The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Cusswords, Awards and Our Old Friend Umar

Oscar Bustamante/GMG/The Root
Oscar Bustamante/GMG/The Root

It seems like only yesterday that we began highlighting the emails, tweets, comments and messages from our readers. As we close out 2017, we would like to thank our haters because we don’t know where we’d be without you. (Actually, we do know where we’d be without you. We’d be fractionally happier, I’d probably have a better relationship with Deputy Managing Editor Yesha Callahan, and the writers at The Root wouldn’t have a faint sense of dread every time they open an email.)


But without you, none of this would have been possible. I’d probably have to spend my Friday mornings doing something besides conjuring up the spirit of Ric Flair, so from all of us to all of you, we offer a sincere thumbs-up.

The finger in the middle is the thumb, right?

Our first selection pertains to a piece that serves as a yearly divining rod for white tears: the 2017 Wypipo Awards.

First this comment from Iceseller:

Hey look everyone. The racist in chief of this racist blog wrote something racist again! How edgy. Fuck off you racist piece of shit. Maybe 2018 will see you fired and have to be racist somewhere else.

This email from the cleverly named U. R. Gay:

From U.R. Gay
To: Michael Harriot

What If a white person wrote something the 2017 nigger awards you would call them a racist. You are a world-class racist.


And this comment from Kodimah:

Imagine being so race obsessed you write a satiric column about another race thinking you aren’t a gigantic racist yourself. Sad.


Dearest Iceseller, Mr. or Ms. Gay, and Kodimah:

First of all, I would like to thank Iceseller for pre-emptively naming me to the position of “racist in chief,” but as a firm believer in democracy, I cannot, in good conscience, accept the title without a vote of some kind. While your admiration for me is appreciated, there are candidates far more qualified who could serve in this position.


Take the aforementioned Mr. Gay, for instance (I don’t want to gender-profile anyone, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that U.R. Gay is a guy). He seems like a perfect nominee for the position. He said that I am a “world-class racist,” which means he has apparently traveled the world ranking them. I would think that he would be a better fit to serve as the king of all racists.

But I’d like to push this conversation forward by pointing out something that seems obvious to me but has obviously flown over the heads of some of our readers. The Root is a publication that covers black America. Racism against black people is a problem in America. We write about it. We are no more obsessed with race than Deadspin is obsessed with sports, The Takeout is obsessed with food, Jalopnik is obsessed with cars or Jezebel is obsessed with the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. It is literally my job to talk about race.


I think Kodimah put it best when he or she said: “Imagine being so race obsessed you write a satiric column about another race thinking you aren’t a gigantic racist yourself. Sad.”

Let me explain what white privilege is:

Imagine living in a building with a sniper waiting outside. Imagine that, every day, the sniper shot someone who was exiting your building. Sometimes the sniper was in full sight, and other days the sniper was hidden, but he kept shooting at the people who lived in the building as they walked out.


White privilege is the ability to say, “Yeah, but people in other buildings get shot, too.” White privilege is the penchant for residents of safer buildings to ask why you don’t just move out of the building. White privilege is being able to say, “Yeah, snipers exist, but you can’t worry about them all the time.” But most of all, white privilege is the oblivious idiocy of standing on the sidewalk and asking someone who could be killed by a sniper at any minute, “Why are you so obsessed with snipers?”

Now imagine reading a piece of satire written by a resident of the building, making fun of snipers. There is only one reason that I can surmise why anyone would be more angry at the person making jokes about snipers than they were at actual snipers:

Because they are a sniper, too.

Kodimah is right.

It is sad.

From: Stephanie
To: The Root Staff

The Root,

I’ve been a supporter for a long time. The fact that Skip Gates is a founder spoke to me about your integrity. Lately, I’ve seen way too much cussing and specifically F bombs in your posts.

It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s vulgar and common.

It’s BENEATH you. As professional journalists and editors, if you must cuss to get your point across, you’re in the wrong profession.

Tired of it,


Stephanie, I get your point. I really do.

My mother is a wise woman and she, too, was a writer. When I was a kid, she forbade us from using vulgar language, including calling someone a “dog,” a “liar” or “stupid.” She only had two exceptions:

  1. if we were telling a story and the person in the story said the vulgar word or phrase
  2. if we could make a logical case why the word was necessary

Those rules are basically the same rules to which we adhere at The Root. I know I have a foul mouth, and I am often asked by the editors and copy editors if a certain word is necessary. Sometimes they change those words without even asking me. I don’t even have a problem with that because I know I can be hyperbolic.


