Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: Juneteenth Edition
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.

I have a dilemma:

I want to celebrate Juneteenth by socially distancing myself from wypipo but they won’t let me.

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So, today’s Clapback Mailbag is dedicated to all the white people who would have been slave masters if it wasn’t for emancipation.


For Juneteenth, we have a very special “but what about black-on-black crime?” letter. 

From: Craig
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Mr. Harriot, I happened across your long Twitter thread addressing the arguments of white people in addressing the current situation. I feel you are missing the mark. Just so you know, as a Jew, I have wrangled with the vilest anti-Semitism imaginable so the sentiments of those who are targets of bigotry are not lost on me. Let’s remove those individuals who are genuinely racist from the conversation.

No one cares what they think. Let’s also remove ideologues, presumably from the right, who cannot do anything but counter the narrative they hear.

Let’s also take out the white liberals who are the primary drivers of our conversations on race and tend to look more warmly on minorities than themselves.

That leaves the rest of us who we hope are of good character and would like to see racism eradicated and fewer black people killed. If we take this as a given, it stands to reason that one would want to address all of the causes in a non-judgmental way. You point out a lot of statistics about what a small percentage of all people are criminals, which is a red herring. It is also a tiny percentage of people who are shot by police.

If someone is marching in the streets because Black lives matter, which they most certainly do, what are we going to do about it? Fighting racism and police reform would certainly be high on the list. But why can’t we acknowledge crime within communities of color? Except for those I mentioned earlier, most reasonable people understand that black people aren’t born with the propensity to commit more crimes or shoot each other. So there must be some other reasons and I understand no one wants to talk with white people about this and you also hear this from that most despised of all people, the black conservative.

The thing is, we failed our black communities is transitioning them out of segregation. LBJ and others following the War on Poverty with the War on Crime didn’t do what was needed to be done and in fact, made things worse. While you can’t snap your fingers and erase racism or homophobia or Anti-Semitism or any other form of bigotry, you also can’t expect things to improve in underserved communities without equal opportunity.

While I don’t absolve everyone of individual responsibility, the people who made these ham-handed attempts were the white people in power, so we can still point the finger. If the situation had been reversed and white people had been on the other side, they’d be in the same situation. From talking to my personal friends, I understand (and I believe you have stated) that the conversations about how to fix this go on in these communities constantly. I realize this may not be something that white people can come in and fix, nor are you interested in their help in that way. Most of us would like to but it’s not our business, right?

That’s OK but please understand - most of us would like to help and don’t want to be cast as racist for recognizing a problem that has zero to do with people growing up in a difficult situation without the same opportunities as others. Recognizing and acknowledging what goes on can be accompanied by an indictment of the system. The arguments for reform are actually largely the same as real changes that would reduce gun violence: criminal justice reform, ending the War on Drugs, increased gang intervention etc. That’s what we all can work on while also trying to end racism.

Please do not assume that people speaking about black-on-black crime are racist or trying to distract. SOME may be. Most are not.

There is no person of good character who doesn’t want to see black people feel safe and that they can be proud of how their fellow Americans and their country treat them. POC who die at the hands of racist, each other or COVID are all just as dead. Fighting racism and all other forms of violence that prematurely end the lives of black people are not mutually exclusive and I hope you’ll keep an open mind when having these conversations.

Best regards,

CB

Dear CB,

I’m sorry I can’t answer your email because I am quarantining from whiteness.

If it wasn’t for Juneteenth, I might point out to you that you can’t remove right-wing racists, liberal racists ideological racists and old-school racists from the conversation and then ask me about racism.

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Thankfully, it’s Juneteenth, so I don’t have to answer you.

But, until I hear a white person talk about white-on-white crime, white violence and white people doing evil shit, I’m going to keep talking about racism...

Except on Juneteenth.

If it wasn’t Juneteenth, I’d easily explain to you how you simply don’t understand the meaning of racism.

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See, my friend, there are definitely racists of good character who also want to eliminate racism just like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were people of good character who wanted to eliminate slavery...while still being slave-owners. Abraham Lincoln was definitely a man of good character. He was a fine upstanding president who said:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making VOTERS or jurors of negroes, NOR OF QUALIFYING THEM HOLD OFFICE, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any of her man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

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Abraham Lincoln was also a white supremacist.

Gandhi was a revolutionary leader and a racist. Police can be heroes while also being racists. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were great men and they were cheaters. Bill Cosby was one of the greatest comedians who ever lived and he is a rapist. Jesus was a great prophet and a terrible winemaker (so I’ve heard).

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See, your problem is that you believe that being a racist is an all-encompassing trait that stains everything else a person does.

I, on the other hand, think racism is a noun. It is a thing that people are — like a farmer or a cowboy or a Messiah or a human being or a serial rapist. It is up to the individual to determine whether or not someone who is that particular kind of noun deserves contempt, shame or forgiveness.

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I am not OK with MLK cheating on his wife but I am willing to overlook it when I weigh it against the good he brought into the world. Conversely, while I once enjoyed Bill Cosby’s comedy, when I juxtapose it with his actions, I can’t ignore that he is also a rapist. And, because I personally believe that rape is a despicable thing, I can’t fuck with Bill Cosby.

Yet, white people aren’t disgusted by racism enough to wonder why they support blatant racists like Donald Trump, police officers or the Republican Party.

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So, before we can address the causes of inequality, you and most white people have to grapple with the acceptance of the nuanced definition of what a racist is. Then, you have to reconcile that with your personal beliefs. You have to ask yourself why you bring up black-on-black crime when we talk about police brutality but never mention white-on-white crime when we discuss terrorism, child abductions, skin cancer or any of the things that disproportionately kill white people. Why don’t you confront the fragility in white culture whenever anyone brings up the disproportionately high white suicide rate?

Because it would be despicable.

Every time I mention crime, I am careful to say violence is bad, no matter who commits it. But you want to blame black people’s problems on black people while absolving yourself from all personal responsibility. That’s because you think racism is bad but somewhere in the deepest purest part of your soul, you are OK with it.

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Not me.

I don’t fuck with racists.

Especially on Juneteenth.


I wrote this:

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And then, this response came:

From: Bumpy
To: Michael Harriot

If you’re going to keep pushing the Blak Lives Matter narrative then you have to accept the fact that people like Macie might not be criminals, but what you call white supremacy eases them down that path. So the criminal justice system and maybe even cancer may have protected us from her because living in that kind of environment made her a drug dealer then who knows what she would have done in worst circumstances.

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Dear Bumpy,

I was wondering how I could have an authentic Juneteenth celebration. I figured, there were no longer any white people as evil and racist as they were in 1865.

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And then I read your email.

Thank you.

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

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