The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Feeding the Trolls

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Feeding the Trolls
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root)
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.

I can tell when I’m being trolled.

I know I’m not supposed to feed them but sometimes I have to let people know that I’m not as gullible as they think I am. Take The Root’s News Editor Breanna Edwards for instance.


Even before I started working at The Root, I knew she wasn’t real. I had already figured out that she was a Russian bot programmed with a futuristic artificially intelligent news-writing algorithm, but I played along. Even when I met her in person, I figured out that the higher-ups had hired some actress/model to play Breanna at company meetings. My suspicions were confirmed when I began working at The Root. There’s no way anyone wakes up that early in the morning and puts out that much work. And I’m supposed to believe she still has time for Yoga, jet-setting and making jokes on Slack?

Yeah, right.

Wait ... Breanna just sent me a message as I was typing this. I think the Breanna AI is embedded in my browser. She probably already knows that I just Googled “CGI news editor Safari add-on.” Fuck!

Anyway, they tell me that Breanna is leaving The Root today. If I let on that I’m kinda sad about it, they might reveal that they were trolling me the entire time. I won’t play their silly game.

That’s what today’s mailbag is about. Today’s emails, tweets and direct messages are from people who I’m sure are just trolling me. They can’t be real. But if any of this is real, then fuck them.

And if today is truly Breanna’s last day at The Root, I’m gonna miss her. If she’s reading this, I’d like to leave her with this sincere, heartfelt message in a language that only a computer-generated, world-traveling, yoga guru who wakes up at the crack of dawn to write black news could understand:

1000111010011001001 1001001, 0100110101110 100111110101011101, 11001001010110 10101111010, 100110111010111010 forever!


This first letter is probably a response to the article about race-based college admissions:


From: William S.
To: Michael Harriot

Mr. Harriot,

I read with great interest your above-captioned “open letter” on The Root. I found the piece highly intelligent, well-written, and somewhat biased. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the necessity to have an honest conversation about racial relations in this country; however, no one - including you - who wishes to speak on the topic while ignoring the obvious realities of this nuanced and complex dynamic, will ever achieve anything approaching a solution. First, “black-on-black” crime is an essential and tragic reality that has to be an important part of the dialogue. Moreover, the fact that after more than “50 years” of pro-minority legislation, affirmative action strategies and practices, diminished hiring criteria now employed by most private and public institutions to create a “competitive advantage” to those who cannot compete on an even playing field, has led to the unassailable fact that over 65% of black children now live in single-parent families; while African Americans make up approximately 12% of our population, they make up 37% of prison populations.

The continued existence of vast, impoverished communities of color throughout our country’s urban centers, not to mention the scattered populations of African Americans living in poverty throughout our nation’s rural environs, continues to be a significant factors in the so-called disparities that continue to be the focal point of many of the theories posited by pundits such as yourself. I am willing, I suspect as most other Americans (and by the way I am Hispanic, not Caucasian), to have an open and honest discussion about this serious problem afflicting our country; however, everyone will have to agree that part of what has entrenched this portion of the African American population in its current state, is, in large part, their unwillingness to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and begin the long, existential journey toward what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described eloquently as a nation where all peoples “would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I agree with you, sir, and admire your noble efforts to achieve a true post-racial America, but it will require that all of us, Black, White, Hispanic, etc., meet somewhere in the middle, where everyone takes responsibilities for their own shortcomings, biases, and blame.


Dear William:

I know you’re trolling me.

There’s no way a non-troll would include Martin Luther King Jr., black-on-black crime, affirmative actions and a bonus bootstrap reference in a single letter if they weren’t trying to be ironic.


But since you took your time to type this fuckshit out, I thought I’d play it straight and respond as if you were an actual human being and not a sentient pinata of Caucasian aphorisms dangling from a white man’s string, waiting to be cracked open by a logic stick. (And no, that’s not a reference to your ethnicity. It’s a reference to your fragility and the fact that you think you’re filled with treats, but it’s really just cheap, digestible, easily attainable empty calories that will eventually make everyone sick.)

Let’s dismantle your paper mâché arguments one by one:

In regards to your references to affirmative action and “pro-minority legislation:” Let’s get this straight. There has never, in the history of America, been a single piece of pro-minority legislation.


