The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Lotion Is the Cure for Racism

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Lotion Is the Cure for Racism
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (FMG)

As I was digging through this week’s selection of emails, tweets, direct messages and comments trying to figure out why everyone is so angry, Deputy Managing Editor Yesha Callahan contacted me to harass me about an intro.


I don’t know how we got there, but our conversation somehow landed on Star Wars, specifically how Donald Glover shouldn’t have been cast as Lando Calrissian because, unlike Billy Dee Williams, Glover isn’t considered to be attractive by most women.

We were trying to figure out if it was because of Childish Gambino’s lack of a shape-up or the fact that his skin just looked less moisturized than Billy Dee’s when we stumbled across the origin of all racism:


That’s right. I think lotion might be the cure to racism. Although it might sound stupid at first, I think this week’s mailbag correspondence will explain it all.

These first two emails concern an article giving white people advice on steps they could take before calling the police. Of all the things that bothered them, two specific sentences caused the most white tears:

If you looked at all crime, in any given year, white people commit the vast majority of crime. According to the FBI’s 2015 Uniform Crime Report (the latest available), white people committed twice as many rapes, assaults, burglaries, and almost every other crime that the FBI tracks. If you are worried about crime, it is far more likely that the perpetrator prefers hollandaise to hot sauce.

From: Derp Derpington
To: The Root
Subject: Harriott* you racist pussy nigger

I love how you mentioned (finally) that niggers are the most murderous group in this country by glossing over the fact only to go seque into “but whites commit the vast majority(69%) of other serious” crimes.....whites make up 70+% of the population in this country and thus you would expect a similar ate of crime.

Niggers, on the other hand, niggers only make up 11-13% of the population, but commit nearly 40% of the total homicides in this country which is VASTLY out of proportion for percentage of niggers in the total population in this country. Further, niggers kill more whites than blacks, more kids, more everyone, because niggers killed 1,000+ more people than any other race in this country.

Fucking murderous coward niggers can’t take responsibility for their own actions.

From: ASkinnyBlondeNamedSara
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Why white people call the police

Mr Harriot I knowyou think you’re funny by pointing out when white people or as you call them whypio call the police on black people but have you ever thought about this? Maybe black people should call the police more.

You point to FBI statistics to prove that white people commit more crime, but what you didn’t say is that a far greater percentage of black people are criminals. Your own statistics prove it.

One of the reasons black communities are so crime-riding is that you don’t call the police on your own kind. Until you realize that crime knows no color, you will continue to live in poverty and crime. If I see something, I’m going to say something. That’s probably why my neighborhood is safer than yours.


Dear Derp and Sara:

I want to warn you that this response will contain logic and math. But please stick with me. Let’s look at the data using the numbers from the FBI and the U.S. census:

Of the 248.4 million white people in the U.S., 5.7 million were arrested for a crime in 2015. This means that 2.29 percent of whites were “criminals” that year and roughly 98 percent of whites were not.


Of the 43.5 million black people in the U.S., 2.1 million were arrested in 2015, meaning that 4.08 percent of blacks were criminals in 2015. This means that 96 percent of blacks were not criminals that year. The numbers vary from year to year but remain pretty consistent.

So, yes, you are correct, black people commit crime at almost twice the rate of white people. But this also means that in any given year (in this case, 2015), 98 percent of white people and 96 percent of black people were not arrested for a crime.


Aside from what you guys do to potato salad, no one would ever think that you guys were criminals. The statistics say that 96 percent of black people you run across in any given day have not committed a crime in at least a year. Not only is it statistically unlikely that any black person you meet is a criminal, but in any city, state or neighborhood in America, you are almost three times as likely to run into a white criminal than you are a black criminal (5.7 to 2.1).

While both are statistically rare, there are more white criminals.

Given the math, bringing up crime when you talk to black people is inherently racist. There can be no other explanation for this. It is not based on any sort of fact. There is only one reason that anyone would paint black people in such a negative light. There is only one reason that white people would call the police on black people at such an alarming rate:

I think white people need lotion.

