Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)

It’s Friday, which means it’s time to dig through the emails, tweets, messages and comments received by The Root Staff this week. But instead of clapping back, I want to issue a mea culpa about a few mistakes we may have made.

Unlike our esteemed nectarine-in-chief, I do not believe that apologies are a show of weakness. In fact, I have long believed in the trick of disarming by saying “I’m sorry.” As a person who was raised by a legally-blind single mother, I spent a lot of time in barbershops after a tragic childhood hair cutting incident when my mama tried to trim my afro with the same scissors we used to make construction paper snowflakes.

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After that, my personal Pearl Harbor (never forget), I spent a lot of time in the crossfire of raggedy-ass, hole-filled barbershop arguments, only to discover that most of the time neither side goes into a quarrel with an open mind. Instead of wanting to learn, most of the combatants in verbal jousting matches just want to get their point across.

And the easiest way to get out of a knock-down, drag-out, war of words in which you’re not that invested in anyway, is to simply say to your opponent: “You’re right, I’m wrong. My bad.”

After the look of confusion leaves their face, they’ll wonder what kind of shenanigans you have up your sleeve. But you don’t. If you show someone peer-reviewed research, statistical data and incontrovertible facts, and they counter with, “That’s what they want you to believe,” then give up bruh. It’s not even worth it.

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But the mailbag is always worth it.

Always.


Today’s first correspondence comes from the comment section of an article on juveniles who are sentenced as adults.

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From: The Poot

You conveniently and typically failed to include the facts that Jaquin Thomas was in jail for second-degree murder and aggravated robbery, and that the reason he was in the adult jail in the first place was because he had already ESCAPED from the juvenile facility, and was also facing charges for multiple armed robberies in other parishes.

I guess those facts just didn’t fit your “narrative”, huh.

“Thomas was at the jail following his July 21 arrest on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated burglary. New Orleans police say Thomas and his 34-year-old uncle Tyrance Chancellor forced their way into a Chateau d’Orleans apartment in New Orleans East around 3:30 a.m. on July 21, according to arrest documents. Chancellor’s arrest warrant, sworn by an NOPD officer, says he told police his nephew fatally shot Hasahn Shawl, 24, during a scuffle.

Williams was at the adult jail after his escape from the Youth Studies Center, the the city’s juvenile detention facility. He is also facing charges related to multiple armed robberies in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.”

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Dear Poot:

You are right. I failed to include the fact that the 15-year-old who hanged himself in an adult jail was charged with robbery and murder. I used Jaquin to illustrate a larger point. You are absolutely correct in stating that it didn’t fit my narrative. And by “narrative,” I mean word count and space.

In the course of talking about the disparities in juvenile justice, I didn’t include the fact that police say Thomas shot Hasahn Shawl during a scuffle, and that the shooting may have been accidental.

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I left out the point that Jaquin had an absentee father and a mother who was in and out of prison. I didn’t mention that he was evacuated from his home during Hurricane Katrina at the age of four and had to move in with his grandmother. I didn’t even bother to write about Jaquin getting a job to support himself at 15.

I also didn’t write that he worked at a car wash, with his 35-year-old uncle, Tyrance Chancellor. I said absolutely nothing about Jaquin’s family being worried that the 15-year-old was hanging around with an older crowd and may have been using drugs. There wasn’t even a quote from Thomas’s aunt about his slurred speech or details about him being attacked by several inmates.

The article didn’t have the letters from a minister, teachers and others about Jaquin being respectful, noting that he had a gift for mechanics and helped fix bicycles and lawnmowers in his neighborhood. It said nothing about him being “terrified” in the adult jail.

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In articles about police brutality, education inequality or — like this one — criminal justice disparities, I always wonder why some readers are willing to overlook the overwhelming statistical data, evidence and research and try to pick apart the small human faults in victims just to disprove racism. Mike Brown was a thug. Trayvon Martin got in trouble at school. Botham Jean had marijuana in his system.

I am convinced that it is because if people like Poot, even if for a second, considered black people as human beings, they would have to confront the overwhelming evil in the world. It doesn’t fit their narrative. It is easier to say that one little 15-year-old was evil than to face a fact that you live in a country with hate in its DNA.

But according to Poot’s narrative, it is not the environment, the laws or their status in life that dooms these children, it is just that they were never taught to look towards the future and make better choices. If only they could think like this one incredible writer, who once wrote:

“During this rollercoaster ride we call Life, we encounter mental and physical experiences. Some people learn from these experiences and decide to make a change in themselves, while others seem to stay the same and not change at all. Throughout the time, the choices we make determine our future. Some people seek change and others could care less, I wrote this for both, this is just a few but very powerful wise words that could help you build a better way of thinking..”

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Those are not my words.

They are the last words of 15-year-old Jaquin Thomas, who wrote them minutes before he hanged himself in a jail cell in the Orleans Justice Center on October 17, 2016.

I’m sorry.


This next email is a two-for one. It comes from a reader who read the articles about the Delta worker who called the police on a black woman and the parody of the flag.

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From: Bobby
To: Michael Harriot

Say Mike,

I was standing in line behind your black friend at that airport. I would give anything to have had the foresight to have recorded the whole incident from the first moment. Then we could back up and point to the real problem; the truth of what the problem was would be evidenced and you could apologize to that young woman who was simply (before the black woman started her shit) trying to earn a living in a thankless service job. Your black friend’s behavior was inappropriate any way you view it. I can assure you were those two women in opposite positions there would have been zero tolerance from the black baggage beast of the white whiny woman. Oh wait a minute now that makes me a racist. I am so sick and tired of ignorance; particularly your brand of ignorance. By the way, I am 1/8th Black !!!! Furthermore you piece of shit; parody or not: if you have a problem respecting our flag, our anthem, or our troops: get the fuck out of our country. Now; imagine everything I just said were true! What would you do? Why don’t you use your podium to educate, elevate, and emulate positive societal behavior. Well, that does not sell as well. After all, it’s all about the money!

