The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

Each and every Friday, The Root sorts through the emails, tweets, direct messages and comments we received that week to find out exactly what is on our readers’ minds. Over the years, we discovered that the people who read The Root are mostly concerned with one thing:

They want to teach us a lesson.

So welcome to the Root’s Clapback classroom, where the teachers are always wrong.

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Our first letter concerns Jay Connor’s article about a recent Candace Owens appearance.

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To: Jay Connor
From: Thomas S.
I just read your article about Candace Owens mopping the floor with some uninformed black folks. You wrote when was america great for our black asses?
You are a child of the lie. You think oppression is real. Stuck on stupid. Jesse Lee Peterson look him up. There are successful black doctors and lawyers in this country. And lower level successful black folks as well that dont cry victim and play the blame game. Hard working. I’m in electrical. My foreman is black. Makes more than me. Better car. Better crib. He is not oppressed. You like many other black folks aren’t ready to leave the plantation. Lights hate reds. Reds hate darks. And high yellow dont mean shit bc y’all all hate each other!
All that hate is why your life sucks. You blacks love self hate and just blame whitey. Such a mentally weak group of folks. And racism isn’t real. Its a social construct just like all the ism’s. To keep folks at odds always fighting. Rise up! Educate and inform yourself. Or forever sound like a foolish weak ineffective race baiting coward.

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Dear Thomas,

At first, I was hesitant to respond to a letter from someone who thinks Jesse Lee Peterson and Candace Owens are smart people. Though I may sometimes come across as churlish and confrontational, I would never pick on someone like yourself whose IQ is so disturbingly low. However, I sympathize with you because it is obvious that you grew up so poor that you couldn’t afford chocolate and were forced to eat cookies laced with lead chips. Or, perhaps you are still suffering from the head injury you suffered when you fell off the stupid truck.

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Look, I’m just guessing here.

I don’t quite know just how you acquired your brazen stupidity but when we wrote that, in 99 percent of U.S. neighborhoods, black males earn less as adults than white men who grew up in comparable neighborhoods with comparable families, we weren’t just talking about those who live near you. When Edbuild explained that white school districts get $23 billion more than non-white school districts, they didn’t just count the schools you attended. I know it’s hard to believe, but when the Economic Policy Institute reported that black workers earn 74.5 cents for every dollar a black person earns, they probably didn’t even talk to your negro foreman friend.

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My point is, your idiotic but frequently-used argument misses the point that black people are well aware that there are successful black people in the world. The Root writes about them frequently. We even know that many of the disparities are poverty-related and not the product of a smoke-filled room where white men determine how they will oppress black people. But the existence of a few anomalies doesn’t negate the presence of a systematic problem.

Imagine if actual smart people used your simple-minded logic in other areas. We’d think it was ludicrous if medical researchers said: “I know a guy who smoked all his life and lived a healthy life. These lung-cancer infected whiners are just physically weak.”

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Even though 84 percent of the richest people in America have a college degree, Bill Gates, Oprah and Michael Jordan all dropped out of college. So, according to you, that’s obviously how you become a billionaire. In fact, I once saw some very knowledgeable white people on television who openly acknowledged the existence of white supremacy, so that means it must be real, right? I’m just using your logic, Thomas.

The fact that you mentioned Candace Owens, Jesse Lee Peterson, and your co-worker actually proves my point. Of all the intelligent, talented black people in the world, the best examples of black excellence you could find are a pair of dimwitted, fact-ignoring college dropouts and one other guy who managed to rise higher in the field of “electrical” than a white dude with a rusty hamster wheel for a brain.

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Quite a few people were upset by this appearance from The Root’s Politics editor Jason Johnson:

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To: Danielle Belton
From: Marcel V.
Subject: Your magazine

Even though there is a lot trash on the internet, your Radical rag takes the cake for odious, racist, biased and despicable “journalism”. I heard a moron by the name of Johnson on MSNBC accusing Supreme Justice Kavanaugh of being a rapist. That type of irrational lynching is an abomination, especially considering that the two Black women who have accused the Black Lieutenant Governor of Virginia of rape were totally ignored by you.

Deranged ideology over truth, how sick but not surprising, considering you are fake news.

