The Root's Clapback Mailbag: I Feel Fine

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: I Feel Fine
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

I’m going to stop being so offensive.

From now on, I promise to respond to the violence, theft and downright absurdity of white supremacy with eloquently composed reactions that ruffle no feathers and leave no one feeling offended.


From this day forward, I won’t call the white people who inflict pain “white people who inflict pain.” I’ll find better words. I’ll call them “not Black people who absorb punishment.” Instead of “white,” I’ll call them “melanin-impaired.” Instead of “racist,” I’ll call them “inequality advocates.” I’ll only refer to “white supremacists” as “Caucasian aficionados.”

I will now refer to Black people as “whiteness-impaired.” Or how about “justice-deficient Americans?”

I’m sure that will help.

Some people took issue with the article on the NFL’s plan to scrawl meaningless phrases on touchdown land.

From: Send in the Drones
To: Michael Harriot

I get kicking the NFL around a bit. Not happy since they f’d over thousands of people in my city to build a useless stadium for the team that then left, but seriously - the NFL doesn’t hire cops. They do hire entertainers, of which Kaep was one. No entertainment company enjoys having one of their employees redirect the efforts made to supply the paying customers with one entertainment product into an unrelated avenue.

In addition, the NFL marketing people certainly told them their primary income was from people not supportive of Kaep’s attention grabbing efforts. People watch entertainment to generally escape from the day’s problems, not take on those problems that others have.

The increased support for Kaep’s position is noticeable but does it turn into increased revenue for the NFL or earn them social goodwill points? I expect the answer to both of those is “No.”

I cannot imagine what would happen to an actor for “Hamilton” who came out on stage before the curtain came up and gave a Trumplican support address. My guess that would be an unemployed actor. Even if they just popped up and said “Think of the puppies that are starving and need your care” without running it by the management, it’s likely they would be put on standby.

Anyway, I’d be just as glad for most professional sports to go by the wayside. Too many injuries, too many people who aren’t the big stars getting too little compensation, too many people idolizing the players for skills at doing something with a ball. Cry me a river if Saturday and Sunday programming aren’t shoved off into the weeds by overtime.

But don’t expect that the NFL can in any way fix police. Also - f’ the owners of the Arizona Cardinals. Give Saint Louis all the money back.

From: James P.
To: Michael Harriot

I read the thing you wrote about the NFL. And throwing jabs at JayZ when he was the one who probably got them to do this. You should give them credit for the effort.

I suspect there’s nothing that any white person can do to please you and the BLM.


Dear All,

According to your logic, George Wallace should be my hero.

Perhaps no other person in Alabama history has contributed to the economic prosperity of Black people in the state more than Wallace. He instituted a community college program that offered a path to the middle class. He tied them to state-funded institutions so that Black people could gain entrance to the state university system. To this day, no other governor has appointed more Black people to high-level government positions.


Also, perhaps no other person in Alabama history has contributed to Alabama’s inequality more than Wallace.

As the most famous and the most powerful person in the state, Wallace’s stance on segregation was a signal to the violent extremists who rained death, destruction and chaos on Black people during his term as governor. He stood in the doors of the University of Alabama to prevent it from being integrated. He supported Bull Connor, who terrorized Black Birminghamians. On September 8, 1963, a few months after his inauguration where he called for “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Wallace said the state needed “a few first-class funerals” to settle the protests against segregation.


On September 15, white supremacists bombed the 16th Street baptist Church.

The NFL owners, on the other hand, are different. They never called for Kaepernick’s death; they just killed his career, according to emails and phone records. They didn’t tell their commissioner to attack protesters with dogs and firehose, they just fined them for protesting. They didn’t cause people to hate anyone who brought attention to racial injustice. But their actions made millions of fans believe that speaking out about injustice was inappropriate and wrong.


One of the biggest byproducts of white privilege is the opportunity to do whatever you want to do and then “move forward.”

And most Black people understand that the NFL is in the business of making money. Slave traders were in the business of making money, too. So were slave owners. The University of Alabama feared that white people wouldn’t enroll if they desegregated, which is one of their explanations of why they resisted integration.


But when the state of Alabama allowed Black children to enroll, it didn’t repay the millions of dollars it had stolen from Black taxpayers. When the Civil War ended, America didn’t reimburse the slaves for their work. When George Wallace became a Christian and denounced racism, it didn’t resurrect Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair from their graves.

