Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)

Once upon a time, in a kingdom just outside Wakanda, there was a family called The Root who woke up at the break of dawn every day to tell the stories of black people. Some people called them journalists. Some people called them bloggers. The trolls from the gray part of the forest called them the n-word. The team was led by a fairy godmother-in-chief named Danielle, and a Deputy Managing godmother named Genetta.

The racist forest monsters, called “Wypipo,” would often read what The Root family wrote and get angry. They wrote emails and comments. They sent tweets and DMs. They huffed, and they puffed, but they could never blow The Root’s castle down.

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The Root family was very environmentally conscious. Every Friday, The Root family sent Michael on a special mission. Michael would gather up all the hate mail his family received all week, put it in a canvas recycling sack, creep to the edge of the forest, and respond to all the trolls from Wypipo forest. And every week, the trolls in the forest of Wypipo would check that mailbag, and it would make them even angrier and they would write more letters, thus the cycle continued.

But here is the secret of The Root family’s Clapback Mailbag:

The mailbag was laced with poison.

The forest creatures never noticed that every week, after the mailbag, there would be one fewer troll. The Root family knew that one day, all the racists would be gone and the evil Wypipo forest would be empty of trolls. Then and only then, could The Root family live happily ever after.

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But not today.

Today we kill trolls.


After news of the Jussie Smollett MAGAssault turned out to be false, many not-fans of The Root took the opportunity to gloat.

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From: Cheesedude
To: Michael Harriot

If Kevin Hart should have to apologize to gay people, shouldn you and your anti-white, anti-hetero rag apologize to white people and Trump supporters for jumping on this obviously fake Smollett story? It’s just like Kavanaugh everyone jumed to conclusions. Instead of “believing women, How about waiting until the facts come out.

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First, let me say that I want to be mad at Reuben, but I can’t. His shit is legitimately funny.

Secondly, I am always reluctant to comment on things that I am immune to because I am straight and male. White people can’t tell me shit about racism or oppression, and I can’t tell a woman or a gay person shit about being the victim of violence because of their gender or sexual orientation.

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Thirdly, I won’t be one of the people now saying: “I always knew that shit was fake,” because—as it relates to Brett Kavanaugh, Jussie Smollett or all victims—here’s my default stance:

I don’t believe anyone.

I listen.

Believe. What the fuck does that even mean? When anyone tells me they are a victim of a crime, I try to help them in any way I can. If it is up to me to investigate, I will. If there is evidence, I check it out. If the accused says the accuser is lying, I don’t believe the accused either. Believing the earth is flat doesn’t make it so. Some people believe Trump is the greatest president who ever presidented, that black people are genetically inferior and that Kellyanne Conway and Gollum don’t share the same DNA.

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When the “believe ___” narrative first elbowed its way into the public consciousness, I knew that shit was meant for white women and white women only. Black women don’t get that benefit. Trans people of color don’t get that benefit. Gay people of color don’t get that benefit.

No one believed Anita Hill. Or Emmett Till. Or Trayvon Martin. Or Sandra Bland. Or the dozens of trans people murdered every year. Even Lena Dunham, the bastion for white feminism, switched sides when a 17-year-old black woman accused her white friend of rape.

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Now that everyone wants to equate Smollett’s plot (which is still more believable than any storyline from Empire) with Christine Blasey Ford, they forget that no one but white women said we should automatically “believe” Christine Blasey Ford. The entire controversy surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh controversy was because people wanted them to investigate Ford’s accusations.

It is disingenuous to point the fingers at The Root for reporting on Smollett’s accusations without also noting that we did more coverage of the investigation than almost any other major outlet in the country. We should also note that a LOT of people were accused of being homophobic because they found Jussie’s story implausible on merit alone. Even more didn’t say anything publicly because they didn’t have any evidence. That’s exactly what they were supposed to do.

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We should focus on what Smollett’s hoax teaches us about the racism, homophobia and hate in America:

Nothing.

