Before we get into this week’s emails, tweets, DMs, and comments, many of my mailbag readers know that I am very carol-centric. I believe that no holiday is complete if it doesn’t have a song that people sing to celebrate it.
“Silent Night” is for Christmas; “Auld LangSyne” is for New Years Day. “America the Beautiful” is for the Fourth of July. The Memorial Day carol is any song by Kenny Chesney (I actually don’t know if Kenny Chesney is a fictional character or a real person but I know he wears a cowboy hat, which automatically makes him patriotic). Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn Out the Lights” is the Valentimes Day Anthem (I know it’s wrong, but I feel like people who say “ValenTIMES” love a little bit harder. The Valentines Day anthem is probably sung by Barbara Streisand or Barry Manilow). So why don’t we have a black history month carol?
We do now.
Amazing Race (The Dopest One): A Black History Month Carol
Amazing race, the dopest one
We celebrate all year
But let’s be extra black for just one month
Celebrate that we’re still here.
Twas us who created every form of art
We survived those brutal seas
We made America a superpower
And built this shit for free.
Through slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow
We survived it all, somehow.
They still can’t kill our eternal hope
They still can’t hold us down
They still can’t hold us down
Amazing race, the dopest one
The one wypipo fear.
We remind you every Black History Month
Yes, bitch, we are still here
Motherfuckers, we’re still right here
Happy Black History Month.
Let’s read some mail.
This year, The Root’s extensive Grammy coverage was lauded by our readers. However, Social Media Editor Corey Townsend’s post criticizing the selection of Jennifer Lopez for a tribute to Motown made a few white people extra salty.
From: Stirc G
To: Danielle Belton
Dear Ms. Belton,
It’s people like Mr. Townsend who horrifically incite racial separatism and blatant stupidity. The title of his article — is just too undermining and negative. Seeking a definition that might reflect his intent, I only found:
Gentrification: The process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste; the process of making a person or activity more refined or polite.
So I’m befuddled and all astonishment in trying to figure out exactly what he is implying. JLo was tasked to make Black music more “middle-class?” More well-breed and courteous?? I’m asking somebody - so, please tell me! What a bafoon to NOT know the state of Black culture when Motown reigned supreme!!!!!!!!!! You, as Editor-In-Chief need to be taken to task for allowing the printing of such mis-leading crap! During the heyday of Motown, Blacks were entering all the Ivy League schools from Georgetown Day to Sarah Lawrence to Yale to Sidwell Friends (looooong before Prez Obama & Michelle were even BORN) to Harvard to Columbia to Princeton to Oxford and everything in between. Blacks were sophisticated, worldly, highly educated and living the high life. Motown was embraced by a genetation of highly cultured and accomplished professional Black folks. ‘They’ gentrified Motown as much as humanly possible. ‘They’ inter-married on such a level and at such a rate blurring the racial lines of division.
The dogs, water hoses & separate drinking fountains were not a lifestyle for Blacks in many, many major cities. More Blacks than you obviously can imagine closely interacted with non—Blacks on a daily basis. Blacks and non-Blacks partied together to the soundtrack of Motown. Why do you think Emmett Till met such an unspeakable end? He was a big city child who had no idea that ‘not’ keeping his eyes downcast was a death sentence. And Motown songs hit DC, NY, Boston, LA 2 and 3, 4 years BEFORE hitting Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi! Ya’ll better ask somebody!
You bear a mountainous responsibility with your printed words. There are numerous people who only derive their information from what you allow to be printed.
Whether Mr. Townsend knows it or not, more JLo’s than you can envision partied in real-time to Motown. Jennifer Lopez’s Mother was one of them. JLo justifiably represents a child of Motown because she grew up on it.
My own Mother loved Country, Elvis & Classical Masters. My brothers played Motown. Music belongs to everyone - in every way imaginable. My strongest argument is should Aretha have been prevented from appearing for Luciano Pavarotti, singing the Puccini aria “Nessun Dorma” because she was not male; she was not White; she was not an Opera star; AND!!! she had never performed Opera publically or been a featured operatic performer. If you don’t know of Aretha’s performance — AT THE GRAMMY’S — go to YouTube.
