On Aug. 25, 2017, The Root debuted the first column in what would become a weekly series called the Clapback Mailbag. Since then, we have responded to more than 600 emails, tweets, DMs and comments from readers, admirers and people whose shopping list doesn’t include lotion.
But, instead of celebrating our achievements, we want to use this time to assess the credibility of this weekly feature. It is quite possible that we have been totally wrong and white people have been correct in their opinions about America, racism and Black people in general.
I know a lot has changed since then, but just for shits and giggles, let’s look at the first letter that appeared in the Clapback Mailbag.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: YOUR LIST OF RACIST GROUPS
YOU LEFT ONE FUCKING RACIST GROUP OFF YOUR SO CALLED RACIST GROUP LIST. ..
BLACK LIVES MATTER. ..IT’S A HATE GROUP TOO...RIGHT UP THERE WITH THE WHITE SUPREMIST... KKK AND NAZIS... YOUR RACISM IS SHOWING. SHAME ON YOU!
“The Complete List of Racists,” appeared on Aug. 17, 2017. Back then, I simply thought it was important for the country to understand that the white supremacist movement was not monolithic. The thesis of the article was that many of the groups that we considered to be innocuous political or social movements are actually white supremacists.
We know, we talk about race too much. That article was before groups fought over Confederate Statues. It was before The Root warned that Trump was dog-whistling to white supremacist groups. It was after we wrote about the Proud Boys four years ago. Still, that article appeared two years before the FBI and DHS concluded that “RMVEs (Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists), primarily those advocating for the superiority of the white race, likely would continue to be the most lethal DVE (Domestic Violent Extremist) threat to the Homeland.”
Since that article, more than 100 Americans have been killed in incidents of domestic terrorism, the vast majority of whom were killed by groups that we now call “right-wing extremists.” Before your letter, Black Lives Matter was responsible for zero deaths, according to the FBI. Since then, they have killed the same number of people.
If you’re reading this...
I accept your apology.
Here’s someone who complained about the journalistic integrity of Senior Politics Stephen Crockett and his lack of medical knowledge:
From: Hunter S.
To: Stephen Crockett
Subject: China Virus Drugs.
Stop watching CNN and do some real investigation and you will find hydroxci does work along with zithromax. Both have been around longer than hip hop music.
To bad you feel the need to get Jiggy with it .
Trump 2020 motherfucker !!
It’s been a while! I just wanted to check in and see how things were going since you found the cure for COVID. Also, Stephen wanted to know how the Trump 2020 thing worked out for you?
Hope to hear from you soon!
I’m sure Shay was talking about coherent dialogue like this:
Name: Your mother’s black shitty face
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Dumb niggerrrrr
Hello you dumb black faced racist piece of shit NIGGERRR... where would the black race be right now if it weren’t for the white man? How’s Africa doing right now? Why don’t you stop being such a pussy and admit the best thing that has ever happened to black people was America slavery.... if it were not for American slavery can you stupid niggars would be back in Africa a slave today enslaved by your own kind. The best thing that has ever happened to you pieces of s*** is white man coming to Africa and purchasing niggers... you know everything is going to come back around your way until we forcibly remove you scumbag pieces of s*** from our country.... OUR FUCKING COUNTRY.... you free loading dirt bag piece of shit
Dear Your mother’s black shitty face,
Can I forward this letter to a few people?
Every time someone flies a Confederate flag, tells me to “go back to Africa” or reminds me that Black people should bow to the majority, they also tell me I’m wrong to call them a white nationalist, even though Vox defines white nationalism as “advocating for a physical or spiritual white state.”
This letter would be a big help.
In 2020, months before the Coup Klux Klan insurrection, I wrote a piece about protesting like “good white people.” As you can imagine, the outrage was immediate.
To: Michael Harriot
Don’t you think it is irresponsible to promote violence and rioting?
From: Ed S
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Current riots
Message: I think it appalling that all religious, civil and political Leading continue to brush over the fact that all though wrong je is yet another criminal blackman who failed to obey police and the blacks riot, burn and steel. This behavior will keep you out of normal, moral and polite society. What would america be if every time a white msn was killed or a woman rapped or a theft committed by a black man the whites rioted. Work harder to get you males to be proper fathers and family men. Stop your gangs from destroying every inter coty in america and join gentile society one day.