This was just the case of one nigga doing some dumb shit (allegedly). It doesn’t negate the proven fact that hate crimes are on the rise any more than a false rape report negates the fact that there are rapists who are walking free among us every day.

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And, when a woman, a gay person, or a black person tells me they are a victim of violence and hate, the absolute last person I tend to trust is white people or the police. I believe facts. If the Chicago Police Department told me fire was hot, I’d need to see more evidence.

None of this means Trump supporters aren’t racist or that straight people aren’t homophobic. Two things can be simultaneously true. It is possible that Jussie Smollett lied about being attacked and gay and non-white people are under attack.

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America has inflicted so much violence on anyone who isn’t a straight white man that if you told me that a team of invisible white men teleported themselves to a black cookout, stole all the seasonings, emptied a box of California raisins into the potato salad, put a crust of breadcrumbs on the macaroni, poured La Croix in the Kool-Aid, and called you the n-word before teleporting themselves to safety, I wouldn’t automatically believe you ...

But I’d listen.


Our article about Covington Catholic contained a story about my high school years that many of our white readers say proves their point about black people making themselves victims.

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From: Shawty B.
To: Michael Harriot:

I read your blog about the Covington kids. What stood out to me was the story at the end about your English class. Instead of pushing the divisive propoaganda you usually spread, why don’t you tell more stories like this?

You are a smart person who worked hard and you succeeded. That is proof of the meritocracy in this country. When people believe they are victims, they become victims. That’s why the Democratic part and leftists want your people to think that Ameirca is a racist country. That’s how they keep black people poor and on welfare. Instead of handouts, if more talented black people strive to get ahead, you would quicly rise out of the current position your in.

Thanks

And this from the comment section:

From: EonBlue

Weird you worked hard and succeeded almost like America rewards hard work not skin color.

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Dear Shawty and Eon,

Allow me to tell you another story. This one is a love story.

The only course in the honors curriculum that I wasn’t a part of was the AP Calculus course. The honors curriculum actually started in middle school and, because I skipped a grade, I didn’t have the Algebra prerequisite. Instead, all through high school, I took honors math courses with the kids who were a year behind me.

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Just as I was the only black person in my class who was in the honors track, there were very few black people in the honors classes the year behind me. One of the people in honors Algebra II was a white kid named Greg who was legitimately smart as fuck. Greg’s father was my physician. I had known him all my life because, when I was a kid, my mother also worked as Greg’s nanny and maid.

I barely made it through Algebra II because I didn’t believe in homework. I thought it was stupid to do 35 math problems when I already understood the concept. I also got a fair share of zeros because, being homeschooled, I often forgot to write my name at the top of the paper. In this class, if you didn’t do that, you got a zero.

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There was another black student in the class whose name was Macie. Macie hung out with my little sister’s crew, so I also knew her all my life. Macie was also smart as fuck. She and Greg vied for the top spot in that Algebra II class every week. Macie didn’t go to college because almost no one who was black from my hometown went to college.

Greg went on to eventually become a successful medical doctor.

Macie fell in love.

When my best friend graduated from college, his plan was to go to the army, come back to our hometown, buy a mobile home, and get a good job at the local factory where his father and his brother worked. And Macie went to work in a factory like almost all of the black people from my hometown. That was their definition of success.

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Macie worked hard every day. She never had so much as a traffic ticket. And, stuck in that little town, Macie met a guy from out of town who was flashy, exotic and smart. One day, that guy sweet-talked Macie into coming to visit him on the train. Macie hopped on the train to go see her boo with a package he had asked for. When she arrived at the train station, the police were there. They found Macie’s package.

It was nine ounces of cocaine.

Everyone in my hometown knew Macie wasn’t a drug dealer. Most people knew who the drugs belonged to, but no one snitched. To be fair, most people thought Macie would probably get probation or a slap on the wrist because it was her first offense.

