Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Major League Clapback

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

Each Friday, we wade through our emails, tweets, comments and DMs to respond to readers who are searching for feedback, validation or someone at whom they can scream the n-word without being slapped like they stole something.

But not this week.

When the pair of articles about Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out last week, there was a ton of responses from people who discovered our little website. Even though the messages are still coming in, we addressed those people in last week’s mailbag.


But there were also a handful of prominent writers in major publications who decided to pen thinkpieces explaining why I was so wrong. So, this week, instead of dragging the amateur racists, we wanted to focus our attention on the professionals.

Just for today, we won’t be digging through the mailbag. But don’t worry...

There will be clapback.

First up to bat was Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro, who is NOT a white supremacist, even though everyone who is not white seems to think he is. Here’s an excerpt from not-racist Ben:

The black dropout rate from high school is far higher than that of white students, which has nothing to do with underfunded schools. Black students, by best available data, misbehave in school more often than white students. Black students drop out of college far more often than white students, which has nothing to do with institutional discrimination. Adjusting for household income, black women actually overperform white women in terms of college attendance and income. Something else is going on.

What is going on? According to a 2018 study from researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, young black men do best in areas with high levels of fatherhood. Lack of school mobility, largely due to entrenched interests preventing such mobility, doesn’t help either. Harvard’s Roland Fryer formalized “a particular peer effect, ‘acting white,’ which potentially contributes to the ongoing puzzle of black underachievement.”

Former President Barack Obama similarly suggested an “element of truth” in the accusation that education is undervalued in many black homes, lamenting the attitude “OK, if boys are reading too much, then, well, why are you doing that? Or why are you speaking so properly?” A study from the Brookings Institution found that black students spend less time on homework than other racial groups — by a long shot.


Ben is one of those people who loves to prove he’s smart by citing statistics—but only when they prove he’s right. But I like data, too. So, I pulled up the study to see what Ben was talking about.

Wait...I must have the wrong study.

The one I found was conducted by researchers from Harvard, Stanford and the Census Bureau. It was from 2018. It is even listed under the section titled “Racial Disparities.” I wonder why Shapiro didn’t link to it? Maybe it was because the paper, titled “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States,” proves exactly what I was saying.


Ben is right. The study does conclude that black students do better in places where the fatherhood rate is high...But only better than black boys with one parent. The entire point of the research shows that a black child with two rich black parents raised in the best neighborhoods in America still doesn’t do as well as poor white students. In fact, when the New York Times wrote about the groundbreaking research, they pointed out this exact point:

One reason income gaps between whites and blacks appear so large at the household level is that black men and women are less likely to be married. That means their households are more likely to have a single income — not two. For this reason and others, many point to differences in family structure as a primary driver of racial income inequality. If black children don’t have married parents, the argument goes, they’re more likely to grow up with fewer resources and less adult attention at home.

This study found, however, that broad income disparities still exist between black and white men even when they’re raised in homes with the same incomes and the same family structure.


The same holds true for the Brookings Institute’s homework study Shapiro cited (but again, didn’t link). The researchers noted the gap in time spent doing homework but said it might be due to the fact that white children get to attend schools that offer more rigorous coursework, and teachers often expect less of non-white students.

“In conclusion,” read the last paragraph of the report. “[T]hese analyses of time use revealed a substantial gap in homework by race and by income group that could not be entirely explained by work, taking care of others, or parental education. Additionally, differences in educational achievement, especially as measured on standardized tests, have been well-documented by race and by income. These gaps deserve our attention, but we should be wary of blaming disadvantaged groups.


Here is why this is important:

People think Ben Shapiro is smart because he cherry-picks facts that low-information conservatives swallow like racist jelly beans. But they’re dumb, too. He’s speaking to the people who benefit from these disproportionately skewed policies. He can’t dismantle the notion that they achieved their success through hard work, good parenting and intelligence because they don’t want to confront the privilege that whiteness affords them. They’d rather live under the delusion of the insidious fairy tale that their morals and work ethics are superior to the lowly negro than face the truth that America’s playing field is tilted toward whiteness.


And that is why Ben Shapiro is a white supremacist.

Armstrong Williams criticized the piece for its “wokeness” that allows politicians to keep black people on the Democratic plantations...yadda yadda yadda...You know the argument.


Sadly, this type of showy symbolism is what blacks have come to expect from the Democratic Party. It is what allows liberals to run away with the black vote, time and time again, with nothing to show for it. And this political naivete is what has kept blacks from being taken seriously by either party. In terms of wielding party politics, blacks are punching way below their numerical weight, all the while posing and signifying a fashionable “wokeness” bereft of real perception or effective strategy...

Would Harriot’s achievements have been so remarkable in an environment in which successful role models proliferated? Again, he answers his own lack of introspection...

That someone so “woke” could be so oblivious to the truth in Buttigieg’s statement says more about the political posturing around race than it does about the undeniable harms of racism. Wokeness produces a righteous indignation that can definitely win a Twitter beef. But it does not seem to provoke even the occasional spate of introspection, balance, nuance or even deeper critical analysis that could help blacks win at the voting booth.


Damn. I’m kind of disappointed.

I was hoping that Armstrong Williams would have made a slightly more intellectual, nuanced argument. Instead, he relied on the same cockamamie premise employed by low-wattage negro water-carriers like Candace Owens and Kanye West, namely that the Democratic Party keeps black people in line through performative liberal enlightenment instead of giving us birdbrained moon crickets a concentrated dose of conservative truth.


You know the truth I’m talking about: It tells black people to work hard, pull up their pants, quit playing the victim and stop asking for handouts (unless—of course—you’re a major corporation. Then, it’s OK.) It has a terrible barber and it doesn’t own a flatiron. But here’s the most surprising thing about this pound cake-flavored bullshit:

Black people invented it.

