The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Cotton Pickin' Facts

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Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

This edition of the Mailbag is dedicated to all of the people out there fighting racism.


Not the ones who want to eliminate white supremacy. This is also not for those who want to wipe out education, employment and economic inequality. If you’re against police brutality, this is not your Mailbag.

Today, we are celebrating our readers who bravely overlook all of the history of racism in America to point out how racist Black people are. Because, even though white people feel harmed by black people’s egregious use of facts, they deserve as much time as the people who are killed, marginalized and oppressed by racism.

We see you.

Let’s start out with these inquiries from very aggrieved Yakubians. I don’t know exactly which article they’re referring to, but they were mad about something:

From: Mike’s Dick
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Kneegrowology

The study of slow-witted blacks who think 8000K dead blacks shot dead by other blacks every year is okay, but 10 drug-addicted felons get a knee on the neck by a cop and it’s okay to destroy the country.

How stupid can you be?

From: Christopher
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Whine whine whine

The biggest threat to Asians, whites, Latinos and blacks (sorry, Blacks) is black men aged 13 to 50. Yes, the biggest threat to blacks are blacks. Clean your shit up and stop whining you big LOSER.

And this, from Grey:

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Cotton Pickin' Facts
Screenshot: Facebook/Michael Harriot

Dear Chris, Grey and Mike’s Dick:

White people believe things.

I am fascinated by the racist notions that white people assume as facts with no evidence whatsoever. Now, white people aren’t the only ones who believe things. Black people believe things, too. We will slather a dish in Texas Pete or Krystal’s before we even taste it because Black people believe that hot sauce makes everything better. We believe that is Outkast is better than the Beatles.


Most importantly, we believe white people be lying.

However, as an expert in wypipology, I recognize that my beliefs are not facts. I might believe that racism has seeped so far into your brain that you’re willing to accept a goddamn internet meme as an irrefutable fact, but I would never say it without evidence. Just because I believe that Grey doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about doesn’t make it true.


So I decided to Google “whites killed by blacks,” and literally the first result led to this explanation from Reuters:

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Cotton Pickin' Facts
Screenshot: Google/Michael Harriot

According to the FBI’s Expanded Homicide data from 2018, the most recent report of this kind Reuters was able to find ( here ), 80.7% of the murders of white people were committed by white offenders (2,677 of a total of 3,315) while 15.5% of the murders of white people were committed by Black offenders (514).

The social media post also alleges white offenders committed 2% of the murders of Black victims. According to the FBI’s data, 8% of the reported murders of Black people were committed by white offenders (234 of a total of 2,925) and 88.9% by Black offenders (2,600).

FBI data from 2017 also follows this trend: 80.2% of white victims were killed by white offenders, 8.9% of Black victims were killed by whites, 88.5% of Black victims were killed by Blacks, and 16.1% of whites were killed by Blacks ( here ).


As for the allegations that Black people commit the most hate crimes against Asians, I wish there was a way to refute this. Unfortunately, the only way to know if this were true is if someone compiled those statistics or –even better– if there was a peer-reviewed study on anti-Asian sentiment in the COVID-19 era. But it’s so recent, we’ll just have to wait.

Oh, wait.

According to an actual study conducted by actual sociologists and psychologists at actual universities who actually told subjects, among other things: “It is racist to refer to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus.”


When the researchers gauged the subject’s response to actually see “how white Christian nationalism shapes Americans’ racist and xenophobic views of COVID-19,” here’s what they concluded:

Using numerous measures of racist and xenophobic interpretations regarding COVID-19 and a panel design that allowed us to determine temporal ordering between the theorized variables of interest, we document that Christian nationalist ideology was far and away the leading predictor of Americans’ holding racist and xenophobic interpretations of COVID-19. This is true even after considering a host of sociodemographic, religious, and political characteristics...