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No one considered that Macie was black. This was in the ‘90s, so one could google the statistics about black people receiving harsher prison sentences. No one was talking about the disparities in the criminal justice system. This was only a few months after Hillary Clinton warned the world about “superpredators,” so no one was discussing the Bill Clinton mandatory minimums that fed black bodies into the mass incarceration system.

In September 1997, a Florence County, S.C., circuit court judge sentenced 22-year-old Mecenia Dials to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

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A few friends and I have been trying to get people to know about Macie’s story for years. I wrote letters. I sent money. I begged her attorney to send me her file (he wouldn’t). No one cared.

Macie was released from prison in November after spending half of her life in in jail. It is true that she may have committed a crime. But anyone who tells you she got what she deserved is a liar. Anyone who tells you that Macie’s being black didn’t have anything to do with it is an idiot. Anyone who calls that “justice” is evil.

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So don’t ever tell me about hard work and ability being the great equalizer. You can never convince me that this racist country is a meritocracy. And please, for the love of God, don’t ever try to lecture me about having a victim mentality. Pointing out racism is not victimhood. Perpetuating the idea that black people’s work ethic and morals are more of an obstacle than racism is not just a stupid fairy tale made for white people, it is evil.

And pointing out the privilege afforded to white people does not mean they aren’t as talented, as smart or as hard-working as they should be. I do not doubt that Greg was smart, disciplined, studious and kind. His intelligence, work ethic and discipline are probably the main factors in how he eventually became a successful physician. But we shouldn’t pretend like his father being a physician who could afford a nanny and maid is not part of the equation. Greg basically did what the people in his surroundings did.

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So did Macie.

But Macie was black.


I often receive letters from sincere people asking for books about racism. Here is one of them.

From: Katie
To: Michael Harriot

I first discovered your writing when my Google News app suggested an article you had written for The Root. I enjoyed the articles you wrote and they have also been very thought provoking for me. So I come to you with a question.

Let me start by saying that I’m a white woman who grew up in a tiny Idaho farming community and now I live in a tiny logging community in Oregon. We don’t have a lot of diversity—to put it mildly.

A few months ago a Pacific Islander friend of mine shared an experience where her daughter had been falsely accused of shoplifting but that her daughter knew how to handle the situation because she had already been coached on what to do by her parents. I was astonished that it would occur to them to do that. A few days later I stumbled across an article that talked about how white parents don’t talk to their kids about race and I realized that I have had so few conversations about race in my own life that I am clueless as to how to approach it with my own daughters. And my 3 year old has a lot of questions right now.

So my question is, do you know of any books, especially children’s books, that can create a good dialogue for us about race and help us get educated?

Thank you for your time,

Katie Lewis

P.S. I did see The Root’s ‘28 days of Literary Blackness.’ Hopefully we’ll be able to get some of those books from our local library.

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Katie,

Have you ever read the story of Macie?

Just kidding.

As a kid, my mom used a very sneaky strategy on me. If she discovered I was interested in something, she would force me to learn about it. When I started drawing, she made me take art classes. She made me try out for the basketball team. I had to take a karate class because I liked Kung Fu movies.

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I never became a Kung Fu master, a great painter or an NBA point guard (yet), but what it did was instill a sense of curiosity in me. It also taught me that, if other people do it, shit, why not me?

Listen, I don’t know of many children’s books about race, although I bet that Google thing you found me on could suggest a few. As a child, I devoured books about everything, from encyclopedias to textbooks. I took a book everywhere I went. And of all the books I read as a child, I can’t recall a single one that taught me a life lesson I still use today.

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But if you talked to your children. If you showed them the right path in regards to racism, it would teach them more than any book ever could. Kids absorb everything from their surroundings. They take in the racist comments at the dinner table and the snide remarks from aunts and uncles. They might not mention it, but they remember. They absorb everything, whether it’s secondhand smoke or treating human beings equally.

Having said all of that, one of my friends, Tami Glasco, actually wrote a children’s book called Chocolate Babies: The Great Color Mystery.

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Also, have you ever heard the story of the Enchanted Wypipo Forest?