The Root's Clapback Mailbag: For Your Consideration

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)

One day soon, we’re probably going to have the Clapback Mailbag Awards. We’re working on a sponsor to present this idea with the prestige it deserves. Hopefully, we can convince a mail company like UPS or FedEx to pony up the money for the statues (which will probably be called the “golden envelope”). Or maybe we can get Gonorrhea to sponsor us. I know it’s a little on the nose to have the clapback mailbag sponsored by the clap, but you gotta admit, it’s also kind of genius. After all, “the drip” is literally white tears.

Just like the Oscars, the Grammys and the Golden Globes, some of our most compelling submissions come from comments, emails, and tweets that you haven’t had a chance to see. Some of them are too long to make it into our weekly mailbag. To solve that problem, I have provided links where you can read some unseen, special mailbag material.

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Anyway, when we finally honor the best emails, tweets, DMs, and comments from our readers, I’m sure every single one of this week’s correspondences will receive a nomination.

So here are some of our future nominees:

Nominated in the category “scariest subject matter” is an article I wrote last week about the Jewish community.

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When I wrote it, every single person, from editors to random people on the internet, with trepidation asked the same question:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

The pushback overlapped with an article about “whataboutism” that received some criticisms about my dismissal of racism against the Asian and Jewish communities.

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From: Rabbi Mike R
To: Michael Harriot

I always really like your writing on The Root. Which is why I was taken aback by your characterization of the Holocaust. You’re not wrong about the trials and the reparations. Same thing should happen in the US regarding African-Americans. But calling it a “four-year” atrocity diminishes the centuries of Jew-hatred in Europe. There’s a reason they called it “the pogrom to end all pogroms.” It also feeds into the “black-jewish conflict” narrative that helps nobody but white supremacists. In any event, I’d be open to further conversation if you are. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

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Although she made some salient points in her letter, this email from Edna is abbreviated

From: Edna
To: Michael

Hello, I think I’ve just solved a dilemma. I’ve been impelled to respond to your recent article in “The Root,” but I feel that replying online would be like hammering a screwdriver into a fissure out of frustration with the fissure’s existence. This way, you can just look at the response and see if any of it is useful. (Having dealt with these issues since the mid-1960’s, I think I may have some insights to contribute.) “Can the Jewish Community Benefit from White Privilege if they are Targets of White Supremacy?”...

In response to the question, any discrimination involving competition will ‘benefit’ those who are not discriminated against. However, when it comes to racial profiling by police and security guards, the problem isn’t that white people are often treated as human beings. The problem is that non-white people aren’t. Those treated as human beings don’t ‘benefit’ from harm to others. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman may have ‘benefited’ from white supremacy in that they weren’t flogged before being killed; they only had to watch James Chamey being flogged, or maybe they were killed first. However, if it weren’t for the white supremacy they gave their lives to resist, they would all have lived. I’m also not clear on exactly how you to from the existence of white supremacy to ‘perpetuating’ it...

What I don’t see is the purpose of your title question. Why divide people along lines that have only repeatedly served to weaken opposition to white supremacy, along with huge contrasts between wealth and poverty, and environmental destruction, since the 1960’s? Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you’d like to exchange further ideas, I’d be glad to do so ...

PS After writing this, I caught a CNN report about the drive-by shooting of a family in Texas that killed a seven-year-old girl. It seems like this is a more urgent issue to deal with than whether or not white Jews benefit from and thereby perpetuate white supremacy.

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The following is a comment on the article “The 2019 List of Things Black People are Too Ashamed to Talk About”:

Comment From: Curbwatching

Did you just try to hand-wave away 150+ years of oppression against Asians in America, going right back to the fact that the first immigration law ever passed in the USA was literally called the Chinese Exclusion Act?

Asian Americans have been subject to ghettoization, redlining, racist violence, anti-miscegenation laws, and internment in concentration camps. Never mind the insanely racist caricatures and dehumanization that happens to Asians in popular culture, movies, and TV right up to the present day.

None of that minimizes the holocaust that Black people suffered under slavery or the violence and oppression against African Americans that has been endemic throughout history. But let’s not pretend Asians don’t face horrific racism.

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Dear Edna, Rabbi Mike, and Curbwatching

When I was a kid, the people down the street from me had a dog named King. I was terrified of that dog. I would rather go out of my way and walk around the block than walk past the house where King lived.

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Down the street, in the house next to King, lived my friend who was nicknamed Cheese. Cheese and I are the same age, and we have been friends since we were toddlers. He spent the night at my house all the time, and my mom would often send him food. In all those years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cheese’s parents. But whenever he would stay with us, he would constantly look out the window to make sure his parents hadn’t come home.

One day, my mom gave me a plate to take to Cheese. I walked around the block, avoiding King, and when I arrived at Cheese’s house, he was sitting on the porch eating from a box of Cheez-Its. (No, I don’t think that’s how he got his name.) I distinctly remembered that the box was swarming with ants and that Cheese was eating those crackers as if they didn’t exist.

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Sometimes, when my mom would give me a plate for Cheese, if I saw that King was loose, I would just throw the plate away and tell my mom that I had taken it to Cheese. Sometimes she would send me to get him, and I’d just say he wasn’t home.