JLo was representing a celebration of a musical art form. Who today could truly encapsulate young Smokey & The Miracles, young Temptations, young Marvelettes, young Marvin, young Mary Wells, young Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, young Jackson Five, young Stevie?? These people sang without auto-tune — even older Marvin, Stevie & Jackson Five. Allllllll these people could sing. Motown didn’t get “Pop” til they premiered The Supremes & put the only real singer in the background. JLo is just as good a singer as Diana Ross — who by the way, is Las Vegas coming & going. Townsend criticized Jennifer for being “Las Vegas” when that’s all Diana Ross magnificently is!
Bottom line, is Jennifer Lopez being picked on ‘cause she’s high-yellow w/straight hair and Spanish — instead of English blood?? She Black! One drop!
Dear Mr. Or Ms. G,
First I’d like to thank you for your exemplary letter. Never before have I seen whiteness condensed to its essence and converted into such a jumble of nonsensical blather. You should be applauded for your whiteness alone. Yours is not plain old tap-water whiteness. You must have some kind of advanced triple-charcoal filtration system that distills your whiteness to its purest form. Yes, my dear, your letter was cold-filtered, PH-balanced, mineral-free, alkaline whiteness.
My only complaint with your letter was that it was a tad bit too wordy. However, because you are so intensely adamant, I have condensed your letter to its major points to serve as a future template for any subsequent correspondences.
Dear Ms. Belton,
I am mad about Corey Townsend’s article because it makes white people feel bad. I’m going to say it causes “racial separatism.” Not the actual, real-world historical racial separatism that I’m going to refer to in the rest of my letter. Not like Jim Crow laws, the fact that schools are no more integrated than they were 50 years ago, segregated neighborhoods, etc. I’m talking about the fantasy, make-believe world that’s in my head.
At the beginning of my letter, I want to define the word “gentrification” and, by doing so, prove Corey’s point before I even begin. I won’t even stop to think about what it means when they overlooked a roomfull of more talented artists to select Jennifer Lopez for a tribute to what might be one of the most important black-owned businesses that ever existed in the history of America. And during Black History Month, no less.
Even more, I’m going to ignore the fact that putting anyone other than a black face on stage to celebrate Motown’s legacy and impact directly contradicts why Motown was important in the first place. The only logical reason they selected J-Lo out of all the people they could have chosen, was to appeal to a white audience. That reason specifically undermines Motown’s ultimate cultural and historical impact because Motown brought black music to mainstream, white America.
Then, instead of saying: “You know what? Corey was kinda right,” I’m going to ignore that textbook definition and try to make my point anyway,” I’m going to do something so extremely white that Michael Harriot may gasp when he reads it, simply because of the caucasity of my remark:
I’m going to explain why racism isn’t important.
You see, while many black people experienced racism, we must remember that there were some people — very few but still, some black people — who didn’t experience segregation and violence. Some were lucky enough to not get sprayed with fire hoses and be attacked by dogs. A lot of black kids went to white schools. I’m going to mention a few schools who only integrated after the Supreme Court forced them to do so, but still... You know that Emmett Till kid y’all talk about so much? He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shit happens.
Mostly, I want to make up my own history. I’ll tell you how blacks and whites partied together to Motown hits when we know that fact isn’t true. I’ll completely forget how television shows would feature Motown artists but wouldn’t show white kids dancing to the music. I’ll pretend that “the rope” — the practice of segregating concerts and dance floors so whites couldn’t intermingle with blacks — never existed. I’ll tell you meaningless anecdotes that have nothing to do with the subject at hand about white relatives who listened to black music.
But the whitest part of my letter is this:
We’ll tell you that color doesn’t matter. We’ll tell you that mentioning race and Motown is divisive. Motown existed specifically because America is racist. They gave those black art to America when no one else would give those artists a chance. And Motown did it better than anyone else. But none of that matters to me.
Still, I will assert that associating Motown with blackness isn’t important to me. I don’t care that J-Lo isn’t black. I don’t care that when it was time for the Academy of Recording to recognise the greates black-owned, black operated entity in music history, they looked at all the black people and said: “Nah.” It doesn’t bother me because, as a white person, I’m going to claim it for myself anyway. I’m going to say Motown was “America’s music,” but I know “America” means white. I know it minimizes the black contributions to the art. I know it whitewashes the importance of the very subject we’re commemorating. I know it robs Motown of the most important aspect of its history. But you must understand: That’s what white people do.
We steal shit.
You know what? Mine wasn’t so short after all.