But if you are a regular reader of The Root, then you know we use a million creative insults, euphemisms and allusions to replace dirty words. I reject the idea that there are “bad words” or that using vulgar language is a sign of a lack of intelligence, and here is why:

Some people are motherfuckers.

There is a difference between not giving a darn and not giving a fuck. Knocking the crap out of a person is different from slapping the shit out of someone. Sometimes the words you consider to be boorish are the ones that perfectly describe a situation or thing.


Racism, homophobia, discrimination and Donald Trump are vulgar. Tamping down the description of those things by playing lexical dodgeball with the vocabulary to preserve the pearls that our readers may clutch is not our job.

A few days ago I wrote a story about a Sacramento, Calif., policeman named John Tennis who had a habit of trying to hit black suspects with his car. He shot multiple black people and killed at least two. Even his fellow police officers said that he often discharged his weapon when it wasn’t necessary. Raheem Hosseini of the Sacramento News and Review wrote a puff piece about him that made him into a sympathetic figure.


I could have called them both colostomy bags filled with racism and prejudice. I could have used flowery language to explain how Tennis exemplified the persistent deadly threat posed by men whose uniforms have become a license to cosplay as executioners. I probably could have blistered Hosseini as an entitled equivocator who uses black lives as a stepladder to get closer to the spotlight while using his pen to blot out the bloodstains of the slaughtered innocent. But no ...


Fuck those guys.

Whenever we write about Umar Johnson, we get a lot of email from his followers. Here are three:

A direct Twitter message from Kwesi X:

Dear sir, I am from overseas and would like to let you know how sick you make me.

Why you’ve spent all your time gunning for Dr umar I’ll never know I just want u to answer,

How many kids u council? How many people u visited in jail to do free speaking events?

Even if u don’t like umar if u really a journalist of credibility you would have presented a balanced article not a I hate umar hit story.

You are a fake black owned company that is simply marketed to black people.

But your not really helping are you? Just making money on the drama You should be ashamed of yourself


And these tweets:


Dear sirs,

First of all, no one who is originally from outside the country says that he is “from overseas.” I don’t believe you. You need more Hotep people.


I admit that I am conflicted about using the word “Hotep” as a derogatory term because I know the history of the word, but I will also confess that when I was assigned the Umar story, I thought, “Here come the Hoteppers.” I am also tired of writing about Umar Johnson, but I think it is my responsibility. I don’t hate Johnson’s message of “black consciousness,” any more than I hate the bullshit of prosperity gospel, except for one fact:

He steals from black people.

Let me be clear:

I believe that black people should know their history. I believe that our connection to our ancestors is important. I believe that there should be a school for black boys with an African-centered education. I desperately hope that someone builds one. I hope there comes a day when there is one in every city and black children can learn how the great Greek philosophers had to go to Africa to get their knowledge, and how the noble, ancient Europeans were bitch-slapped by the Moors and learned agriculture, irrigation, science and astronomy from dark people. One day someone will come with a plan to build and fund this dream.


When that day comes, there will be people who say, “I would donate, but the last time I gave money to something like this, a charlatan who claimed to be a descendant of Frederick Douglass conned me out of my coins.” They will remember how he answered his phone while it was ringing and puffed up his chest whenever anyone asked him to show his Ph.D. People will recall how he publicly preached about the black family while fucking exotic dancers on the low-low. Some will bring up the fact that the last guy who was going to build a school would never show the receipts for how he spent the money.

Umar Johnson’s antics actually make it harder to build this school. If anyone ever achieves the goal of making this a reality, it will be in spite of Umar Johnson, not because of him.


And we are not anti-Umar. When everyone doubted Johnson’s degree, it was The Root that spent money to verify his Ph.D. and end the speculation. I am the one who spent days combing through yearbooks and graduation programs hoping that he was legitimate. When I found the evidence, I admitted that I was wrong. In. The. Headline.


I am also the one who has refused to shade him even as I am constantly contacted by people in and outside the “conscious movement” who claim to have personal knowledge that always turns out to be spurious because they have a beef with Johnson.

No one here hates Umar Johnson.

We just like the truth.


hocuspocusoctopus says wash your damn hands

It’s vulgar and common.

When speaking about oppression and hatred directed at one’s own community, it’s important to speak in the Queen’s English with pinkies in the air.

Fuck off, Stephanie.

A direct Twitter message from Kwesi X

Of course, someone who defends Umar goes by that name.

Half- baked and half-fried?

Well, that’s the problem. You have to pick a style of cooking. Otherwise, you’ll just be weighted down with oil.