The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Lions, Tigers and Wypipo, Oh My!

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Lions, Tigers and Wypipo, Oh My!
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (GMG)

It’s 4/20, so today’s collection of tweets, direct messages, emails and comments is dedicated to all the people who ...


Dammit, I forgot what I was about to write.

Anyway, for some reason, I feel positive today. It’s probably because so many of you reached out to discuss the topics that unite us all, like music, language and—most of all—white people.

So enjoy today’s mailbag and celebrate 4/20 with someone who doesn’t look like you. Let’s use this day to come together and recognize that we’re more alike than you think. Despite our differences, we all ultimately want the same thing:


The first set of comments are from white readers of The Root who truly want us to know how much they have in common with the black experience.

After reading about me getting confronted in a hotel lobby for standing while black, one reader explained how she related to my struggle:

From: AudreyDidWhat
To: Michael Harriot

Ok first I have to admit I am a white woman, but I think I have had similar experience to yours. I was attending a conference for a male dominated field and everyone kept assuming I was part of the promotional team that was running the conference as opposed to a conference attendee. I am somewhat young looking and have been told I look like someone who should present things on TV, so that kind of explains it, but it was so frustrating!


Another reader was saddened by the comments on Damon Young’s piece about not trusting white people in black spaces:

From: Disturber
To: The Root

I am a “white guy”, 75 years old, living in Calif. I grew up in Jersey. Went to a high school where perhaps 20% of the students were Black. There wasn’t much interracial dating, but we played sports together, went to school dances together, went to parties together. I often had lunch at the homes of my Black friends and vice versa. My class, class of 1960 has had frequent reunions. I always go back and when my Black friends from then and I meet, there are hugs and smiles and reminisces. Most, but not certainly all of the Black students in my class ultimately continued their educations and went on to be professionals of various sorts. It wasn’t pure and there were surely racial tensions of various sorts. But the larger picture was that most of us got along.

I am still working - I am an attorney and former judge. From time to time my work takes me into Black areas of Oakland or in the surrounding cities. I feel the stares and the unspoken question of what in the hell I am doing there. On a few occasions, I have been confronted and have been able to keep it calm as I am not a threat to anybody.

It pains me to read this article and the comments. Yes, I live in what is mostly a white world, but I can’t remember the last time that I heard anything like the hostility that I read here. I interact professionally and socially with Black lawyers and Black Judges all the time and racial issues don’t seem to arise in that context. But if what I am reading here is how things are perceived, they have gotten a whole lot worse since I was growing up. But let me say this. In my very large circle of friends, white and Black, I have not been exposed to the anger expressed here. Perhaps, instead of suspicion and preconceived notions about every white person and every Black person, we each reached out a little bit and tried to build bridges, perhaps things would have a chance of getting better. They sure need to get better. I have lived my whole life that way.


One more, but I don’t know which article this referred to:

From: Michael G.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: White people/Black people/ALL people

I am a big fan of yours who grew up in the projects with mostly black people. My mom was a teacher at a black elementary school. My dad wan’t in my life. Most of my friends growing up sold crack. I’m not telling you this for street cred, bc I already have it.

I went to school and got my degree in music production. Last year I put out a album of rock and hip hop mostly about my life growing up and some of my friends were featured on it. But I caugt backlash because I named the CD The Black Experience.

Most of the people who buy my music are white and alot of my fans are. When I do shows, none of my black friends come. This caused me to start questioning myself. Because I grew up in the black community, I am able to see many of the faults. Alot of my friends want to depend on the government instead of helping themselves. They rob steal and commit petty crimes and violence against their own kind. Then they get locked up and blame it on whites

I want to explain this to them and you because as a person who lived amongst them I am able to relate. Not all white people are lile you think, but I think you should know that everyone needs to do better. If I say this, its not racist. I’m just calling it like I see it.


Dear Disturber, Mike and AudreyDidWhat,

First, I’d like to thank you all for going undercover to infiltrate the black community. I often wonder why white people only identify with the worst stereotypes about blackness, because your analogies are reminiscent of Dian Fossey recounting how she spent time with the mountain gorillas in Africa.