Affirmative action benefits white women more than any other group. Whenever so-called affirmative action is put in place, it is white women who see the biggest leaps in pay, employment and college acceptance. The Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and anti-discrimination laws are about equal protection. Calling them “pro-minority” is like referring to laws against murder as “pro-life” legislation. Even the laws to which you insinuate—welfare, anti-poverty initiatives and social programs—all benefit whites more than blacks.

And yes, blacks are arrested at higher rates and make up a larger percentage of the prison population. That is partly because crime is a socioeconomic phenomenon, as explained by The Root time and time again. It is also because blacks are stopped, searched and arrested for drug use at almost three times the rate of casserole eaters even though the rate of black drug use is less than that of white drug use. When they enter the criminal justice system, blacks are less likely to receive bail, less likely to be granted probation, more likely to be sentenced to mandatory prison sentences, less likely to be offered plea deals and receive prison sentences that are 20 percent longer. Of course we are a large part of the prison population.


I could teach a class about black-on-black crime (I actually have) and crime in black neighborhoods, but I will try to break it down for you in a couple of paragraphs.

For most of America’s history, in most cities and towns, blacks were relegated to segregated neighborhoods. Because of this, black lawyers, doctors and engineers lived alongside teachers, mechanics, factory workers and lower-middle-class blacks. When segregation ended, these neighborhoods became poor neighborhoods because upwardly mobile blacks moved out.


Now, there is a prevailing notion (including the h*tep-adjacent argument that “integration was the worst thing that happened to black people;”) that they ran to white neighborhoods, but that is a misconception. Black people simply moved to good homes in good neighborhoods because statistically, upwardly mobile people are the most transient. Plus, when the law afforded us the opportunity to live wherever the fuck we wanted, we lived wherever the fuck we wanted. Black people didn’t move to white neighborhoods any more than formerly poor Jewish graduates move to gentile neighborhoods. America is a white neighborhood.

The formerly middle-class black neighborhoods became pockets of poverty in the same way poor Irish and Italian neighborhoods did. Poverty leads to crime, which leads to lower property values, which leads to a lower tax base, which leads to underfunded schools which lead to poverty which leads to crime which leads to lower property values, etc.


There is crime in a lot of black neighborhoods because there is poverty in a lot of black neighborhoods. Historically, the black unemployment rate is always twice the white unemployment rate despite that the high school completion rate and college graduation rate between races are much closer. Studies show blacks are still underpaid, criminalized and underemployed when compared to whites with the same education, experience, parental income and from the same neighborhood.

So the question should be: If their education, skill, location and parenting outpace their employment and wages and mobility, why are black so much poorer?


I think you know the answer.

I really thank you for validating my intelligence and writing ability, although you forgot to mention that I am also articulate, well-spoken and “one of the good ones.”


However, I am also a poet who sometimes uses flowery and incendiary language to make a point. Sometimes, I wish that were not so. Behind all of the grandiloquence and bombastic prose is 20 years of macroeconomic research, data and teaching race as an economic construct. If you strip away the florid language, there are numbers and data meant to dispel the prevailing narrative of lazy, violent, good-for-nothing negroes of which I am one.

And, as for you and future trolls, I challenge you to find a piece of a sentence where I have written that blacks are not guilty of committing crimes. Find a portion of a paragraph where I dismiss the fact that single fathers often walk away from their families. Show me where I have written that black people shouldn’t worry about education, family and excellence. I know, and every single black person in America knows, that we can do better in those areas. But even if we did, it would not erase the immorality of racism.


If someone doesn’t work hard or value education, they likely won’t benefit from their lack of hard work. If anyone, black or white, steals, kills or commits an act of violence, I would hope that they are fairly punished for their actions.

Who I am writing for, are the people who are unfairly sentenced because of the color of their skin, whether their sentence is prison, poverty or prejudice. A seat at the table is all I ask for. I am not asking for a head start, just a chance to run the race. As I said in the article:

“Opportunity is the thing.”

And as for the mythical idea that black people like me are pushing for a post-racial America, nothing could be further from the truth. I like being black. I don’t want to be a milquetoast, boat shoes-wearing American.