Is there anyone in the black community who hasn’t heard these same sentiments spouted over Baptist pulpits, preached by belligerent Hotepians or offered as grandfatherly advice by every black person over the age of 65? Hard work and self-sufficiency is the only reason black people have survived in America. But like everything else, white people have colonized that, too, and claimed it for themselves.


This is the subtle self-hate adopted by Armstrong Williams, Ben Carson and most self-hating black conservatives. They aren’t saying anything new. They’re simply wielding the rhetorical weaponry of white supremacy as a bludgeon to beat their own people into submission. But I know why they do it:

They think white people are better.

Their ultimate goal is not to uplift black people, but to protect their position on massa’s plantation. They really believe white people are smarter, more ethical and more industrious than us lowly field niggers who call out racism, inequality and “lying motherfuckers.” They are so deluded by whiteness that they can’t fathom why someone would want to burn down the plantation.


Four out of five African-American voters affiliate themselves with the Democratic Party. But black Republicans are willing to believe that 84 percent of black voters are wrong because, according to Williams, Yeezy and Candace Owens’ peasy edges, only white people can truly know what’s best for us. That’s some self-hating, internalized racism right there.

Unlike Ben Shapiro, Williams isn’t a white supremacist. Despite his animosity for “playing the fool,” in this case, he is the true victim because he has been victimized by his adoration for whiteness. However, I truly understand where he is coming from. The only people in America who have ever enjoyed true freedom are white men. And, like all of us, Armstrong Williams wants to be free.


But, Armstrong Williams doesn’t want to burn down the plantation.

He wants to hold the whip.

Finally, like Armstrong Williams, the Atlantic’s John McWhorter cast the article as an “attack” of “wokeness”:

Civil-rights leaders of the recent past would be baffled by the pique here, as, I’m sure, would Americans who don’t spend most of their waking hours on social media. It’s been widely noted of late that “woke” white people are “woker” than most black people. It is also true that “woke” black people in academia and media are “woker” than a great many black people who don’t have the privilege of a byline. Harriot is assuming that Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors.

Harriot and those who agree with him are reading Buttigieg as having simply preached that black people don’t care about school. But sheer psychological plausibility rules out that this is what he meant. Let’s suppose that for some reason, this is what thoughtful, Millennial Buttigieg, who at the time was running for mayor of a town with a large black population, actually believed. Let’s just suppose that. But: Would a sober, ambitious figure like Buttigieg sit in public casually assailing black America as too lazy, stupid, or unfocused to present role models to its kids?

Buttigieg was speaking out of informed sympathy, as anyone familiar with American sociopolitical discussion should have noticed. Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained. We must heed our inner blip of confusion instead of suspending logic when we grapple with race issues.


John McWhorter’s take is similar to a lot of the hate mail I’ve received for disparaging Pete Buttigieg. Contrary to their contentions, there is not a single sentence in the article that insinuates that Buttigieg was “casually assailing black America as too lazy, stupid, or unfocused to present role models to its kids.”

My entire point was that Buttigieg was the lazy one. He may have been speaking out of “sympathy” but it was not, as McWhorter claims, “informed.” Instead of addressing the complexity and the true causes of educational disparities, he fell into the trap of perpetuating an unfounded social narrative. And, as I explained, the failure to confront those issues is what leads to the widespread belief—easily disproven by numerous studies—that the education gap is a problem that black communities can fix without asking white people to grapple with the role they play in institutional racism


Unlike those random letter-writers, McWhorter is literally a professor of linguistics at one of the most prestigious journalism schools in America. He knows his argument was bullshit. Still, it was not offensive.

Furthermore, my problem with McWhorter’s big-worded manipulation of facts has nothing to do with his assertion that “Buttigieg’s transgression seems to have been that he did not mention all of the reasons black kids have trouble accessing education in underserved neighborhoods.” The idea that Buttigieg’s failure to mention structural racism isn’t worthy of criticism is, at best, symptomatic of black people’s unceasing willingness to absolve white people’s well-intentioned amnesia when it comes to race in America.


But that was cool, too.

It was McWhorter’s (and many others’) insistence on civility and decorum, painting any insolence as performative rage that is “based on a kabuki version of race relations, all about striking poses.” According to McWhorter, “It’s one thing to observe that someone’s analysis is incomplete. It’s another to read that incompleteness as a kind of willful denial, sit in fury, and tar someone as a lying MF guilty of negligent homicide.”


Now, what I’m about to say may seem like a pejorative, written out of righteous indignation or anger, but it is not. I have meditated on this next sentence and I mean it from the bottom of my radical, belligerently beating heart.

Fuck John McWhorter.

I realize that he has a valid perspective. Even if McWhorter didn’t spend his spare time arguing that anti-racism is as bad as racism, and “black attitudes” are a bigger obstacle to black America than racism, his All Livers Matter haircut alone informs me that he is one of those people who believe that there is no place for provocation or profanity in any substantive discussion. I am not one of them. Fuck being civil in a place that has never shown an ounce of civility toward us. But McWhorter would have you believe that calling someone a “motherfucker” is worse than the actual oppression. Poor Pete simply made an innocent mistake. And for his hapless omission, I “attacked” the well-meaning mayor with my nasty words, so I’m the problem here, not the man who ran a city with race problems in its police department, schools, city purchasing and housing. Or, as I would call it: Everything.


But John McWhorter would call it “nothing.”

Despite being a word professor, McWhorter believes we shouldn’t be annoyed that Buttigieg left out important words. He also doesn’t believe that we shouldn’t be annoyed that Buttigieg ignored a whole black community because, as McWhorter explained: “Buttigieg has made it glaringly obvious in countless ways that he understands structural racism.”


And all I’d like to know is one thing:

Nigga, how?