The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Imagine

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Imagine
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)

Last night was The Root 100, our annual salute to black excellence. After the event was over, the entire staff went out for a late dinner ... Except for me. Most of our staff are off today ... Except for me.


The reason I went home early and insisted on doing a mailbag is that I value our readers. You are the ones who make The Root the number one black news outlet in America. I didn’t want to skip out on you today with no explanation so I’m here to respond to the emails, DMs and tweets as a way of giving back to the community ...

Nah, I’m just kidding, I’m here because I was scared not to.

Yesha was there.

This week, for shits and giggles, we’ll start out with the “not all white people” email of the week. The first claps are responses to the coverage of the election and voter suppression.

From: Matthew H.
To: Michael Harriot

Michael, gonna keep this short and sweet. You suck. You are an embarrassment to African-Americans. You’re a disingenuous, racist, insincere, unfunny boorish douche of a man. Here’s an idea for you and the rest of the r-tards in the democrats. Maybe whites aren’t voting Republican because they hate brown people; maybe they’re doing it because they don’t want to give power to a party that seems intent on relentlessly tearing them down for some perverse sense of ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ that looks a lot like ‘less white people’.

But this last one was eerily foreboding because I actually included it in last week’s mailbag, but the response was too long, so I deleted it.

From: J.S.
To: Michelle
Subject: Wypipologist?


I’m a longtime reader of the clap back mailbag and The Root. I’m also a wypipo (lol). I would consider myself a moderate and enjoy a lot of your writing but sometimes I feel like you go out of your way to insult white people. I know you are4nt’ admonisihing all white people but this is about something else.

You always ask how black people making jokes about white people has any effect or how it makes non-racist whites turn against blacks and I thought of a good example.

Have you ever thought about your effect on voters?

I have numerous friends who are tired of being called racist at every turn or being made fun of. They don’t turn racist, but they are more likely to listen to stuff like Fox News and stuff like that, where they don’t have to worry about being insulted, which is an echo chamber of “fake news.” They see people beinefitting from affirmative action and whether it’s right or not, they become bitter that they don’t get the same opportunity. I think things like Permit Patty and names like Becky is going to cause even more white women to vote Republican in the midtersm

One great example is the criticism of Rebel Wilson. I’m not saying she was right to block people but it is human nature to fight back or disconnect when you are criticized.

I’m not one to tell people how to express themselves, but the divisive rhetoric and identity politics can have consequenses and it is not fair to point to one side and not the other.


Dear Brandon, J.S. and Matthew,

You all were right. White people did what white people do.

And you’re right, the results of the midterm elections might have had something to do with white people’s aversion to being vilified in the media. I can’t dismiss your arguments out of hand without examination, so let’s examine them.


Let’s imagine that you are correct; that the constant vilification of white people made them angry enough to support blatant racists like Donald Trump or white nationalists like Steve King. Let’s even accept your premise that anti-white rhetoric pushes white people toward the right.

You better make sure you lock your doors.

If the smattering of white jokes; nicknames like #Permit Patty; tweets with valid truths and criticism of potato salad recipes is enough to send white people to the side of white supremacists and alt-right adjacent politicians, imagine what black people have been considering in their heads for four centuries.


After the death of Mike Brown, I was standing on a street corner in Ferguson, Mo., and a brother from Jamaica asked, “Why y’all don’t just start chopping necks?” The only logical response I could muster was: “Amnesia.”

You better thank sweet Jesus for black people’s amnesia. Praise your almighty white god for gifting black people the superpower of forgetfulness.


If the word “Becky” makes you mad, imagine a President using the word “thug” or “rapist” to describe your people. Instead of bristling about being called a racist, imagine being the subject of law enforcement policies like Stop and Frisk. If you are worried about affirmative action giving black people an advantage, imagine an entire federal agency creating drug policy and sentencing guidelines that targeted you for harsher sentences.

Whether it is the inequities of the juvenile justice system, racist teachers or immigration policy, imagine policies that snatched your children from your arms and put them in pens. Imagine your heart skipped a beat every time you saw blue lights or a policeman’s badge. Imagine knowing that the people endowed with the authority to enforce the law are more likely to kill you than your white friends. Imagine paying the same taxes as your white friends but being aware that your child won’t receive the same education, wages, and legal protection as your Caucasian counterparts.