Sincerely

Marcel (redacted)

You’re right.

Jason Johnson totally smeared Brett Kavanaugh by repeating publicly available knowledge including the information contained in a sworn statement but was never investigated by the FBI.

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And yes, The Root has also egregiously ignored the two black women who accused Virginia’s Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax of rape.

We only reported on it three minutes after the news came out. And then we reported on it here. Then we reported on a second accusation here. Then Jason Johnson asked Fairfax about the allegations to his face, here. Then we wrote about it again here, here, here and here, here, here, here and here.

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But, of course, you think we ignored it. To quote an uninformed idiot I once read somewhere:

“That type of irrational lynching is an abomination.”


The final two letters are about a Twitter thread that went viral and this article:

From: Robert L.
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Mr. Harriot,

I enjoyed reading your remarks about Biden’s story of facing down a purported gang leader called Corn Pop. I believe you considered it another example of ‘an imagining of white people as it relates to race.’

I am not a fan of Biden. In fact, I do not even have all that much respect for him. But regarding his story, I suspect it—or something very much like it—is true. Strange things do happen out there in the streets. I have two stories that are hard to believe, but they both are absolutely true. I would like to tell you the second one (chronologically) and, if you wish, I will tell you the first one, in which a Black Muslim one Saturday night in Newark, NJ, in 1968, either saved my life (I’m a 5'5" tall white guy) or at least saved me from a beating in the middle of a Newark intersection by a very big black guy. Here’s the first story.

In the fall, 1969 I was living in a broken down rooming house (the Barkeley House it was called, presumably a formerly classy place) on North Kenmore, off Melrose Ave, near Vermont Ave and Los Angeles City College. The windows were all broken and the bathrooms were in the halls, one upstairs and one downstairs, and they worked. So did the lights, and that was about it. The building was run by a motorcycle gang called the Street Racers. There were three tenants: me, a Chicano revolutionary (actually I believe he was an American Indian passing as a Chicano) named Arturo, and a tall, spaced-out white guy who spent all day in the lobby going through Kung Fu moves. And of course the gang members.

The leader of the gang was named Cowboy. His girlfriend was a tall black girl. One day she says to me that from now on no visitors are permitted after 10 P.M. A few days later two friends of mine, a married couple from the Valley, picked me up to go out drinking. They brought me back about 11:30 PM, and my friend’s wife had to use the bathroom. We started walking in and Cowboy’s girlfriend stopped us in the lobby. She told my friend’s wife no visitors were allowed in after 10 PM. My friend’s wife explained she just had to use the bathroom and kept walking down the hall. Cowboy’s girlfriend grabbed her and stopped her. When I saw this I smacked the girl. (Where was her husband? He had more sense than me!) After I smacked her the entire gang charged me, pushed me against the staircase, and started pummeling me with fists and bicycle chains. Almost immediately Arturo jumped in between me and the gang and shielded me with his back toward the gang. (Arturo and I had become good friends. He was an active revolutionary—Mecha, the Brown Berets—and I was ‘citizen’, that is, I had a part- time job and was a student at LACC. But we enjoyed arguing all night about “the coming revolution.”)

Anyway, when Arturo jumped in the gang stopped its attack. Apparently, they did not want to injure Arturo. After they stopped, Cowboy comes up to me and says “You ain’t cool.” I said nothing. Then he said, “We have to finish this, you and me, with shotguns!.” I said to him, “Give me time to think about this.” He said okay, that he will see me tomorrow night.

The next day I went to work as usual, and after work went to my LACC class. I was all set to face him after class even if it meant I’d be killed, because in those days I would not just flat out back down from anyone. But when I got to campus my Valley friend said to me “Bob, did you hear the news?” I said, “No, what news?” and he said that he heard on the radio that a gang member named Angel was shot to death on the steps of the Barkeley House and that the gang scattered after that happened.

When I got back to the Barkelely House after class the place was deserted, except for the spaced out guy going through Kung Fu moves in the lobby. And me: I packed my army duffel bag and “hatted up.”

Strange things do happen, sometimes, in the streets.

Best wishes,

Bob L.