I’m pushing for a post-racist America.

Good troll, though.

This next string of tweets is from a thread I stumbled upon after Saira Rao, who we have written about at The Root, mentioned my name on Twitter. It’s so long, I can’t post it all but you can read the entire thread here (I promise it will be the most interesting thing you read all day).


Although black women, white women and other women of color made a valiant attempt at dismantling Emily’s fragility, please prepare your self for a healthy dose of toxic white feminism.


Dear Emily:

Don’t @ me next time.


Dear Kristin, Jade, and Tammy:

Although your tweets are so stereotypically “not all white people,” I would like to make a point.


All of your complaints stem from an article about the detention of a black teenager for riding with his grandmother or tweets about the mistreatment or disregard for black lives, which is a thing. Regardless of how you feel about police brutality, Nike, Colin Kaepernick or the Movement for Black Lives in general, it is pretty revealing that you disregarded important, salient points and made it about you. Your whiteness. Your offense.

But instead of rebuking your narcissism and condemning your self-absorbed, fragile Caucasian spirits, I would like to make a deal.


I know black people. Like ... all of them. In fact, I have been authorized by the Legislative Black Twitter Caucus to negotiate on our behalf. Here’s my offer to you:

I am willing to never again make another racist remark that turns on the faucet of white tears. I have spoken to the Negro delegation and they are willing to do the same. No more mayonnaise jokes. No more wisecracks about how white privilege endows you with the birthright to ignore things like police brutality, seasoning and rhythm.


We’ll stop the small penis and flat booty roasting. No longer will you have to feel deflated about the thinness of your lips. We’ll stop asking why you must hang your bare feet out of car windows or rest them on airplane seats and restaurant chairs. We’ll discontinue our investigation on why y’all kiss your dogs in their mouths. We’ll even eat your potato salad—not every day but like ... once a month (pursuant to how soon we can neutralize our gag reflexes).

And here is the only thing you have to do:


That’s it. Nothing at all.

But “nothing,” in our minds, includes the effort you put in every day toward discrimination.


Think about how much easier your lives will become!

You won’t have to check to see how many black kids are in a school when you look into education funding. You can just fund all schools equally! When your judges sentence criminals, they can treat a black person as they would anyone else! Consider the cost-benefit of all the money your cities will save by not wasting bullets on black bodies!


It will be great for the economy. You’ll be much more productive when you don’t have to spend time wondering if the name on a resume belongs to a black person. You won’t have to spend time writing mortgage denials, so your banks will make more money! Sure, they’ll lose a little bit by charging black people the same interest rates as whites, but we’ll spend that money at white-owned businesses that weren’t in black neighborhoods, like bank branches and grocery stores.

And it’s great for the environment. Once you treat the residents of Flint, Mich., like human beings, everyone will be much healthier. The polar ice caps will stop melting once you stop putting pollution-producing factories and landfills in poor minority neighborhoods.


Tell them we’ll throw in a little bit extra as in an added incentive. We are willing to let Kirstin sing doo-wop and listen to a performance by the White Jesus Inspirational Mass Hymnal Choir ...

Pursuant to how soon we can neutralize our gag reflexes.

Take this offer back to white people and let them mull it over. We don’t even need a unanimous vote because ... not all white people, right?


And finally, a direct message from the Chairperson of the National Black Police Association regarding this article:

Hi Michael. I wanted to send you a personal thank you on behalf of the Natl Black Police Assoc and myself for covering our letter. The response from the community has been humbling. We appreciate the opportunity to serve and need for our community to know we are here. Pls let me know if I can be if assistance ever. Love your sense of humor!



I’m not supposed to accept gifts but just in case you were wondering: When the Colin Kaepernick sneakers come out, I wear a size 10-and-a-half. The next time I’m stopped for speeding by a black officer, can I show them this message?


Or maybe ... possibly ... not get shot?

That was a joke.

P.S. If you stop a car with a passenger named Kristin, don’t ask why her feet are hanging out the window.

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


Yesha Callahan

Well that was a long intro...

Yes, I’m trolling you. And yes, Breanna is a bot.. the best bot ever.