While your explanations for how you relate to black people are touching, you all indirectly pointed out one unmistakably important fact: Your Negro-immersive safaris were all temporary.

You still get to be white.

It is easy to objectively look at the situations once you have gained a sufficient distance from blackness, and while it may lead to empathy, it doesn’t give you understanding. What you perceive to be anti-white sentiment is not hate. It is self-preservation.


Here are two analogies that might help you understand.

In 2003, during a live performance, a 380-pound white tiger named Mantecore attacked magician Roy Horn, half of the famous duo of illusionists Siegfried and Roy. Mantecore was usually kept in a cage with his sister and brother and was never let out without a leash.


Roy and his team of animal trainers made sure the tigers were fed every day. They were never treated badly. They didn’t have to hunt for food. After the tiger attack, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted an investigation that lasted two years, but it could never determine the cause of the attack.

I recently read another story about the mysterious deaths of captive gorillas. For years, primatologists couldn’t understand why gorillas in captivity had such a short lifespan. They adjusted the gorillas’ diet and cared for the animals diligently, but gorillas in captivity still suffer from heart disease. Doctors can’t anesthetize the primates to perform an ultrasound on gorillas’ hearts because of the danger of anesthesia. Experts now think the problem may reside in the balance of the bacteria in the animals’ guts, but they don’t have definitive answers.


I do.

You cannot possibly understand what it is like to live in a cage built by hands that are not your own, knowing that you will never escape. Even if you are properly fed, it will poison your heart. Even when you are allowed to live with your own kind, you will still be angry at the people who keep you on the leash.


In America, black skin is a cage. You might think you understand what it’s like because you were once inside the cell, but you have never been truly held captive. You never had a life sentence.

Although I wouldn’t want to be white for a second, I would never presume that my proximity to whiteness gives me any insight. My time in schools with white students doesn’t make me want a neck strap for my sunglasses. I live in a mostly white neighborhood, but I still can’t understand the Caucasian titty obsession.


Blackness is a beautifully wonderful thing I wouldn’t trade for all the gold in the world. But it is you that has turned it into something that squeezes our hearts like a vice or makes us contemplate gnawing at the necks of the people who hold the keys.

Roy was mauled for the same reason Disturbed feels like he’s being attacked by Damon’s words. Gorilla hearts give out for the same reason that Mike G’s neighbors rob, steal and commit petty crimes. There is no mystery why some of us are sometimes angry and a few of us are prone to self-destruction. Although we are not the same, tigers, gorillas and black people are similar in one important aspect:

We all want to be free.

Sometimes the backlash surprises us, as was the case with Monique Judge’s article on Taylor Swift’s rendition of “September” and my article on songs white people should never cover.


From: Grand Wizard
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Taylor Swift

Don’t be dissin’ Taylor swift, Mr. Nigger! She can sing ANY song better than a filthy nigress or nigger boy!


Dear Random White People,

Although Monique’s article and my tweet didn’t mention anything about Taylor Swift’s whiteness, I would like to explain why Swift’s song was terrible.


Imagine if a group of people did something so extraordinary that it was respected for years. Instead of a song, let’s say it was something else, like ... oh ... let’s just say it was a position, like president of the United States, perhaps.

Then, one day, along came an entitled little white person with very little ability and range who shitted all over the song presidency of the United States. But the shitty little twerp didn’t realize it was terrible because they had a small group of fans who loved the singer commander in chief.


Now, the president might believe his performance is one of the greatest of all time, as do his fans, but many of us are in shock at how terrible the new rendition administration is compared with the old one. I guess what I’m trying to say, as it relates to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” is ...

Taylor Swift is the Donald Trump of music.

From: Jason
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: You’re a idiot

Thanks for more proof that things will never get better when it comes to the problems we still have with racism.. not “wypipo’s” fault that people look down on black people. All you can do is whine about how black people are treated but how about paying a little attention to how you act. Just keep holding out your hands and expect your entitlements as see where it gets you. Black is the most disrespectful and violent race that’s why things are the way they are. I wish things were different but with attitudes like yours it’ll never change. I read your article about songs white people shouldn’t cover and you made my blood boil with your use of Becky and wyppio. Why can’t you just talk normal instead of making up your own language? Thanks “my nigga”

From: Makini
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Wypipo not “Caucasian” please


Huge Fan. I look forward to reading everything you write and then, as a form of secret reparations,sending your writings to all the wypipo I know.