From: Buddy Love
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: “the imaginings of white people as it relates to race”

Message: As a suburban white boy in the 1980's I had parents who could afford to send me to private schools. All of the black kids I knew growing up were children of doctors, lawyers, even a few famous entertainers. We got along just fine, and I respected them as my peers. When I got kicked out of my second private school I went to a public school that was 25% deseg kids who clearly didn’t want to be there.

My second day there a girl (not named Corn Pop) threatened to stab me with an ice pick because I bumped into her in the hallway. Fuck you asshole. Ghetto kids are ghetto kids. I laugh when ghetto kids killed.

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Dear Buddy and Robert,

Words cannot express the joy that fills my soul when I get an email including a story about a white person’s brush with blackness. Not only does it give me insight into how white people see black people, but I also get to learn important truths imparted by cocksure white people whose vainglorious tales of black proximity impart some very valuable life lessons.

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Goddamn, am I lucky!

Now, I would also like to tell you a story about white people that happened to me.

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One night, I was standing in the lobby of a posh hotel with a group of friends after a poetry show. The hotel had a bar in the lobby and people wandered around while four or five of us stood there chatting. We weren’t loud. We were very respectful because the hotel had allowed my mentee, who had already left, to put on this fundraiser free of charge. Everyone in the group was black—including a black journalist, a guy who had just graduated college and a woman who was training with a group of actual Black Panthers.

This will seem like an embellishment but as we discussed my issue with the term “microaggression” (I don’t like it because I believe white people are more self-aware than they pretend to be), a guy who was obviously inebriated came to the bar with two other women. The only thing about him that I remember was that he was a dentist, he wearing flip-flops and that his name was Chett because he introduced himself as “Chett with two Ts.”

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Even though we were nowhere near the bar, Chett stumbled into our conversation and asked what we were talking about. We all looked at each other wondering why this gin-breathed man was invading our space. In a matter of seconds, we learned Chett’s entire life story and the two women with him were obviously embarrassed. But when they tried to drag him back to the bar, Chett snatched his arm away from his companions, turned to us and yelled:

“I’m gon’ buy yall a shot! What y’all drinking?”

No one said anything, hoping Chett would just go about his merry white way.

“I bet I know what y’all drinking,” screamed Chett. “Bartender, get me six shots of Hennessy!”

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We could have told Chett With Two Ts to kick rocks and caused a disturbance that probably would have gotten us kicked out. We could have just asked 2-T’s drunk ass to leave us alone. We could have ignored him totally. But you know what we did?

We drank that Hennessy.

After I left the bar, I stopped to buy some chicken from this late-night diner. It was so crowded that I had to park down the street. While walking the half-block toward the restaurant, I saw a white guy get out of his car with another woman. As he exited his vehicle, he dropped his wallet on the ground. I said “excuse me” at a volume loud enough where I thought he’d hear me, but he just kept walking with the woman. I could see him pull something out of his pocket so I thought: “Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps this is someone else’s wallet.” But just in case, I yelled again.

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“Aye bruh!” I said, again, to no response.

Now this place wasn’t in a dangerous neighborhood. It was quite literally in the middle of a college campus. So as I passed his car, I scooped up the wallet and lightly jogged toward the couple, catching up with them right in front of the restaurant. When I yelled again, I realized that he heard me the whole time because as I held out my arm with his wallet, he finally turned around...

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...And showed me the gun in his hand.

So, you know what I did?

I handed him his wallet and ordered my chicken.

The journalist with me earlier that evening eventually moved to Pittsburgh. I recently saw her at the National Association of Black Journalists’ conference. The other woman took a job as a teacher in Houston, but we run into each other sometimes. I see the recent college graduate occasionally because he is friends with the guy I mentored.

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In all the times we’ve seen each other since that evening, none of them have ever mentioned Chett With Two Ts. I’ve also never told them about the guy who pulled a gun on me. It was not the first time I’ve had a firearm drawn on me by a scared white person, nor was it even the first time a white person assumed I drink Henny. (I’m more of a Maker’s 46 man.) In fact, that night never crossed my mind until I started writing this.

But now that I think about it, let me tell you what that evening taught me about microaggressions, privilege, racism the subtle fear of blackness:

Nothing.

They were just some white people I met.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

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