Years later, I discovered that Cheese had basically been abandoned and abused during his youth. When he grew up, he was the only person I know whose chosen occupation was being a “stick-up kid.” He robbed drug dealers. Yet no one would fuck with him because Cheese was mean, had a permanent scowl affixed to his face, and was scary as fuck. Except, to me, he was always Cheese. He was eventually incarcerated on charges of kidnapping. When he got out of prison, he started working, got married, and started raising his kids.

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A few years ago, out of the blue, Cheese stopped by my house. I don’t know how we got on the conversation, but we ended up having a few drinks and talking about our youth. The inhalation of plant-based drugs may have been involved. He told me how his dad would kick his ass all the time, how he sometimes went days without food, and how he was always on edge.

“I used to love to come to your house,” he told me. “I used to dream about your mom adopting me. Your house was the only place I didn’t feel afraid.”

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When we started laughing about King, I revealed to Cheese what I would sometimes do with the food my mom had sent him. I admitted that sometimes I wouldn’t go get him because I was afraid of that damn dog. I apologized, telling him that had I known what he was going through, I probably would have gone to get him. I will never forget his reply.

“Nah man, it’s cool,” said Cheese. “When you’re a kid, everything is a monster.”

Every black person who has ever talked about race and racism is confronted with the question of why Jews and Asians have managed to overcome their historical oppression while black people still blame slavery for their plight.

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When discussing the history of black people in America, I often refer to it as “The First Holocaust.” In his book, The Half Has Never Been Told, Edward Baptist refers to Antebellum plantations as “slave labor camps.” I refer to camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned and the children of undocumented immigrants jailed as “concentration camps.”

I try not to play the “oppression olympics” and create an opinionated ranking system of which atrocities are worst. In fact, if I’m being honest, as a student of history, I consider the horrors against the natives of North America the worst of all of this country’s indignities.

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Jews are subject to hate and violence around the world. Asians are not exempt from white supremacy. They all have a history of oppression and violence at the hands of America’s ruling class.

But they are different.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, and others all face discrimination. However, as I was specifically speaking about racism, I was pointing out that the systematic, codified, constitutionally enshrined white supremacy that black people in America face is not like what other people face.

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The Holocaust was evil.

Anti-Asian discrimination is evil.

All bigotry is evil. Full stop.

For years, I have heard activists from Martin Luther King to Baptist preachers describe the fight against racism by quoting Ephesians 6:12:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

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We all fight against the evil of white supremacy. But black people must battle voter disenfranchisement that specifically targets our communities, a direct remnant of slavery and Jim Crow. Black people fight against the economic reality that devalues real estate just because black people occupy it. We contend with the lingering effects of segregation that means our children’s schools are underfunded just because those institutions are majority black. Take a look at the statistics on mortgage applications. Review the data on the wage gap. Read the employment numbers. Or the car insurance rates.

Although we often refer to it as “white privilege,” in America, simply not being black is a privilege in and of itself. Failing to recognize this reality or pretending that it not so is ignorant, disingenuous, or malicious.

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And none of this is to say that there are not things black people need to address. None of this means Asians or Jews have it easy. It doesn’t even mean others don’t face obstacles that are as bad or even worse than black people.

However, when I specifically discuss racism, my point is always that the effects of history and white supremacy are different when it comes to the black community. Not worse. Just different. Acknowledging this isn’t an attempt to minimize or “wave away” the struggles of other groups.

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Like Cheese, Black America has to eat things that other people wouldn’t touch. We are never safe. We are always looking out the window. Like most other non-white groups in this country, fights against the hate, the darkness, and the spiritual wickedness...

Then we gotta wrestle the flesh and blood, too.

Cheese and I were terrified of different things, but it felt the same to us. I was just as afraid of that dog as Cheese was afraid of being abused. However, the long-term impact on our lives was much different.

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But trust me, I understand what you’re saying. When you have to live in America as a non-White, non-Anglo-Saxon, non-heterosexual male...

Everything is a monster.

In the category of longest email ever, the next letter comes from a reader who was so infuriated by Stephen A Crockett’s article about kneeling NFL players that he re-wrote the entire article!

From: Stephen A.
To: Stephen A. Crockett
Subject: Your wrong

Dude- did you seriously write this article below? Let me tell you something, my name is Stephen A. [redacted], and I have a challenge for you sir. Prior to going final on one of these rants that should be in your personal diary send it to me. I am your new life coach. The problem with you so-called journalists is that you are taking your personal emotions and processing them in the newspaper. That makes we reader’s your defacto therapist. Since I take such a liking to psychoanalysis and the fact that today is my birthday, you got lucky, free therapy!

See my edits below. In fact, I will appease you; they are in blue.

You can read this crazy random editor’s corrected article here:

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Dear Stephen A.,

Thank you for your contribution to The Root’s newspaper.

You had me at “Your Wrong.”

And finally, back to this Bird Box thing. Not since the Great Romaine Lettuce recall of 2018 has anything raised the ire of white America like the Bird Box article.

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The article has inspired a number of thinkpieces about the movie’s “cultural impact,” its socio-political themes, and how right or wrong I was. Some dude even wrote a whole article, complete with video, about how I was “overly sensitive” in that bullshit I wrote!

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Many awards shows have a category that allows the fans to decide the winner. So as a special treat for the Church of Clapback, I have included most of the Bird Box emails, tweets, Facebook messages and DMs to let you decide the winner of the “Damn, is he Serious?” category.

You can read all of the hate (and love) mail at the link below.

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And the loser is...

Everyone.

The movie is really about how no one can see a joke.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

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