And when the NFL announced that it would stencil the equivalent of “all lives matter” in the end zone, it didn’t un-blackball Colin Kaepernick. It didn’t un-cement the opinions of those people who scowl at Black protests. The league can’t undo the harm it had already done.


Again, no one thinks that the NFL did this for any other reason than profit. But that is not an excuse. Racism doesn’t spontaneously manifest itself out of thin air. All racists have a reason for their racism, whether it be money, self-preservation, the way they were raised, history or just plain hate. I don’t believe many of the Republicans agree with Trump’s racism. I think they are just playing the political hand that they were given and don’t want to offend their base. After all, they are just politicians.

No one expects politicians or the NFL to fix racism. But the least they can do is not support it. And if they do, they deserve the scorn they receive.


Perhaps my favorite illustration of white people’s ability to “move forward” is the Encyclopedia Brittanica’s explanation for George Wallace’s murderous rhetoric:

Though a segregationist during this period, Wallace could more accurately be termed a populist who seized on the issues that appealed to the majority of his white constituents. The civil-rights issue was a means for him to enter the national spotlight...He drew support mainly from white Southerners and blue-collar workers disenchanted with Democratic policies.



If case you were wondering, The Root still holds the title of “the real racists.”

From: Nolen
To: Danielle Belton

My first visit to site. Mostly liked it. The thing about trying to figure out who’s white or black in Kansas was funny. The Big 10 Trump article was moronic.

I’m mixed. Black people call me white. White people ask me what race I am. Funny. I’m actually Native; white; Nigerian; Spanish, Jew.

Calling the president an idiot. Well; I love Obama, voted for him. But let’s compare him & Trump. Obama: poor college grades; failed at jobs he went to college for; had to work as community organizer (that’s a job college kids do), became President. That’s the top job in the world. He tried to fix health care; awesome, didn’t last in some states. His economy was horrible. Lost Chevy & our copper to China.

Trump. Made millions in business; successful TV show, became president even though republicans didn’t want him. Great economy before pandemic. Good job with it. Terrible on health care. Trying to bring PPE lines & factory jobs back from China.

So both made it to top job in world. Hard to beat that. I did OK. Top student in my high school & college; started working for engineering firm in high school, & worked in space flight industry. But that’s president. Your writer works for small news/entertainment site. That’s not president. So I’d say Trump & Obama beat both your writer & I in the success category.

If you mock the leader of the free world like your a third grader; no one of substance will ever take you serious, & you lower yourself so far that you have no high ground to argue from when people trash those you support. Hey; just my opinion. We are blessed to live in greatest nation in history of world.

God Bless

From: Mark M.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Oxpeckers

Message: Never in my life of 71 years have I run into a more gifted and articulate racist than you. Pres. Trump received 8% of the Black vote in 2016 and it s projected he ll get as much as 24% this time. Looks like the oxpecker population is about to triple.


First of all, I would like our regular readers to know that I won’t dwell on it, but please believe that the irony of this semicolon-addicted nitwit claiming to be the “top student in [his] high school & college,” while writing that “If you mock the leader of the world like your a third grader” hasn’t been lost on me.

But let’s move forward.

I am always amazed at how dumb white people are. (Nolen isn’t “mixed,” trust me.)


That’s it. It’s not a compound sentence. White people are just dumb.

White people believe that a Black man could get poor grades in college and attend an Ivy League graduate school just because he benefitted from affirmative action. They believe that giving healthcare to millions of Americans is a ho-hum achievement even though no white man could do it. They believe the Black man broke the economy that he inherited from a white man but won’t give the Black guy any credit for fixing it.


But they also are also amazed that a white man who inherited multimillions could become a billionaire when 99 percent of billionaires are white. They believe that a rich, white racist becoming president is a praiseworthy accomplishment when most of the presidents were rich, white racists. They credit the white guy for a great economy but not the Black guy who handed it to him. They don’t think the cratering economy is the white guy’s fault or proof of his incompetence.

But pointing out my amazement at dumb white people’s stupidity doesn’t make me racist because I believe Black people and white people are more alike than we realized.


We’re both easily amazed.

Some people took issue with this title:

From: Kim
To: Michael Harriot

Black and Brown women are tired of being a caricature for others entertainment, profit and advancement. “Feeling fine” fails to acknowledge this reality and the pain it causes to so many. This is disappointing to say the least.

