie or Stormtrooper, I’ll remind her that even though John Henry was a real person, and those other characters are fictional, it is the same thing.


I don’t know why so many people who disliked Anne’s article brought up Obama. Am I missing something? Do they believe Obama was playing a fictional character? Do they think the president is a role that only white people should play? Maybe they are just crazy, like Anne.

Because Anne is crazy. You’d have to be crazy to make up this story. You’d have to be crazy to have this reaction about The Rock.


Only a crazy person would notice that the Rock played the avatar of a white man in Jumaji, the role made famous by David Hasselhoff in Baywatch; a racially ambiguous non-black man in the Fast and Furious movies; a white man in San Andreas; a Greek God in Hercules; a real-life white man in Pain & Gain ...

In fact, looking through Dwayne Johnson’s filmography, he has only played one unquestionably black character: The role of Roadblock in G.I. Joe.


No one is suggesting that Dwayne has made the explicit choice not to be black, or that Hollywood wants to make John Henry white. But one cannot help but wonder if the choice is an attempt to whitewash history and African American folklore. Even if it isn’t, it shouldn’t be wrong to publicly pose the question to an audience of black readers.

Coincidentally, this morning, I thought that I should send an email to my Aunt Jannie (who just received an award from AT&T for preserving black history; yay Jannie!) when I stumbled across an email she sent me in 2013.


In the email, she was attempting to put me in contact with Sherman James, an epidemiologist who studies racial health disparities. In the 1970s, James discovered that black people sometimes suffer worse health outcomes because of stress-related physiological issues.

James discovered that living as a black man is a health risk in and of itself. Regardless of socio-economic status, when the world views you as black, you are subject to depression, heart disease and mental health issues. Essentially, the psychological stress of coping with racism is an actual health problem.


During his initial research in 1978, Sherman James interviewed a black man in North Carolina who was born into the Martin family, a clan of poor sharecroppers. Mr. Martin only had a second-grade education. But this poor black sharecropper taught himself to read and write. He made himself into a success and owned 75 acres of land by the time Mr. Martin turned 40. But by the time he was 50, he had hypertension, arthritis and severe peptic ulcers disease.

James has done so much research on the subject that it is now an accepted term used by scientists and doctors around the world. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies done about how African Americans deal with the stress of discrimination. James named the syndrome after Mr. Martin, but most researchers assume the name came from a fictional character.


It is called: John Henryism.

Maybe The Rock should play him in a movie.

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



Everyone wants a car like your dick: one owner, barely used.