The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Flashback to the Future

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Flashback to the Future
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)
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.

Each week, as I read the emails, tweets, DMs and comments for Friday’s Clapback Mailbag, I find something that makes me think: “This person is gonna look really stupid in the flashback.”


Wait, you don’t think about your future flashbacks?

I live my life as if I were a hero in a movie. In every post-apocalyptic movie or television show, there’s always a flashback to a time just before the alien invasion, the nuclear annihilation or, in this case, the global poison-snot pandemic that wipes out everyone on the planet except men who can grow light beards or women who are genetically incapable of growing underarm hair.

In those pre-catastrophe scenes, the main character has just finished fucking his model wife and is completing his last set of 7,000 pushups when he receives a call from the head of the Army Apocalypse Task Force to inform him that he’s gonna have to save humanity. Just before he runs out of the door, he high-fives his strong but troubled teenage daughter and wishes her luck on the math test. His wife kisses him deep in the mouth (but with no tongue) and tells him to be safe. He promises that this is his last assignment and he’ll be back.

Then the scene fades to a closeup of the hero in the present, staring at a photo of his now-deceased wife and child as a tear rolls down his face. He pauses, places the photo back in his front shirt pocket and runs toward the danger

But I have a few questions:

  1. Why doesn’t he eat something? Have you ever noticed that the hero never stops during the four-day mission to eat a healthy breakfast? Have you ever heard a brave secret agent say: I need some carbs—some bread and a Coke, or something.
  2. What’s up with the photo? Do y’all keep wallet-sized pics of your wife and kids on you at all times? I keep mine on my phone. I bet his wife is tired of finding washed up pics every time she does laundry.
  3. How did the daughter do on that math test? Why didn’t he at least tell her she didn’t have to worry about algebraic equations because the zombies are coming?
  4. Why is the pic always in the front shirt pocket? Why not put it in one of the 18 pockets in the cargo pants? What happens to the photo when the protagonist inevitably has to take his shirt off to make a tourniquet for his wounded team member and walk around topless for the rest of the movie with nothing to protect him but his sculpted abs? But the most important question is:
  5. Why would he want to save humanity? Maybe we need to unplug humanity and plug it back in. I assume our hero has been in multiple wars and has seen the worst humanity have to offer. Perhaps we should let it go.

Anyway, here are some people who will look pretty stupid in my future flashback scene.

Some readers disagreed with this article because, apparently, it made fun of white people.


From: C. Slaw
To: Michael Harriot

I knew you’d somehow twist this coronavirus story into something having to do with race. If you really want racism to end you should use this opportunity to bring people together. Now more than ever we need people to not see color but you’re up to your same race-baiting.

From: Geaux Fucceioself
To: Michael Harriot

SO you want white people to die from coronavirus? Dude you spew more hate then the “ray-sess” white people you claime to be fighting. I’ll be glad when your people are wiped off the planet so we can go back to not locking our doors and worry about 16 year old gangstas shooting at the mall.

Bidens gonna make sure you nogs don’t get healthcare to fight the coronavirus.

Hey guys,

Thanks for totally disregarding the entire premise of the piece, which is that a global pandemic is more difficult for black people because of the legacy of white supremacy. I am aware that you get the heebie-jeebies when anyone juxtaposes your privilege against widespread social disparities, but don’t worry, this one was not about you. (Coincidentally, “Heebie Jeebies sneezes” was second on the Trump administration list of names they originally wanted to call COVID-19. )


But, since you accused me of wanting white people to die from the “coughing cooties” (No. 1 on Trump’s list), I wanted to take this opportunity, for the first time in my life, to sincerely say: “not all white people.”

