The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Every Friday Is Good Friday

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Every Friday Is Good Friday
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

People who read the Clapback Mailbag often ask how I can stomach wading through the morass of emails, tweets, comments and direct messages each week. It is true that they are often filled with hate, grammatical errors and ignorance, but the reason I love Fridays is simple:

I love when white people get angry.

I don’t necessarily like that they are angry, because that would be racist. What interests me is what white people get upset about. Last week my inbox was full of hate mail about NFL prospect Nick Bosa. This week it was...


Well, you’ll see.

This week, for some reason, a two-year-old article about “Game of Thrones” started trending. Coupled with our new article and video comparing the presidential candidates to GoT characters, it really infuriated a lot of people.

From: Genevieve
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Game of Thrones

Why does everything have to be about race. Guess what? Game of Thrones is a fantasy show! It isn’t real! There aren’t any white supremacists! So before you try to mess up the show with your hate for white people you need to realize that George RR Martin who actually worte the books is not a racist.

Oh I forgot, niggers don’t read.

From: Fred G
To: Michael Harriot

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you through Twitter. I am not very skilled on social media but I am in a Game of Thrones fan group and someone shared your article about Game of Thrones for black people. My friend who is white has watched your Dem Thrones podcast for all 6 seasons but I am just now getting into the show. However, I found your article incredibly racist and I am offendede. I would love to have the opportunity to hear your take on people who want to know why your putting race into this. If you have the opportunity please let me know if we can set something up to chat about this to make sure everyone is open minded about the beliefs of others. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Dear Genevieve and Fred:

Thank you for sending a raven with your criticisms. I’d like to offer an explanation of why I decided to sully your favorite show by injecting it with my racism.


You see, for a long time, black people have been underrepresented in the fantasy world even though we are fans of fantasy, too. Admittedly, after slavery, we were not so interested in the “dungeons” part of Dungeons and Dragons. But our imaginations are no less fertile than yours. Because of this, we have to make up our own fantastic stories.

One of the most well-known black science fiction writers was a man named Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote about the preposterous idea of a fictional nation where children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Like your hero, Mr. Martin, some people took his ideas and changed it to mean that even talking about race was part of the “jangling discord of our nation.” But King would later admit that it was all just a dream.


However, black people often create those kinds of fantasies in their head. I remember reading about a black high school in Birmingham that had to beg for uniforms and instruments for its award-winning marching band program because the kids and the school couldn’t afford it. Less than 10 miles away, a wealthy, white suburb opened a $5.4 million band facility. I bet that white school, whose band travels in luxury charter buses and gets $139,000 in custom made, brand new uniforms every year, is like Hogwarts in those black kids’ minds.

Oh, what a wonderful, whimsical world whiteness must be!

To a black person, whiteness is an invisible cloak that prevents their Caucasian counterparts from being arrested for drugs, even though they use drugs at the same rates as black people. We dream of learning the magic trick that stops our resumes from being tossed in the trash. One day, we will finally figure out the incantation that will repel police bullets or stop banks from charging us higher interest rates.


But in the meantime, we have to make up our own shit. So please forgive me for disturbing your enjoyment by grafting my imagination onto your sacred cable show. I had no idea your enchanted forest was segregated.

Of all the wizards I have known, perhaps you are the grandest of them all.

At first, I couldn’t understand why they were upset about the article on the racial wealth gap. How could white people be mad at math? 


Then I figured it out...

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Every Friday Is Good Friday

Dear Keith and Jim (but especially Keith),

I have come to the conclusion that black people and white people need to sit down and have a conversation.


But I don’t want to talk to you about discrimination, the wealth gap or any social issues. Even though people tell me that America needs to have a conversation about race, I don’t think that is the root of the problem. (See what I did there?) I think the problem goes much deeper but could be cleared up very easily by doing one thing.

We need to have a conversation about math.

It has become apparent to me that white people don’t understand how data, statistics and numbers work. Just because there are a few black millionaires doesn’t mean that wage disparities don’t exist. Now admittedly, I am not dumb enough to understand what your comeback means but I would guess that one day, you asked your boss for a raise and he or she told you that you didn’t need more money because “Bill Gates is a billionaire and he’s white so...”


There you have it.