And imagine, every day, walking around in a diamond-encrusted, gold-plated land of freedom and opportunity that laid out the red carpet for everyone except the people who looked like you.

Now imagine knowing that your people — the ones who looked like you — were the ones who mined the diamonds and the gold ... for free. And in exchange, they raped your grandmother. They lynched your grandfather. And your niece. And your nephew. Now imagine they had the same plans for your children and your grandchildren.


If black people kept that same energy that you say makes white people vote for racists, we wouldn’t be upset like you are ...

We would be too busy slitting throats.

So you should thank your lord and savior that black people only call you “Becky.” You should write hallelujah hymns to our inability to recollect. The fact that we are not armed with machetes and the justifiable desire to chop throats is a blessing unto this nation. If we had an iota of the thin-skinned fragility or the hateful spite that white people seem to have, this entire motherfucking country would be a pile of smoldering ashes, and rightfully so.


But we are not like you. And you should be grateful to the Most High that we are, unequivocally, without a doubt, better than you.

Well ... not all black people.

I’m not.

And yes, sometimes, I’m embarrassed about it.

As with every story about blackface, a lot of our readers objected to Maiysha Kai’s Megyn Kelly/Today show coverage.


A lot.


Here are a few comments.

From: Faylavernecalhoun

Megyn Kelly was doing a great job and will be sorely missed. I for one Black lady did not take blackface personally. It’s too bad one can lose their job so easily. Perhaps a public apology to the sensitive ones would have sufficed, or a warning from the company to her, or a statement from NBC stating the views of Megyn Kelly are strictly her own and not the views of NBC or its affiliates. Something. Because people really do have a right to say what they please. But it would be nice to be sensitive towards others. Something that might have been discussed up front.

From: Sal

It’s so stupid and we need to get off of this race kick that the world is on its total bullshit. Why are we catering to black people so much its ridiculous that everyone has to watch what they say and do it they will lose there jobs the history of slavery spans through many nationalities and cultures and religions but we only remembering the slavery of blacks so the world has to try to erase everything from history to cater to them its ridiculous and that’s what it all boils down you cant say or do anything without offending people these days so there solution is let’s have a all black cast to make up for someone saying blackface the world needs to grow up

Megyn was on contract and if the company breaks the contract, she will be paid balance due. But, I don’t see anything wrong with her statement about blackface. Can we talk? What about freedom of speech? People need to lighten up and not be so worried they will say the wrong word. If we look closely at what others have said, surely someone would be offended by something that was said.


You know what? I agree with you guys.

Although I have written extensively about it, I don’t personally find blackface offensive. In fact, I suspect that many other black people aren’t outraged or insulted by white people coloring their skin as our heritage was something that should be used for their temporary folly.


Now, having said that, there is another issue that must be addressed:

Why are white people so mean?

I’m serious about this.

Let’s, for a second, imagine that Megyn Kelly had no idea about the history of blackface. Her entire argument essentially was: “I know people say you’re not supposed to do it, but I don’t understand why I can’t do it because it’s so much fun!”


Now the reason I point this out is that, in my opinion, that is enough. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why there continues to be a debate about this issue. If I discovered that I was committing an act that made someone so unhappy, I would discontinue doing it and apologize. Most of the condemnation doesn’t come from a place of injury, it stems from the fact that white people often assert their privilege by stating that they should be allowed to do something simply because they have the right to do it.

And the most common defense of blackface (and other subjects including the use of the n-word or cultural appropriation in general) is the empty, remedial “freedom of speech” argument made by these two commenters. Here is where the logic of their argument breaks down:

I have never heard anyone—and I mean absolutely no one—say that no one has the right to wear blackface, use the n-word or wear wypipo dreadlocks. But if you choose to do so, other people also have the right to condemn your speech. That’s how freedom works.


The First Amendment protects our speech from the government. Everyone who uses the idiotic “freedom of speech” is actually advocating for the freedom from the consequences of their speech, which only exists for white people.