From: Tamara
To: Michael Harriot

Sigh.... as a Black WOMAN, I can’t get past the “I feel fine” part of the headline. No mention of how GENDER intersects race in this situation. This adds to my disappointment and numbness around all of this. Black women stay getting erased.


Dear Tamara and Kim,

You’re right.

“I feel fine” is one of my favorite phrases because it’s a phrase of resistance. But I understand why you don’t know that. Neither did I.


I feel fine” is a rallying cry because they were the first words Carolyn Bryant spoke after her husband was acquitted for killing Emmett Till in the lynching that sparked the civil rights movement.

A few years ago, someone contacted me and asked me to write a poem for a dinner for John Lewis, and I agreed. Every year, John Lewis pays for congressmen and senators to make a trip to Selma, Ala., to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They said someone would give me a call with the specifics for the poem but they never did. I arrived at the event, which was in a restaurant, and a Capitol police officer said someone wanted to see me in an adjacent room.


It was John Lewis.

Now this specific year, instead of honoring him, Lewis wanted to honor the “women of the movement” and wanted to open it with a poem. He gave me a bunch of names, most of whom I did not know. So I sat at my table with a bunch of senators and a congresswoman and looked up the names. I had to create a whole new poem on the spot that included these names, one of which was Amelia Boynton.


I believe Amelia Boynton is the most important person in the civil rights movement and possibly in the history of Black people in America.

In 1934, Boynton became one of the few Black people in the state of Alabama to register to vote. Back then, instead of explicitly barring Black people from voting, they would make people take “literacy tests.” But these tests didn’t really have anything to do with “literacy.” A registrant would have to memorize excerpts from the Constitution. They had to have perfect handwriting. It was basically a “stop Black people from voting” test.


Amelia passed that shit on the first try.

Then she started teaching other Black people how to pass the test.

Nobody messed with Amelia. She hung out with George Washington Carver and named her first son after him. When the Klan ran the town’s only Black notary public out of town, making it impossible to vote, Amelia convinced her husband to start an insurance agency. They took over the organization the man had started, the Dallas County Voter’s League, and held NAACP meetings in their tiny Selma office. They fought the Klan, the state and the local government. After her husband had a stroke, she still taught their children not to take any shit from no white man.


In fact, when her son Bruce was in law school at Howard, he rode the bus home for Christmas break. When the bus stopped at a Trailways Bus station to eat, Bruce posted up at the “whites only” counter just like everyone else. When they told him to leave, he would only reply:

“I feel fine.”

He was arrested and convicted but his mom wouldn’t stop until his conviction was overturned. She called an NAACP lawyer she knew and made that lawyer friend promise to fight for her son even if they had to go to the Supreme Court.


So, in 1962, the KKK faced off against Amelia’s entire family for registering Black people to vote. Amelia wouldn’t stop. In 1964, she gave up leadership at the DCVL and ran for Congress, making her the first Black woman in the state of Alabama to run for office and the first woman of any race to run as a Democrat. After she lost, she said she had to bring more attention to these injustices and she wondered if some of the more famous Black activists would help

Everyone in the DCVL told her she was crazy to think famous people would come to tiny little Selma. After all, there were only about 12 people in the DCVL. But Amelia tried it anyway.


And they came! John Lewis came. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Selma. Why would they come? Why would anyone listen to this little woman from Alabama?

Well, remember when Amelia’s son was arrested?

Well, that lawyer who represented Amelia’s son was named Thurgood Marshall. They did have to go all the way to the Supreme Court. That’s how Amelia Boynton helped overturn segregation on interstate commerce in the landmark Supreme Court case of Bruce George Washington Carver Boynton v. Virginia.


And that’s how a relatively unknown activist named John Lewis became famous on the Freedom Rides. When his skull was cracked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Lewis still went to the march the next week, telling everyone:

“I feel fine.”

Here’s where Amelia was:

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: I Feel Fine
Photo: Charles Moore (Getty Images)
Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: I Feel Fine
Photo: Charles Moore (Getty Images)

And that’s what convinced Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act.

But there’s more.

In 1954, Amelia went to visit a church in Montgomery. The church’s pastor was really involved in civil rights and had heard about Amelia, so he asked her to come to speak with his youth group. Amelia talked to them about segregation, voter registration and their rights. One of the girls asked about nonviolent resistance and Amelia gave her a list of phrases that she always used when she encountered trouble.