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Dear Bobby:

You know what? You’re right. I’m wrong.

When you said the white clerk “was simply (before the black woman started her shit) trying to earn a living in a thankless service job,” you are absolutely correct.

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When that black woman “started her shit,” I bet she had planned it. I bet she didn’t even have any damaged luggage. I bet that black woman spends all her spare time walking through airports fucking with white women so she can... umm... I haven’t quite figured that part out yet, but I’m with you.

And you were right, if the two women switched sides, I bet the black woman would be pissed, too. Of course, women of color don’t get the same leeway that white women get, lest they be painted as “angry black women,” so the black woman probably would have just called the manager like she was fucking asked to do. But you’re right. She still probably would have sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes. Of course, that wouldn’t have gotten men with guns who disproportionately kill people of color involved, but yeah, it’s the same thing.

And Bobby, I know you’re upset about the flag article, but I didn’t, for a second, believe anything you said was true because there’s no such thing as 1/8th black. Do you know the correct medical term for 1/8th black?

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Black.

Sometimes I simply assume that white people (and even 1/8th black people) know shit about black history. For instance, after last week’s mailbag, I was shocked that so many people didn’t know that the term “cracker” was a reference to whip cracker. But after reading your “get out of our country” ditribe, I’d like to tell you a story that you might not know about, Bobby.

There is an old Gullah Geechee tale (where my family is from) about a group of kidnapped Igbo people who screamed all the way to America. Every time the captain would send members of the crew down into the belly of the ship to quiet them, the crew members would be afraid because they would realize that the captives weren’t just screaming, they were saying one chant, over and over, in unison. They were just waiting and praying: “Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina.”

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When the ship got close to the shore, the chants grew louder. “Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina,” they yelled in unison.

And somehow, the Africans broke the chains, rebelled and threw the entire crew overboard. Led by a captured chieftain, the people walked calmly into the sea, chanting: “Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina,” drowning themselves rather than be slaves.

Legend has it that this happened near Georgia. There are stories in the Federal Writers Project where formerly-enslaved people speak of escaping to this landing because people believed that once you reached it, the gods would grant you the gift of freedom. There are even tales that say black people on the island could fly.

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Now, this was all just a fairy tale until the 1980s - when scientists verified a contemporary version of the Igbo landing story, one of the largest slave rebellions and mass suicides in history. It turns out it actually happened on St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia.

Some say the number was 75; others say it was 13. Whatever the case, in 1803 a number of slaves who were chained together walked into the Dunbar Creek and drowned themselves, chanting: “The Water Spirit brought us here. The Water Spirit will take us home.”

So when you tell me to go back to Africa if I don’t like how America treats black people, I would remind you that we tried, Bobby.

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Goddammit, we tried.


And finally, I know many of you have been following the story of abuse and disrespect that everyone has been talking about this week:

That’s right. The Masta Ace “One Hit Wonder” controversy.

If you haven’t read about it, here’s the Cliffs Notes version.

On Tuesday, staff writer Monique Judge began asking everyone for their favorite one hit wonder because it was National One Hit Wonder day. I had a number of suggestions, most of which Panama Jackson, who apparently has a list of every song ever recorded inside his head, would remind me that the artists I liked had other hits.

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So, I decided to use actual logic and suggested Masta Ace’s “Born to Roll,” which I love. Monique used that suggestion, (although “Knuck if You Buck” would’ve been better) and even dared to call me “country.” I decided not to write a letter to my Senator and ask for an FBI investigation because I know Monique wouldn’t pass the background check.

Meanwhile, Masta Ace, obviously upset, took to Twitter.

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Then, someone snitched on me.

Apparently unaware that:

  • My contract only allows me to clap back on Fridays,
  • The Root has been around for 10 years, so it’s unlikely that we “won’t be around next year.”
  • No other black site has as many readers as The Root
  • That we are actually fans of Masta Ace and...
  • and that Dorothy didn’t make no bitches

Masta Ace tweeted this:

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As a member of the local Cowards Union 1028, I am forced to respond:

Dear Masta Ace;

The Clapback Mailbag regulars are going to accuse me of taking it easy on you, and they are right. It’s because I actually like your music. I would venture to say that most people at The Root like your music.

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But I have asked some music experts what they consider a “hit song” and two said a top 20 Billboard 100 is generally considered a hit. Another told me that the song would have to be easily recognizable 20 years later, which is hard to quantify. I do not base who I listen to or who I like on hits, or where they charted. If that were the case, Migos could be considered as good as A Tribe Called Quest, since they’ve both had two number one albums.

No one uses hits as a metric for quality or respect. Many of my favorite hip-hop artists never charted, and most of my favorite hip hop songs weren’t even singles. It is possible to make a good living and even become a legend in music without ever having a hit single or album.

Having said that, I would like to apologize. I have always liked your solo music and your music with Slaughterhouse. I am literally a fan of yours and would never want to offend you in any way. I would also like to point out that there was not a meeting where a decision was made to throw shade at Masta Ace. I actually only saw your tweets yesterday.

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“Born to Roll” peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Music Hot 200. No other single you had made it past number 69. While I am a fan and consider “Born to Roll” the greatest riding song of all time, it was wrong of Monique Judge to consider you a one-hit wonder.

You are a no-hit wonder.

My bad.

Sincerely,

A coward.