I don’t know what this was about but it was so extra-racist. Like the first letter, it also came via The Root’s tip line so I thought I’d share it with you:
To: The Root Staff
i contact you because da be a conspiracy i discover as a black man.. Da Cia brought guns and crack into da ghetto toset back us black folk!!
Also da scientists be lieing about our low iq rate, it actually genius, average iq ofda black man or woman is 130. Also da fbi and police be lieing about statistics, saying we commit the most crime, it actually the lowest! In fact da black man only commits an average of one per century!
Also another tip, donald trump, white people and republicans be racist!! Yo dis shit whack or wut???
Thnk u for reading my tips. PLEASE publish right away for our broths and sistas
Amy, Cardi negress 2.0
Was this supposed to make me angry or make me laugh? It wasn’t creative enough to make me laugh but it was too over-the-top to make me angry. It is more desperate than anything. However, if you’d like to make the writers at The Root angry, I’d like to help you out. Here are some of the things that might piss off our staff more than your pathetic attempt at humor/provocation:
- Stephen A. Crockett Jr: Send him photos of you watching the NFL or an invitation to a party where Kellyanne Conway and Sara “Suckabee” Sanders bust out of a cake and dance.
- Monique Judge: Tell her Cardi B sucks but you have to say it in a sympathetic but condescending way, like how Bernie Sanders talks to black people.
- Corey Townsend: Beyonce slander.
- Maiysha Kai: Stand outside her window serenading her with a boombox like John Cusack did in Say Anything. But instead of Duran Duran tunes, you have to only play R. Kelly songs.
- Tonja Stidhum: She’s like, 12. Her anger hormones haven’t kicked in, yet.
- Angela Helm: Talk shit about black women, Kanye or Harlem. (This is the easiest one because two of those three things are trash.)
- Michael Harriot: Eat chicken with a fork. Wear a necklace over your tie.
Subject: Best option for accidents
I recently cleared up everything with an accident that I was involved in. It wasn’t my fault, and the other guy was drunk, so it’s a good thing no one was hurt. But that’s not really what I’m writing you about.
When I got hit, I tried to go through all the basic steps of that I knew for how to handle these things. I’m in college, and this car is the main way for me to earn enough money to actually stay in school, so naturally I was pretty worried about not being able to drive it. I knew the first thing to do after making sure everyone was okay was call the police and file the accident report, so I did that. The guy who hit me was drunk, like I said, so I couldn’t really get much out of him other than the fact that the car wasn’t his and he didn’t want me to call the police.
After it was all settled and I got home that night, I started to get worried. The guy who hit me was Latino, and with all the farmland and construction around here, there’s quite a few undocumented workers, so I was really worried that by calling the police about the accident, and also by leaving once the officer told me to but before he had talked to the other guy, I might have just directly caused him to get deported, especially here in Alabama where you know as well as I do that the police aren’t exactly prime examples of how to properly handle suspects.
Thankfully, I just got the accident report and he was a legal citizen, so because of the first-time DUI he’ll be getting fine, but that’s it. Worrying about that really got me thinking about what the best way to deal with something like this is, and I thought of you as someone who might have some tips on the best way to handle things like this. I know that both Latinos and African-Americans are more likely to face some harsher treatment from police, especially young men, even with minor incidences like traffic accidents. What’s the best way to handle stuff like this? I mean I can’t afford to fix the car myself, but I don’t know if there’s ways to deal with this stuff without filing a police report, so if you have any suggestions on this, I’d appreciate.
I know your work keeps you busy, so if you don’t have a chance to respond to this, I completely understand. If nothing else, I’ll catch you in the Clapbacks. Until then, have a good week.
I’m going to make a revelation to you that, I had to learn myself.
Everything is fucked up.
Even worse, you can’t stop fucked-up shit from happening.
While I know that, as a white person, this may be counterintuitive and contrary to everything you’ve been told, there are some things that even individual white people can’t fix. When you called the police, you made a decision to make sure your life wasn’t impacted by the bad choices someone else made. I can’t, nor would I ever, sit here and tell you not to call the police on a drunk person who could have negatively impacted your life. Even if you aren’t racist, I can’t expect you to put the welfare of a stranger over your own future.