I don’t want all white people to die. However, I made a list of people for whom I would not weep if they contracted the “Obamacare Cancer” (No. 3 on the list):

  • George Zimmerman
  • Joffrey Lannister (I know he’s dead but I never stopped hating that motherfucker)
  • Those five episodes of the sixth season of Sopranos when Tony was in a coma
  • People who think toppling Confederate statues erases history
  • Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s private chef
  • The person who told Tucker Carlson he was smart
  • The black person who white people use as cover to prove why they aren’t racist (See? I don’t just want white people to catch it, which proves I’m not racist)
  • Umar Johnson’s accountant (I know you think it’s probably a black person but you’re wrong. Umar Johnson’s accountant does not exist)
  • Bill Maher’s face (I don’t want him to die. I just want his facetious, smug, self-assured smirk to die a horrible death)
  • Whoever keeps delaying R9
  • Anyone who uses this gif.
  • 19 black people

Yes, I’m sorry, but 19 black people are going to have to die so save the rest of us. If only white people contracted the “Illegal Mexicanfluenza” (No. 6 on the list) then white people would surely start hunting black people down to siphon the antibodies from our blood.


Then, we’d have a Caucasian vampire problem on top of MAGA Cell Anemia (No. 1 on my list).

Our political coverage has prompted many requests from people who want us to inform black people to vote for Bernie Sanders.


From: Work Together
To: Michael Harriot

Hello Michael, with all due respect, could you please tell your family that we are at a turning point in history, we are more than happy to meet with your family that you said are the Black Panthers. I’m just a regular citizen, but I believe in Bernie so much, I think we really have to work to get him elected. I encourage you to reach out to your family and to Bernies people. I feel the police brutality issue must be dealt with to heal this nation and I think Bernie can do that. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to show @DNC that it’s time for changes.

Biden was the one with the crime bill. Bernie had to sign it once for some other reason but he was never really for that bill. Thank you.

I would also convey to them that Bernie wants a homes guarantee and Bernie doesnt. And that there was a woman at his rally yelling we want a homes guarantee and Joe Biden yelled at her to be quiet. This is so unpresidential as well. I think a lot of Bernies policies correlate with your family’s and their movement. Thank you for your time.

From: Ian
To: Michael Harriot

I understand the is owned by the white corporate sturcture but you should stop pushing Joe Biden on black voters and try to uplift your readers on why Bernie Sanders is the best candidate.

If you didn’t want people to vote for Buttigieg, you should also hate Biden.

Dear guys:

As the official spokesperson for the “black community,” I would like to explain that it is not The Root’s job to tell black people how to vote. When we and other black reporters warned that black people were not going to vote for Bernie Sanders, we were not advocating for Biden, Warren or anyone else. We were just informing you what black people tell us.


Furthermore, I have worked here for four years and have yet to meet this white power structure that tells me what to write. That same white power structure is who told everyone Bernie was the overwhelming favorite to become the Democratic nominee before the party even let black people vote. Meanwhile, Terrell Starr, Stephen Crockett, Damon Young and others were trying to tell y’all that black people weren’t going to vote for Bernie Sanders

In fact, here is an excerpt of a conversation between the entire staff at The Root and every white media outlet before the South Carolina primary:

The Root: I don’t know if black people are going to vote for Sanders.

White media: Joe Biden is done. This race is over. Maybe Buttigieg can do something. Bloomberg can possibly beat him later on because he’s so rich.

The Root: I’m just reporting what actual black people are telling me.

White media: Trust me, I’ve looked at the polls and Biden is done. Everyone knows it.

The Root: But black people haven’t even voted yet and they make up a significant part of the Democratic Party.

(Two weeks later)

White media: This Biden comeback is unprecedented! No one saw this coming! It’s really unbelievable!

The Root: This is gonna look real bad in the flashback scene.

White media: The what?

The Root: Nevermind.

Anyway, since you’re tasking us with telling people who to vote for and accusing us of brainwashing black people, can you do me a favor?


Can you talk to white people and tell them to stop being racist?

I know you don’t know all the white people, but if you know as many avocado toast-eaters as you presume that I know black people, then maybe you can get them to chill for a while. If any random black person can convey your message of white liberalism, you should be able to relay my anti-racist rhetoric, right?


As a matter of fact, I’ll make a trade: If you can simply talk your white compatriots into not ignoring racism, I promise I will talk my negro friends into voting for the old white senator who has never done a demonstrable thing for black people even though you insist he is better than Joe Biden. To sweeten the deal, I’m even willing to throw in a few mentions of black-on-black crime and pulling up their pants. You know what? Fuck it, I’ll even get them to stop buying Jordans, too.