Your lack of mathematical and logical understanding has shed light on all of the arguments for why white people think racism isn’t real. How can black people need more power when Obama is President? How can voter suppression exist when I saw two black people voting last Election Day? Police kill more white people, therefore Black Lives Matter is a joke! What does “disproportionate black killings” even mean?


Now, to address your suggestions. When I speak at colleges, there is always at least one right-wing student who proposes bootstrap-related solutions like solid family values, quality education, crime reduction and black people not having babies out of wedlock. My response to that claim is always the same:

Where is the proof that any of that works?

  • A white high-school dropout is as likely to earn a job as a black college student.
  • According to the EPI, the black-to-white wage gap increases as black people gain education. For example, a white high school graduate earns 20 percent more than a black person with the same education and experience but a white college graduate earns 27 percent more than a black college graduate with the same experience.
  • Blacks are 3 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession despite using at the same rates for whites.
  • Black men raised by millionaires are as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised by families earning $36,000 per year.
  • For 99 percent of the neighborhoods in the U.S., black males earn less as adults than white men who grew up in comparable neighborhoods with comparable families.
  • On average, black single mothers are more educated and work more hours than white single mothers, but are paid less!

So yes, education, family values and staying out of trouble are all important, but there is not a single shred of evidence that any of those things will eliminate inequality or the disparities in wealth.

Let me know if you want to have a conversation about math.

Finally, I don’t know what this is.


Dear Enelbee,

Here’s what’s going to happen.

One day, your grandson Piper (I assume that’s his name because, according to my calculations, all mixed kids are named “Piper”) is going to come in the house with his homeboys T’Charlie, L’postrophe and BlackXLance. They will probably be sipping on some grape sodas after a strenuous game of basketball when they Milly-Rock through the front door.


You, I imagine, will be sitting around doing something very white like churning your own mayonnaise or sharpening your grandfather’s sword in your bare, dirty feet. (I’m pretty sure the bottom of your feet will be dirty because I’ve never seen a white person whose feet were clean but that’s not really relevant to this story and I don’t even know why I’m including it.)

Anyway, as Piper enters the house, you will hear him and his friends laughing and giggling. And L’postrophe will look at you churning sword butter and say “Hello Mrs. Rae.”


And BlackXLance will say: “Good evening grandma Rae.”

And T’Charlie will kiss you on the cheek and say “Hey mama Rae!”

And then Piper will enter the room with a baggy pants and a hoodie and say “What’s up grandma cracker honky! Did you speak to my niggas?”


I only assume this will happen because that’s how white kids talk to their grandmothers when I see them in grocery stores and, since your daughter is white, I assume she will grant Piper permission to talk shit to his grandmother.

The only other scenario that I can foresee with my negro soothsaying powers, is that you, your daughter or Piper’s father will one day tell him not to say the n-word and he won’t. But I can’t imagine that would happen because, in my mind, all white people say the n-word at home.


And I know this story is filled with racist assumptions based on nothing...

But you started it.

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



We need to have a conversation about math.

Have you ever had to worked in a business where you must talk with clients? Have any of those clients ever annoyed you? Have you ever silently said to yourself, in the middle of one of those conversations, “Oh, if only I could make this jerk stop haranguing me and go away?” Well, I certainly have, and I am lucky enough to work in a field where one occasionally has to do numerical computations (I’m a land surveyor).

And over the weary years I have discovered a reliable trick to pry importunate fools off my back. It’s so easy! I simply start discussing something involving numbers, counting, adding and subtracting, comparing two numerical values and saying “Here’s why X is greater than Y.” I can actually see the effect as I talk; it’s similar, I imagine, to what a prize-fighter sees as he lands punches up side his opponent’s head. With the first number or equation, I detect unease in the victim’s eyes. The second and those eyes start to glaze over. With the third and fourth, he begins to look away. By the time I get to number number six, my subject has completely switched off and is ready to flee.

Since I am a right bastard, I keep it coming, sometimes I chase them down the hallway. Occasionally I even recite an algebraic formula. This never fails. They all fuck off, and leave me alone.

All I’m saying is, if the person you’re talking to hasn’t already done the very basic arithmetic to realize that he’s talking a load of bullshit, you’re as likely to have a meaningful conversation about math as you are to having a discussion with him about the Iliad, in the original Greek.