A few months later, that girl got on a bus headed home from school. When a white woman asked her for her seat, she wouldn’t move. The bus driver told her to move but she wouldn’t move. The driver threatened to call the police and she wouldn’t move.

“History kept me stuck to my seat,” she would later say. “I felt the hand of Harriet Tubman pushing down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth pushing down on the other.”


When the police came to arrest her, they asked her what was wrong but the girl would only reply:

“I feel fine.”

No, this is not the story of Rosa Parks. This is the story of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin.


Contrary to popular belief, Rosa Parks’ one-woman protest had absolutely nothing to do with ending segregation on Montgomery buses. Other Black women had been doing it for a while but the local NAACP chapter chose Rosa Parks instead. However, another one of Amelia’s friends, Fred Gray, realized that the state of Alabama would never hear the Parks case so he approached Colvin, along with Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith and Jeanetta Reese to ask them to become plaintiffs in a federal case.

They won.

And that’s what ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Colvin wasn’t asked to be the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott because she was pregnant; she was dark-skinned and did not have “good hair.”


“My mother told me to be quiet about what I did,” Claudette said. “She told me: Let Rosa be the one. White people aren’t going to bother Rosa, they like her.”

Claudette has said repeatedly that she did not mind being left out of the narrative. Even that pastor didn’t feel bad because when the NAACP reportedly asked Colvin whether she minded, she replied:

“I feel fine.”

But there’s more.

In 1958, the state of Alabama executed Jeremiah Reeves.

When Reeves was 16, he was convicted in 1952 by an all-white jury of raping a white woman, which he denied to the day he died. During his interrogation, he was forced to sit in the electric chair until he confessed. The reason no Black person was on the jury was that they couldn’t register to vote, something Amelia Boynton had worked for all her adult life.


When Reeves was executed, his last words were recorded as “I feel fine.”

But how did he know about the phrase?

Well, Jeremiah had a friend who became active in the civil rights movement. She even said she would become president one day. She spoke out every chance she got. Her parents didn’t like it but she didn’t care. And when she got the chance, she met every civil rights leader she could. the first one she met was a pastor who spoke out against the execution of Reeves and invited her to a youth group.


His name was Martin Luther King Jr.

Amelia fought hard for Jeremiah, too. She eventually met Jeremiah’s friend, who was distraught about his conviction and death sentence. Amelia even gave her some words of advice.


Jeremiah’s friend was Claudette Colvin.

All of these names were in my poem.

After I read that poem, I had to leave to drive to Atlanta. As I was leaving, an officer with the U.S. Capitol Police stopped me and asked me to follow him. I figured I was going to talk to John Lewis, but he walked past Lewis’ table to a table with a bunch of women who asked for a copy of my poem. I agreed and they began writing their email addresses down on paper (you know all old Black women have a pen and pad in their purse just in case they have to write down a scripture.) The officer pushed one of them—a tiny little woman in a wheelchair—toward me, and she introduced herself.


It was Amelia Boynton.

She said she didn’t have an email address but her daughter (or maybe it was her granddaughter) did. Instead of writing it down, I fumbled through my pocket and pulled out the original copy, with sharpie scribbles over it, and handed it to her. I must have looked nervous or maybe it was the tears because she asked:

“Are you alright, young man?”

You know what I said.

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



Obama: poor college grades; failed at jobs he went to college for;

J.D., magna cum laude
President, Harvard Law Review

Uh yeah, really poor student there. Stop believing things you hear from Trump kids.

had to work as community organizer (that’s a job college kids do), became President.

How surprising that you would skip whole swathes of his professional life, like:

director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP)

consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation

the University of Chicago Law School provided Obama with a fellowship and an office to work on his book Dreams from My Father

directed Illinois Project Vote

taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years

a Lecturer for four years

a Senior Lecturer for eight years

served eight years in the Illinois Senate

joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 12-attorney law firm, involved in 30 cases and accrued 3,723 billable hours.[76]

founding member of the board of directors of Public Allies, founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago

board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago

served on the board of directors of The Joyce Foundation

board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge

board of directors of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.

U.S. Senator from Illinois (2005–08)

That’s the top job in the world. He tried to fix health care; awesome, didn’t last in some states.

Wait, which states did it ‘fail’ in and why? Weren’t they all RED states?

His economy was horrible. Lost Chevy & our copper to China.

I want you to note the year in which it started.