I promise, as soon as I see a noticeable decline in not-all white people-ing and “if a white person said that,” you will see an influx of well-behaved black Bernie Bros in Asics and tightly cinched khakis at the polls.




Finally, this:

From: Nick
To: Michael Harriot

Hello there Michael! I just read your thread on black folks in the south voting Dem and I feel a lot more educated about how a lot of their points of view. However, as a young black kid who graduated from Calloway HS and attended Mississippi Valley State I have a couple questions if you’re willing to listen. Mind the text wall, but if I don’t type this out now my big dumb ADHD brain will forget the points I’m trying to make here.

I’d love your POV on this as a man much more experienced than I. Growing up and living in Jackson as a kid from suburban Indianapolis put a lot of thing in perspective for me. I learned to appreciate what I’ve got and the blessings God has provided to me and my family, to take pride in my blackness even if it wasn’t “black enough” for some and to sure as hell not trust the establishment. I personally can not fathom why other black folk would consider sticking with the same ol’ song and dance we’ve been getting since Clinton with the Democratic base. Now, I’m not saying Bernie’s perfect because he sure as hell isn’t, but in the face of declining school infrastructure down south, a decrease in average earnings for the black household and a chronic increase in gentrification in areas like Indy, why not take the risks associated with said change?

When I was living in Jackson, I saw first-hand the results of the white flight from Jackson into the surrounding areas (Madison, Ridgeland, Clinton) and through the Obama years (though, most of the blame lies with the filibuster-happy representatives) we got next to nothing of the advertised change. We as black folk have been doing the same ol’ song and dance for most of my life as far as I can tell, so what’s stopping people from not settling with Biden? Not to mention the signs of mental instability he’s showing right now. Some of those plans Bernie has brought to the table may be far-fetched, but we didn’t get to where we are now by compromising. If the Democratic establishment isn’t helping our grassroots democratic bases down south, why should they still support them?

From what I’ve seen, all I can piece together is that black southern democrats are nothing but a number to them and as long as they can keep them buried in their ear and have their vote, they can continue gauging our communities and leaving us to fend for ourselves like we always have. Again, apologies for the text-wall and I appreciate you taking the time to read through. I’d love your opinion on what I’ve said. I’ll never turn down an opportunity to expand my worldview.

Stay blessed,


Dear Nick:

Here is why black people don’t support Bernie:

Because Martin has a pool.

In fact, if I hadn’t broken my hand dunking in Monte Toney’s milk-crate, backyard basketball goal, the world would have probably known me as “LeBron Liberace”—the greatest concert pianist who ever played in the NBA, and I’d probably have a pool. That highlight reel-worthy, game-ending slam dunk also ended my covert, intelligence-gathering mission into the “Democratic Establishment.”


Because my mother, a former Black Panther, didn’t believe “a black child could become fully realized human beings in the presence of whiteness” (I fucking love that quote), I was homeschooled. Without the benefit of a formal social studies curriculum to educate me about political parties, I assumed that the “Democrats” were some Illuminati-like secret society. All I knew was that, in my grandmothers’ house, uttering a negative word about Democrats was like blaspheming the name of Jesus or disrespecting the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Before the career-ending injury that derailed my quest at becoming the ivory-tinkling, milk-crate Michael Jordan, every Wednesday, I would set my hoop dreams aside and trek to the Douglas family’s beautiful home for a one-hour piano lesson deep inside my hometown’s political establishment.


It always took more than an hour.

Patricia Douglas was my mother’s best friend who gave piano lessons to subsidize her career as the rotating music teacher in my hometown’s black elementary schools. Her husband, Charles, was a science teacher, a middle school basketball coach, and a city housing commissioner. They were what anyone would call the pillars of our community.


Many days, I would wade through the overcrowded Douglas living room filled with preachers, activists and various other neighborhood luminaries who were gathered to solve one problem or another. Sometimes it was a local business that discriminated against black residents. Other times, they coordinated their schedules for staffing the neighborhood polling stations. They raised money to send neighborhood kids to college or planned how to address the city zoning board’s plan for allowing a pollution-producing factory in a black neighborhood.