The truth is, white people don’t give a fuck about freedom of speech, cultural appropriation, Halloween costumes or the Constitution. What they really want is freedom of whiteness. They want everything.


Every. Fucking. Thing.

They scream about the right to the second amendment, not because they want to establish a well-armed militia. They just believe their right to play “White Man, Texas Ranger” should be unabridged, dead teenagers be damned. They don’t give a fuck about who is in the next stall in the bathroom, gay and transgender people give them the heebie-jeebies, so fuck’em all.


They aren’t concerned about “all lives” as much as they want to shut down any talk about black lives. They care about whiteness. They care about control. They care about territory. They want it all and they don’t care about whose throat they have to crush or mouths they have to shut to get it.

If this is true freedom, then freedom is evil.

Or just white.

And if you think they truly care about freedom of speech, watch how quickly the people who advocate that “people can say what they want” start grumbling about what I just said about white people.


From: Z.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: My wyt fragility, or; Erykah Badu or Erykah Ba-Don’t?

(So corny, I know, couldn’t help myself!)

Anyway. Hello!

I’m a big fan of your writing on NWR and The Root.

I’m a 30 yr old white man trying to navigate the white supremacist racist world as a white person while inflicting the least amount of trauma thereby onto Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous peoples I know or encounter. As such I don’t want to burden my irl friends with a stupid question borne of my white fragility, and I realize I am performing that same entitled act onto you now, a complete stranger but someone whose words and perspective - such that it is gleaned from your work - that I trust to get to the very pit of my gut with truth - even if that comes in the form of being flicked away like a gnat which I would certainly take as a truth as well.

All of that is to say that it is your particular opinion I am interested in, not some imagined monolithic “Black POV” for which you are a vessel or something.

So about the subject line- I am a huge fan of Erykah Badu, have been for just shy of 20 years. I’ve watched all her live performances I can find online numerous times. I would love nothing more than to experience the sheer ecstatic joy of hearing and seeing her performing live and in person at a show! That being said, I am white, I know that other people’s trauma lives in my skin, was born there, and that any space I enter and inhabit rearranges itself immediately upon my arrival to account for this deeply complex but fundamentally (socially) “true” fact of my whiteness (a concept I hate to reify but nonetheless...).

Is there any way you can see that I could attend a Badu show without “eating the other” or being a cultural tourist or invading spaces meant for not-me and spoiling other people’s good time at the expense of mine?

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to stick to listening online, and am not hinging any actual concert decision on this or anything. Just an issue I keep revisiting in my head.

Sorry for this mess, thank you if you reply at all, don’t blame you if I’m on the clapback bag this week!


Dear Z.

Listen, I think the conversation about cultural gentrification has been misunderstood. Like most nuanced conversations, the shades of gray have evolved into starkly contrasting debates about black vs. whites.


Erykah Badu makes music for people to enjoy it. If you are one of those people who enjoy her music, then you should go.

And Z, I don’t know how often you go to concerts, but you should know that no matter which artist you go see, there will likely be white people there. I’m serious! They’re everywhere now! I remember a time when there were black clubs and spaces where white people wouldn’t dare go, but now they’re even enrolling in our schools and trying to date our women.


As a matter of fact, I just read that 46 percent of immigrants in 2016 described themselves as white and the Hispanic population will soon overtake blacks as the largest minority.

And have you seen how much blacks have been outraged by this?

Even though whites are arrested for most of the rapes, we assume some are good people. We haven’t tried to build a wall at the border of Florida or asked to see the papers of white people roaming around Atlanta. Z, you are white. You can go wherever you want.


And don’t worry about black people being mad at you being there. Honestly, Z. that’s your people’s thing. Ever since Rachel Dolezal served as president of her local chapter of the NAACP, there was officially no place in America that a black person can go and not expect white people to be there.

I think it’s interesting when white people ask these questions or are uncomfortable in black spaces. If I had to ask a white person what they thought before I went into public spaces where there were a majority of white people, I wouldn’t be able to drive in certain neighborhoods, go to Starbucks, order in certain restaurants or swim in certain pools.


Wait ... Never mind.

I must be imagining things.

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


Rooo sez BISH PLZ

I have numerous friends who are tired of being called racist