If white people had more black friends, they would understand that black people aren’t always planning a nefarious criminal activity. If they got to know black people, white people would understand that one of the reasons white people are so angry is that they don’t moisturize.


Perhaps this is why cops have such itchy trigger fingers. Maybe Caucasians think they are allergic to black people because their skin is so dry. One of the reasons white people call the cops so often is that they can’t see their own hateful ashiness. The only difference between us is the melanin in our skin.

I’m still working out the details, but I believe that lotion is the key.

One of the most surprising collections of hate received this week was in regards to the article on Rep. Maxine Waters. Apparently, the whites hate Auntie Maxine.


From John De Mas
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Auntie Maxine and Whitey McWhiteman

You poor disenfranchised, self-victimized negroe ............get a life .

From: @redwine_jan
To: Michael Harriot

Because of blacks like You racism will never end. Keep using the Race Card when you don’t get your way about something. Yell discrimination or profiling because you were stopped by a white officer for Speeding or some other offense but all you see is white! You never hear us complaining about Blackie even though everything nowadays is in black people’s favor yet you all are still never satisfied. If blacks would Obey the laws and not fight the police they would not be killed! Whites too that fight the police deserve it if they fight back and not Obey Authority!! All you black people see is Whitey trying to discriminate when in reality you all have used this Race Card for So Long now to where it is causing even more hatred between races! Enough already! We are not privileged as you all try and make black believe. The only privileged people are the Wealthy people black & white. I grew up poor because my dad died with a brain tumor at the age of e4. My mom had to go to work & raise 4 girls alone!! It was hard. I know a lot if whites that are like me. None of us Priviledged in any way!! Just because you are white does not make you privileged! That’s all bullshit!!! Stop making matters worse ! Maxine is a psycho a rather Rich Priviledged psycho & most people black & white know it. You keep fueling the flames of hatred. Racism has been gone for years its you & others like you that keep it alive!!! Sicko.


OK, guys:

I am often accused of furthering racism because I talk about it so much. Because I honestly would like to find the answer, I decided to do some research.


In 1846, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was working in a maternity ward in Vienna. No one could figure out why so many women and children were dying from puerperal fever—commonly known as childbed fever.


Semmelweis believed that the people at the hospital were spreading the infection by not washing their hands. He argued that, even though the doctors couldn’t see that they were spreading the sickness, they were. He began pointing out the problem by suggesting that doctors wash their hands with a chlorine solution because they were infecting the patients.

Semmelweis did this by publicly berating the doctors, offending many of them. Most of the doctors were upset at Semmelweis’ insistence that they were spreading disease, but a few of them tried his solution, and—guess what? It worked!


But the vast majority of the doctors thought that he was a quack in accusing them of infecting others. Semmelweis was insinuating that the people in charge were a part of the problem, which offended them. They fired Semmelweis because, after all, if they thought their hands were clean, how could they be infecting others?

He eventually died in a mental asylum.

As with racism, the doctors whom Semmelweis called out ignored the problem because they felt that by pointing it out, he was accusing doctors of spreading the disease. After Semmelweis was silenced, they stopped washing their hands and the disease increased.


The same thing happened with smallpox. People thought it was stupid to treat everyone with the vaccine because—according to their logic—not everyone was infected with the virus. How could germs exist if they couldn’t see them? The same thing happened with the polio vaccine. Why should everyone take the medicine if not everyone was infected? Their solution was quarantine. Their solution was ignoring the people who were infected.

This has never worked.

Racism is a disease like polio, smallpox and childbed fever. The only way to eliminate it is to make everyone fight it. We all need to wash our hands and inoculate ourselves. Even though we may think we aren’t infected, we are.