It was a melting pot of local pastors, educators, politicians and community activists. They were all members of the NAACP. They all belonged to local churches or mosques. As I awaited my childhood-interrupting piano lessons, I would eavesdrop on these meetings as if I were an undercover agent. I learned that most black men with mustaches talked loudly and drank Miller Lite and the black women really ran everything. I discovered that they were not fighting for equality. I found out that living in a black community was an unceasing struggle just for survival. I also managed to glean one other bit of information about this loose conglomerate of behind-the-scenes community leaders:


They were all “Democrats.”

Living in the South is different.

There are millions of people whose youths were akin to living in a semi-totalitarian state completely controlled by whiteness. Our futures were dictated by an atmospheric inequality that persists, in varying degrees, to this day. Most Black people in the South attended schools that weren’t completely integrated until decades after Brown v. Board of Education (which coincidentally, combined five different cases, including Briggs v Elliott, when ministering/teacher/NAACP leader Joseph A. Delaine, an A.M.E. minister/teacher/NAACP leader—in a living room much like the Douglas’—convinced 20 black parents to fight school segregation). My hometown’s school district was finally integrated when local activists, residents and the NAACP repeatedly sued the school board until the district finally compiled...


In 1995.

While covering the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., two dudes walked up to me. They weren’t any more than 19. One didn’t even have his shirt on. As he explained why he doesn’t give a fuck about the police, how he was treated and why he hoped they burned the whole motherfucker down, a woman yelled at him:

“Get yo ass over here and help me unload this truck.”

Both of us ran to help. We unloaded a truck filled with food, water and even diapers for the local residents. The protests had caused several area school closings, which meant that local children might miss a meal that they would have otherwise received at school. The food and supplies drive was organized, in part, by a local mosque and that screaming lady...


A Democratic committeewoman.

When I ended up staging a one-man die-in, police officers from two jurisdictions crouched over me, in whispered threats, they threatened to arrest me and set my bail might so high that I would spend Christmas in jail. I didn’t budge—not because I was brave. But, unbeknownst to them, minutes before the protest, Sheila Smoot, a local media personality had told me that a group of lawyers were prepared to bail out anyone who was arrested.


Smoot was also a Democrat to Jefferson County’s Board of Commissioners.

To be fair, there were people who cast ballots for Biden because of his proximity to Obama, just as it is true that Sanders’ surrogates tout the fact that their candidate kinda sorta marched with MLK. Other black voters did the political calculations and concluded that defeating Donald Trump requires a candidate who can attract moderate white voters. Some see the uncompromising intractability that prevented Sanders’ from passing a single significant piece of legislation as a liability. And, like any other part of the electorate, there are actual moderate and socially conservative members of the black body politic.


None of those voters think Biden will save them...

They know no white person cares for them.

However, they took note when they saw Bernie Sanders repeatedly distance himself from the Democratic Party. They watched him tell Rachel Maddow that Rep. Jim Clyburn’s politics “are not my politics.” They noted the conspicuous absence of progressive, overwhelmingly white coalition when black communities were going it alone on issues of race and discrimination. When Sanders and his supporters echo the right-wing, conspiratorial “deep state” plot by casting aspersions at the “Democratic establishment,” many black voters in South Carolina and Alabama who spoke to me offered one strikingly similar criticism:

“But Sanders ain’t no Democrat.”

Sanders may have bested Biden in fundraising, organizing and the number of volunteers with their own TikTok accounts, but four decades with a D beside Joe Biden’s name may have given him a distinct advantage in communities largely ignored by the revolution of the newly woke whites. Biden represents a party that finally gave them healthcare by the millions. Biden was the second-in-charge of the administration that fought housing segregation, warned schools about disproportionately punishing their children and sued banks for discriminatory lending practices.


Those people will never vote for Bernie Sanders.

One last story.

Remember that piece I wrote about Pete Buttigieg and the bag of dope money?