I know you have been busy working hard to “stop your gangs from destroying every inter coty in America,” so I won’t take up much of your time.
When Shay asked me if I thought it was “irresponsible to promote violence and rioting,” I’m sure she knows the answer by now. I want you to know that I’m here for you. I can’t imagine how you must feel now that rioters have been kept out of “normal, moral and polite society.” Of course, you probably don’t consider the attack on the literal center of America’s capital city to be “inner-city violence.”
But Shay was right to say that “coherent, structured, fact-based diatribe” is the only way to be heard. (I’m pretty sure she meant “dialogue,” but whatever.) You gotta admit that it’s weird how we haven’t seen any of that during the protests over the mask mandates.
Or the misinformation about vaccines.
Or the fury over the Stop the Steal movement.
Or the anger over Critical Race Theory.
Where’s the “coherent, structured, fact-based” stuff when you need it? It’s almost like this advice only applies to Black people. And if we live in a country where white people have different rules than Black people, what would you call that?
I can’t wait to let everyone at the next inner-city gang meeting know that white supremacy is real!
And finally, this:
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Hi Mike
It is not difficult to see that your entire life is consumed with being black and centered on race. Your hatrid for whites exudes from every pore. It is quite entertaining to watch, but I feel embarassed for you mostly. You are clearly a sociopath with narcisstic tendencies that thinks the entire world evolves around the struggles of the American black person. Are you struggling Mike? Really? You don’t know struggle Mike. But you like to throw around those old tired words such as inequality, oppressed and racist. Yawn. There are people in today’s world and historically that truly experienced those things, but not you Mike. You don’t know struggle Mike.
The reason you will never attain any respect or credibility is because you only think that you exist. Your selfish and self centered behavior refuses to allow you to notice the hundreds of other races in the world besides your own Mike. But you cannot see it and probably do not care. So, don’t ask yourself why I don’t care it either.
You remind me of the person that Booker T. Washington was describing when he said:
“There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”
This is you Mike. You make a living off of preaching hate and fueling the fire of division. Without it, you would be forced to find a new source of income, therefore, you choose to maximize the opportunity. Without this you offer nothing to the world. Is that what scares you Mike? All the skills you posses is being a race baiter? Come on man. You are better than that right?
Get over yourself Mike. You will never win until you get out of the hole you have decided to live in.
There are more races than just black and white Mike. You may want to pull your head out of your rear and notice how the hispanic race is blowing by you ever so quietly with wrecklace abandon, while you whine and complain.
Four years later, I now realize that you were right all along.
When I first read your letter, I couldn’t figure out why I would be angry about how “the hispanic race is blowing by you ever so quietly with wrecklace abandon, while [white people] whine and complain.” But then, I took your letter and replaced every reference to Black people with white people, and now I can see how right you were.
I understand what you meant when you said: “The reason you will never attain any respect or credibility is because you only think that you exist. Your selfish and self centered behavior refuses to allow you to notice the hundreds of other races in the world besides your own.” Damn, you were on it.
It was the quote about Booker T. Washington that got me.
At first, I thought Booker T. Washington was wrong as fuck—especially when I started thinking about the “race-baiters” he was referring to. What did race-baiters like MLK and Malcolm X get besides death? Name one Black activist who inspired Black people and made out with all the money and long life? Fred Hampton? Dead at 21. The Black Panthers? Vilified. Stokely Carmichael? Exiled. Harriet Tubman? Rosa Parks? Ida B. Wells? They were all hated by white people. They were all called race-baiters. And what did they win?
But then I took that same reversal technique I used on your letter and applied it to white people and I suddenly understood what Washington was talking about. It made me realize what Donald Trump was doing. It made me see the GOP’s motives more clearly. It made me realize why white people continue to kick Black people in the teeth when they own everything in this country. It illuminated every letter that has ever appeared in the Clapback Mailbag over the last four years.
There is another class of [white people] who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the white race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want [the white man] to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.
And all it took was 400 years.