If black people stopped talking about racism, it wouldn’t disappear. It would spread. People aren’t joining white supremacist movements and voting for Donald Trump because they heard about racism. In the case of Auntie Maxine, lenders weren’t giving blacks and Hispanics higher interest rates because she pointed out racism in a House subcommittee meeting. Most people are sick with racism because they have been infected by someone else—even if they don’t want to acknowledge it.

So call me crazy. Call Maxine Waters a race-baiter. Call black people the real racists. It doesn’t bother me a bit. But at least you should try washing your hands.


Because you are sick.

Our last letter is from a well-intentioned person who direct-messaged me on Twitter:

From: Kelly
To: Michael Harriot

Hello Sir, I am a Wypipo and I have a couple of questions.

Sorry I hit enter not space, I guess I only have one question? Can I be a wypipo and not be racist? I always went with the I don’t see color bit but you pointed out the stupidity in that argument. As teacher, I my expectations are the same for all my students but I try keep their ethnic and social background in mind and be respectful of their thoughts and feelings whether I agree with them or not.


Hello, Kelly:

Allow me to explain wypipo by using an analogy that might offend you.

White people are snakes.

Not all snakes are poisonous, but all rattlesnakes are. While most people think that big rattlesnakes are the problem, that is not true, because adult rattlesnakes sometimes bite things without releasing venom. Herpetologists call this a “dry bite.”


But the most dangerous snake is a baby rattlesnake because it doesn’t know how to bite things without releasing venom. In fact, a baby rattlesnake will release all of its venom every time it bites something, even if it does not intend to poison the thing it bites.

There are white people who are so racist that they join hate groups, intentionally discriminate against minorities and yell at immigrants in grocery stores. Most black people avoid these kinds of racists, but they are not the most dangerous.


Wypipo are baby rattlesnakes.

Wypipo inject their venomous racism into everything, even when they think they aren’t. Most people see wypipo and think they are harmless, or at least less harmless than the rattlesnakes who wear “Make America Great Again” hats or swastikas. We often think the big, bad rattlesnakes are the ones we should fear, but we know who they are. We can hear their rattle as they approach. They are big enough for us to see.


Here are some actual quotes from wypipo who wrote to the mailbag trying to convince me that they are not rattlesnakes. Most of them have never been presented in the mailbag because their letters are too rambling or too crazy:

  • “My mother’s sister married a black man. Chester. Awesome uncle, my favorite uncle. He was a huge influence in molding me into who I am. I love him very much.”
  • “You’d be hard pressed to find a 42 year old white man that dances like MJ better than me. :)”
  • “I was walking across the street and some driver, fresh from a BLM riot, ran a stop sign and nearly ran me down. ‘Honky White motherfucker,’ he automatically screamed. Racism knows no color.”
  • “Did something happen to you too instil the deep unliking of white people? I may look white but both of my children are biracial and my daughter looks more black we go through many discussions about things and although I will never be able to fully identify and relate to many issues there are many that I do. I’m the person that lives everyone and I’m kind always even when people are unkind to me. I will give everything when receiving nothing. It’s how things have been my entire life. I understand stand racism and see it in many ways besides ethnicity.”
  • “It’s ok for you to write things with all these derogatory stereotypes but if I write about anything like that I would be called bad words. I do enjoy reading your articles I’m just curious.”

Kelly, I think you are wrong. I think you might not be “a wypipo.” There is a difference between someone who genuinely tries to seek understanding and someone who seeks to prove only that they are not trying to poison you.

Fear the baby rattlesnakes, Kelly.

Not all snakes.

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



You know who I blame for Polio? Jonas Salk. He was always talking about polio, and working on a vaccine for polio. Just always bringing up polio. He obsessed about polio the way Jan obsessed about Marcia. If he had just ignored the polio it would have gone away. In fact, I think he was guilty of reverse polio, which is worse than regular polio, by like, a lot. And what about other diseases? I think he was a bigot against other diseases.

Jonas Salk was the worst. He was the Michael Harriot of medicine.