Last, interactions with racial identity show that Christian nationalism is a particularly powerful predictor of white Americans holding racist or xenophobic views, almost always more so than Black Americans...*

For non-white racial minorities, the correlations between Christian nationalism and racist or xenophobic interpretations of COVID-19 are slightly weaker than that of whites, but most of them still statistically significant and in the direction suggesting that even among racial minorities Christian nationalism is associated with holding more racist or xenophobic interpretations of COVID-19. The correlations are the weakest among Black Americans, all of which are either small in size (r = below .28) or non-significant...*

*emphasis added

But, since Christopher alleges that “The biggest threat to Asians, whites, Latinos and blacks (sorry, Blacks) is black men aged 13 to 50,” I decided to look at the latest available FBI hate crime data. Of the 156 known hate crime offenders in 2019, 95 were white and 30 were Black.


So we know unequivocally that all three of these people were wrong. But I don’t necessarily care about three dumb white people who don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. What interests me is why they would so readily believe these things were true when they were absolutely false. Who told them these things?

That’s where things get interesting.

First, I’m not the smartest man on the planet. I simply googled the facts I wanted to know. There is no way that the people who initially made these memes or spread these falsehoods couldn’t find the data because they put this information out on the internet! Plus, these ideas are so widespread that it would be stupid to believe that there is a Facebook group or a monthly meeting where all the white people share lies with each other.


So where do these racist lies come from? How did it get to the point where one of the biggest news agencies in the world addressed the topic. There is only one answer.

White people.

This didn’t come from evil propagandists who are trying to destroy a whole race. It wasn’t the KKK or the Secret Nazi Society or the CIA. Regular white people are so racist that they were either too dumb to know it wasn’t true or too racist to speak up and stop it from spreading.


Because that’s how racism works.

To: Michael Harriot

Why is it completely fine to be unapologetically racist if you are not white?From: Mark


The piece on Tom Cotton’s concern that we aren’t incarcerating enough people garnered a lot of replies.


From: Mark
To: Michael Harriot

I hate reading articles that simply focus on trying to make someone appear racist instead of focusing on facts.... I truly believe those articles hurt everyones chances of us moving forward as a nation in peace. If you start your article with a premise like Sen. Cotton wants black people in jail you are just out picking a fight, not making a point.

I believe too many articles likes this just piss off people and you leave “every day folks” to fight the battles you start. Why is it you never see an article written that says in order to end racism faster we need to see Blacks commit less crimes ? Its always the White persons fault that Blacks dont get more respect...

People will only listen to that for a short time before they reject it and then they will look at Blacks with even more of a squint in their eye... Write some articles that honest.... If you have to keep writing “to be fair” in your articles that should tell you something...It means people have quit reading because you are not being fair and you have turned even more people against you... Thats not helping the people on the street that have to fight the battles you pick with your pen.

From: Adesijuola
To: Michael Harriot

From Honestly, where do you black people get off when you mention “America” describing the ugliness of white people? Number one no such thing as “America” and this is still part of Africa. Number two, when you discus racism, use the word “white” not “America” bullshit. Using “America” is a way to conceal white people’s evil. “America” did not lynch black people, raped black female slaves, engaged in brutal corporal punishment, engaged in crucifix arson (cross burning), engaged in “white store syndrome” (a white store owner that refused service to a black customer because they got enough white customers spending money), post signs “White Only,” etc. White people did this nonsense. Again, it is cowardice to write about racism and use “America” because that’s what white people do all the time they use “America” as racist instead of white people the real racist. No such thing as a “racist” or “evil” government, people are racist, evil, etc. Honestly, you’re part of the problem because if you want to condemn, condemn in a proper way, don’t subscribe to white people’s “cowardice” and you think you’re making contribution. Talk is cheap, but at least you can be honest to upset the “cheap.”