Well, after that article blew up, I was coming from a friend’s funeral and I decided to call the ex-drug dealer who gave me that money. The funny thing about this dude is that he wasn’t just a random neighborhood dope dealer. He has been my mom’s friend for as long as I’ve known him. My mom gave me his number and I called him. After talking for minutes on end about his new Olympic-sized swimming pool, he told me the rest of the story and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.


The reason that “dope boy” (Let’s just call him Martin) gave me that money was because he never got his high school diploma. Everyone who knows Martin, however, will tell you that he’s smart as a whip. That “dope boy” eventually went back to school and got his diploma.

After giving me that money, Martin decided he wanted to make it official. So according to my mom and him, he brought a bag filled with $25,000 to my mom’s house and told her to give it to my church’s scholarship fund. But my church wouldn’t accept it. My mom was so nervous that she called her best friend (the piano teacher). They eventually set up a scholarship fund in the name of a local charity. It was supposedly set up by the local Democrats but everyone knew it came from Martin.


They held the scholarship ceremony in the gym at the local community center that was once the black, segregated high school. My mom asked Martin if he wanted to attend.

“I knew those people didn’t want me there,” he said. “So I asked her to do me a favor. I pulled up to the gym on my motorcycle and your mama held the door open. I stood there and watched them give away that scholarship, Mikey. What’s funny is, they gave it to Brother Mick’s daughter. Then I just drove off.”


Brother Mick was also a member of my mom’s church, the church that had rejected that money. If you didn’t know me, you’d say her story was exactly like mine. She was also one of the smartest people I knew and was as straight as an arrow. But she would have never escaped our hometown if she hadn’t gotten that scholarship. She was also my first girlfriend. (We broke up because she was a Detroit Pistons fan and I was a Lakers fan. When our teams met in 1989 finals, let’s just say there were irreconcilable differences.)

Now here is the interesting part of the story.

After Martin got his high school diploma, he got married, decided to stop working and take classes for the general contractor’s exam. But, of course, having lived the life of a drug dealer, he had a few “outside babies.” So he set up a meeting with an attorney to see what he could do about his child support payments. He didn’t go with a regular attorney; he wanted one who could pull some strings, so he chose a high-ranking Democratic official who also had her own law practice.


The attorney informs him that his request wasn’t a matter of pulling strings. In S.C., pausing child support to pursue further education is perfectly legal. Then came the dreaded part. How much would this cost? After all, Martin wasn’t a drug dealer anymore. He had a job at a hardware store. The lawyer paused when he asked her price.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” she said.

“Damn,” he thought. “Does she remember me from my dope boy days? Should I tell her that I am a changed man and I’m not in that life anymore


“You look familiar,” he said. “Who is your people?” (That’s how we ask for a person’s genealogical lineage in S.C.).

“I’m brother Mick’s daughter,” she replied.

And that is why black people don’t vote for Bernie.

Because their Democratic party is the party of the piano teacher who raises money for their children’s college scholarships. Their education policy is represented by their church deacon who is often the lone Black person on the school board. They received their voter education via handmade flyers thumbtacked to their church bulletin board.


And, because Martin has a pool.

It’s gonna look really good in the flashback

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



“SO you want white people to die from coronavirus? Dude you spew more hate then the “ray-sess” white people you claime to be fighting.”

Dood. Michael Harriot may not want you all to die from coronavirus but I am far less kind. As a white person I hate emails and posts like this, I know they voted for a Republican. I know that they likely live in an area that is now more economically devastated and have less medical infrastructure. I honestly would like to see these jerks actually face consequences for their poor decisions. They always talk about accountability, but never for them. So if they live in a rural area without much in the way of medical, stay out of the cities, you didn’t want money spent like that. Can’t afford your medical bill? Too bad, go home and suffer because of your vote. Storm hits while all this is going on, don’t expect federal aid, you don’t like government spending. Your kid is sick? Well you voted against expanding Medicaid in your state. There not enough ventilators and they cut you off because you can’t afford your bill, well someone behind you can.

I swear these idiots try my faith. I am supposed to not feel like this. Believe in the goodness of others and all. I already got the lecture from my rabbi. Man though, these idiots really make it hard.

Also, get out of here with malls BS. Malls are dying. This tells me this dinosaur doesn’t understand nuance or progress.