If the man who hit your car was not an American citizen, the consequences of his actions would probably be much greater. He may have been deported. He may have suffered a harsher sentence than a white man simply because he is Hispanic. None of that would have been your fault. It would have been the fault of a racist system. You are a white man who exists inside of a racist system. It isn’t incumbent on you to fix the system by yourself. It is, however, important that you recognize that fact. You did that.
But you also bring up a more difficult question. Should you give a drunk driver a pass if the drunk driver is undocumented? If you did that, would you feel guilty if the drunk driver hit someone else two weeks later? Are you supporting drunk driving by being sympathetic to a drunk driver?
When I write about the disparities of the criminal justice system, I am often criticized for excusing the behavior of black people and ignoring black on black crime. I am no more pro-murderer than you are pro-drunk driving. When I rail about the fact that blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate but are arrested more often and sentenced more harshly, I am not defending drug dealers. When people get angry about the Trump Administration’s border wall and targeting of undocumented immigrants, they are not advocating for open borders.
But I can’t support the death penalty, mandatory minimums, the war on drugs or prisons in general because I know that these institutions exist inside a racist system. But I also know that I can’t fix them by myself. I often say that I am not a good enough writer to convince a person to stop being racist. All I can do is make people aware of how white supremacy permeates every institution in America.
When The Root’s writers called out BBQ Becky and Pool Patrol Paula, it wasn’t because we think white people should never call the police on black people. However, having the police arrest someone who threatened your safety is different from calling the cops on two black guys chilling in Starbucks or a family using the wrong grill. And if you think those actions are benign, I’d point to what happened to Willie McCoy, who is dead because he fell asleep in his own car. That is the existential threat that black people face.
I stole something once.
My uncle Robert is a prison abolitionist, a one-time jailhouse lawyer and a negro philosopher who commands audiences from as far as three and four blocks away whenever he speaks. Dope boys and political candidates all stop by his house for advice. As a prison abolitionist, he advocates that every black person should register to vote — not for democracy’s sake — but because voter registration is the mechanism by which most states choose juries. He also believes that — if you are selected for a jury — you should never, ever, ever vote to convict a black person except in cases of rape or molestation.
Years ago, I asked him, hypothetically, what he would do if there was a murderer who was obviously guilty. He responded that he would still hold out against a conviction. He explained how the system is already so rigged against black people that he could never trust a prosecutor or a cop’s accusations.
“But what about the victim?” I once asked him. “What about the victim’s family? What about justice?”
“Justice? You need to look that word up, nephew,” he said, as he burst into a belly-deep laugh. “Ain’t no such thing as justice for niggas. Justice is for white people.”
Years later, my uncle Rob was asked to read a statement at the sentencing hearing for his niece, who was also the person who murdered his daughter. His “victim impact statement” was sandwiched between my mother’s statement and my aunt’s statement. Some people read from prepared statements. Some spoke from their hearts.
When it was my Uncle’s turn, instead of a sheet of paper, he carried with him a huge thick book. His baritone voice needed no amplification as he said: “They say I am supposed to ask for justice but...”
He began fumbling through the thick book that sat on his lap. I couldn’t tell if he did it because he was nervous, if he was trying to quell the trembling in his voice, or if his vision was temporarily blurred by the water welling in his eyes. As soon as he spoke, I realized that he was not carrying a Bible. He was carrying his favorite book:
The Oxford English Dictionary.
“One,” Rob said. “Just behavior or treatment. ‘A concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people.’”
Perhaps if this were a script for a courtroom drama, I could write that there was a dramatic pause. But there wasn’t. Rob steamrolled:
“Two,” my Uncle continued. “The quality of being fair and reasonable.”
Noah, we ain’t gonna fix this shit. Not me. Not you. This is who America is. The only way any of us can ever have an impact is to try our best, above all else, to unfailingly do the right thing. All I can do is to make people aware of this complex system of booby traps that is America. The knowing is the thing.
Often, when I can’t find a way to clearly elocute the level of fucked-upedness that is America, instead of sapping my brain of its creative juices, I will simply steal from my Uncle Rob. He knows I do it. I’m sure that a Darlington County courtroom wasn’t the first time it was said. My uncle Rob may have even stolen it from someone else but I openly acknowledge that the last sentences of this frustrating story and this report came from Uncle Rob, who closed his Oxford English Dictionary and said:
“There is no justice for a black man in America.”
“There is no justice for a black man in America.”
“There is no justice for a black man in America.”