From: Joseph
To: Michael Harriot

Tom Cotton IS a true american who has served his country militarily and is still a servant. YOU sir are the racist, and imprisonment has nothing to do with decreasing crime but a punishment for committing crimes. You are one of the major problems of what’s wrong with this country

From: Ken
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Racism

Dear Michael, To begin with, please know that I am white, have no doubt benefited from white privilege all my life, mostly without even knowing about it, had very few black friends, although some. At the same time I was educated by parents at an early age not to discriminate people based on anything! I have done my best to treat people as individuals and judge them on their words and actions. Having said that, I have some questions about your article “America Is Racist” Is not your title and the gist of your article, exactly the same kind of thinking you are criticizing???

You put out a label that somehow encompasses everyone and then ascribe behaviors to them (in this case “us” and I assume including you) as a group. Please know that I completely agree with every example you present. I abhor the “prison for profit” industry and the abuses committed by law enforcement primarily against people of color.

But where do you put the people who are committed to not being racist? who want this country and this culture to be fair and just to all, and want to celebrate our cultural diversity, not eradicate it? I understand that I have no ground to stand on, (I am continually coming up against my own “racist” beliefs (‘all blacks are good dancers, and better basketball players than me’ are perhaps two innocuous examples). I am in full support of calling out racism wherever and whenever it presents itself.

But isn’t labeling groups and then ascribing to all that fall under that label (rightly or not) the same bad behavior, the exact kind of thinking that is the foundation of racism? How do we talk about systemic racism, and yet acknowledge that not all white people are racist (at least not intentionally)? How do we bring the concept that there are many, many white people who hate racism into the discussion?

Respectfully, Rev. Ken [redacted]

PS As small as we are in numbers, there are three branches of Swedenborgians in this country, so don’t be guilty of Swedenborgianist thinking. (Research or ask please)


Dear all,

I am very pleased to hear your concerns. In fact, you have made me rethink my entire position on referring to Tom Cotton, America, and white people as “racist.” To bridge this impasse, I am seeking your sage advice.


What should I call it?

Which word should I use to describe a country that built racial subjugation into its founding document? Is there a word that describes the founders who knew it was wrong but did it anyway? How should I describe a country that continued to use violence and the threat of violence to extract forced labor out of people based on nothing but their race? Can you think of a synonym for Jim Crow? The racial terror of lynching? How about a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests, convicts and sentences Black people?


Is there an adjective that adequately encompasses a country that continues to perpetuate education inequality, police shootings, employer discrimination, voter suppression, redlining, the financial industry’s unequal lending, medical discrimination, the plundering of black creators, the entertainment industry’s marginalization, higher education’s admissions policies and white women who call the cops because they feel threatened by Black people’s presence?

Instead of insinuating that Tom Cotton is racist, what should I call him? A liar who promotes untrue facts for the sake of his political agenda knowing that his bullshit will harm Black people? Should I call him a “advocate” for a system that disproportionately criminalizes, incarcerates and kills Black people? Is he just a supporter of a white nationalist party agenda? Is there an adverb for a pro-prison senator that reflects his leader’s “shithole country” statement while echoing the words about Mexican rapists and Black “bitches” who gave birth to NFL players, who need to “go back to their country?”


As for white people, instead of calling them “racist,” what do you suggest I call them? The people who wistfully whistle while watching their country kick people who don’t look like them in the teeth? Should I call them “thieves who still benefit from Black people’s labor?” Would-be enslavers? White supremacy-ignorers? “People-who-banded-together-to-solve-every-problem-in-American-history-except-when-it-comes-to-race?”

That seems kind of long.

But, as you can tell, I am willing to listen.

I await your answer.

And finally, a brief word of advice and criticism from Thomas:

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Cotton Pickin' Facts
Screenshot: Facebook/Michael Harriot

Thank God this country isn’t racist.

I wonder who suggested that adjective?


kidelo (all of Fox News is vaccinated)

Instead of insinuating that Tom Cotton is racist, what should I call him?

Pencil-neck no-dick cotton-swab-looking pigeon-chested lying homophobic warmongering late-blooming motherfucker whose white privilege and proximity to a former failed president is the only thing he has going for him and also he doesn’t like Black people.

There. How’s that?