The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Pocahontas, Potato Salad and Porch Monkeys

Oscar Bustamante The Root/GMG
Oscar Bustamante The Root/GMG

I have a confession. The Root’s staff is going to kill me for revealing this top secret information, but in the spirit of openness and honesty, I feel it needs to be said, so here goes:

Not everyone hates us.

I know it’s hard to believe. I can’t believe it myself. The truth is, although we receive a ton of hate mail, tweets, messages and email (which is totally different from hate mail—some people actually take the time to mail us letters, with stamps and everything!)—the vast majority of the correspondence we receive is from readers thanking us for the stories we write.


Some of it is critical, but for every person clapped back at in this weekly segment, there are at least three or four people whom I and other writers here contact privately and have meaningful, fruitful discussions with.

I know you’re thinking: “Is Michael getting soft on us? Is he trying to remake the mailbag into a touchy-feely bucket of hugs and kisses?”


Nah, don’t worry about that. There is still more hate than we can handle. I simply thought there was a need to place the clapbacks into proper perspective. We aren’t overly sensitive to criticism; we actually like it. I just wanted you to know: I don’t always clap back ...

But when I do, it’s in the Clapback Mailbag.

The following messages are regarding the debate about NFL players selling out the anthem protests written by Senior Editor Stephen A. Crockett Jr. and me:

From: Peanut the Stepchild
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: You aint shit

I read your article calling Malcolm Jenkins a sellout. What i need to know is how is he a sellout? He got $100 millions ofdollars for black causes? That money will help alot of people. Maybe you’re the sellout. I know you’re an Omega, as is he. How could you sell your frat brother out for clicks? What I’d like to know is: what are you doing for black people besides bitching on the internet. It is brothers like you who criticize your own people that keep us down, not Malcolm Jenkins who is trying to solve the problem.

Maybe if you get off your ass and do something he wouldn’t have to “sell us out” as you call it. Coons like you are the worst.

And this direct message from Twitter:

From: DamnDamnDamnJames

I liked your argument about the NFL players alot. I’m #teammicheal on this one. Niggas like Stephen Crockett should just die so real niggas can actually make some moves. Don’t fuck with that nigga. Porch monkeys like him will sell you out like he thinks the players should sell out.

Keep doint your thing black man.

Hey, James, calm down. As far as the NFL players are concerned, Stephen and I are in agreement: The players shouldn’t have taken the money. I don’t understand how they even came to that conclusion. When I initially found out about it, I contacted Stephen (because he is our sports editor) and we had a long conversation about it into the wee hours of the night. Actually, it was about 11 p.m., but still.


Both of us were conflicted on the subject, and we thought the best way to enunciate both sides of the issue was to pick a side and debate it. Stephen just lost the coin flip. In truth, Stephen asked me which side I wanted to write because he knew he was good enough to write either side. That shit kinda threw me off for a minute, like when a dude smiles and nicely invites you outside to fight.

And Peanut (may I call you Peanut, or is it Mr. Stepchild?), what the hell will $100 million do for injustice and inequality? Here’s what you should do: Call Sybrina Fulton and ask her how much it would take for her to stop crying at the image of her son in a casket. Ask Michael Brown Sr. if it would have made everything OK if Darren Wilson had written him a check before pumping bullets into his son’s body.


Not everything is for sale. The only people who think like that are broke motherfuckers and white people. However, I don’t blame you or the owners. Both of you fit into one of those two categories.

Before I close, I would like to recommend that both of you come up with better slurs. In this new age of white supremacy, “porch monkey” and “coon” are so pedestrian. I think you can do better. How about “moon cricket”? No one ever says “moon cricket” anymore. Or better yet, I think the trendy new term “dindu” might fit even better. White people love it because—as they say—when black thugs are arrested, they always say, “I dindu nuthin’.”


Finally, I won’t comment on the part about me criticizing my fraternity brother. When I criticize white people, white people call me racist. When I criticize black people, black people call me a sellout. But absolutely no one will call me a Kappa. I won’t stand for it.

Despite your passion, we take your criticism with a grain of salt. There is, however, one very important thing I wanted to point out about both of your messages that absolutely infuriated both Stephen and me:

“Alot” is not a word.

Many people were mad about the article explaining why Donald Trump was racist for using the name “Pocahontas” as a slur.


And this direct message from a friend of mine:

From: Baby

Team, there will be no outcry at all if President Obama had called her the same thing. I find it disingenuous on her part to claim Indian Heritage and then get mad when she is referred to by the name of an Indian heroine. IJS


Dear Dawn, LoDuv and Baby,

My article was not about the hypocrisy of Elizabeth Warren. She grates on my nerve simply because she talks like a kindergarten teacher trying to show you how to write a cursive letter “B,” but that was not the point of this piece.


I can’t get mad at Elizabeth Warren when I know at least 137 black people who say they have “Indian” in them with no proof except what their grandparents or parents told them. Plus, they have a good grade of hair, so they must be Cherokee. I was writing about the slur, not Warren.

And as for the claim that Warren uses, someone else did that. Anyone can redirect traffic to a site. In fact, I might forward all tweets from Dawn and LoDuv to


Let me check to see if the domain name is available.

From: Che
To: Michael H.

I think you are funny, but I don’t get why you coon for white people when you write. That thanksgiving writeup was funny, but it makes black people look bad. We are not a monolith.



You could’ve stopped at “That thanksgiving writeup was funny.” I understand how some think it reduces us to a stereotype. I try not to do that, but some things are true. White people make worse potato salad. Black people like sweet potato pie. I am often criticized for using black tropes because of something I like to call “low black esteem.”


Low black esteem is a term I coined to explain when black people feel the need to polish the black parts of themselves to make themselves palatable for white people. We won’t eat fried chicken in public. We cut watermelon into cubes. We code-switch. We turn the volume down on our blackness, not because white people will be offended, but because we want to be simply seen as human. Colorless. Like them.

Here is the thing, Che:

I am not like them.

I do not feel the need to filter my blackness with a soft lens or hide it behind the gossamer curtain of respectability. Here is the premise of the “Caucasian Guides” and every joke I tell: We are not different. They are.


That’s it. I don’t have low black esteem. I believe our culture, and black people in general, to be the standard upon which everything is built (or stolen from). I don’t talk “black.” They talk white. I feel no need to suppress anything about myself, no matter how stereotypical it may seem. I love black people so much, I wish I could kiss every gloriously thick, syrupy part of blackness, including our Hotep cousins and our drunk uncles. It is not a joke. It is real. That’s what makes it funny. And if you don’t think it is ...

I bet I won’t catch you eating their potato salad.

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



Alot is a word and I’m ignoring the fact that it’s currently underlined in red as I type out this comment. It may not be grammatically correct but IDGAF you can’t make me type a space between it! Don’t take this from me.