However, I am reaching out because I feel the need to ask you why you use the word “caucasian” to describe white people. There are so many other things to call them; you, yourself have created far more interesting, less oppressive (to black ppl), terms to refer to them. Are you using “caucasian” ironically? As a joke? I cringe every time someone uses that word. It feels like people use that word when they are trying to be politically correct and think that saying “white people” is offensive. That cannot possibly be true for you.

I try to correct people who use that word and remind them that the creator of that term, Johann Blumenbach, literally created the word to categorize that group as superior to the negroids, mongoloids and red people. Every time I hear that word it reminds me of this fact. When I hear white people say it, I low-key assume they are racist. When I hear black people say it, I feel like it’s a form of self hatred. It’s hard for me to unlearn that Blumenbach was an awful man. I know this seems like a trivial fight, but I feel that by using the word “caucasian” we are giving credence to Blumenbach’s BS - and white supremacy generally.

Anyway, you may know all of this already and have your reasons. I am just curious about those reasons. I hope this message finds you well and I hope you find time to answer my question.


Dear Jason and Makini,

I’m sorry I use words that upset the both of you, but it shows how much we are all alike. As you are united in dislike for the words I use to refer to white people, I am going to crowdsource a new list of synonyms for the whites.


I came up with a few, but please feel free to add your own in the comments section:

  • Mayo sapiens (every time I use that one, I feel like a fraud because it is not my own)
  • People of no color
  • Person of colonizing descent
  • Flag fuckers
  • Potato-salad terrorists
  • Taupe
  • Bootstrap pullers
  • Trumplestiltskins
  • Roseanne Barrbarians
  • The weakskin
  • Unmelaninnites
  • Speak-to-your-managerials
  • White Walkers
  • FoxNewsians

Please let me know which ones you approve of.

As usual, we end on a positive note to wash the Taylor Swift flavor out of your mouth (which I imagine tastes like mayonnaise, bedazzled jeans from Forever 21 and banjo music):

To: The Root

Dear writers, editors, publishers, and all staff at The ROOT:
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wonderful, high-quality work! I finally have a news publication that I trust completely and has consistent news, op-eds, and all around BLACK WONDERFULNESS IN WORDS, with the backing of media like fact-checking and talent! This is all that a nerdy Black woman media consumer, like myself, could only dream of, quality Black media, becoming a reality. I thought Roland Martin and Tavis Smiley shows were the best in Black media we would ever get. I WAS WRONG AND I AM SO HAPPY ABOUT IT!The Root! The Root! The Root! Thank you, for being the media, I dreamed could exist in America! I love, love, love what you do and am so proud that I am able to have this media experience. You make me want to be a better writer, a better journalist, and just so damn proud to see Black excellence in media, especially print.
I am so very proud of all of you!
sincerely, with black love and (grease on my hands from eating chicken while I type)

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



Most of my friends growing up sold crack. I’m not telling you this for street cred, bc I already have it.

Ok, but seriously, this shit write here:

Most of the people who buy my music are white and alot of my fans are. When I do shows, none of my black friends come. This caused me to start questioning myself. Because I grew up in the black community, I am able to see many of the faults. Alot of my friends want to depend on the government instead of helping themselves. They rob steal and commit petty crimes and violence against their own kind. Then they get locked up and blame it on whites

This is why it’s hard to trust white people that invade black spaces. This asshole co-opts Hip Hop music, has the nerve to name his CD The Black Experience and then goes on to spew this alt-right nonsense. The reason your black “friends” are not coming to your show is because they can sense you’re nothing more than a vampire that wants to suck the culture out of a people you so clearly detest. Fuck you, Michael G.

And a white rant would not be complete without the icing on the cake...

If I say this, its not racist. I’m just calling it like I see it.