The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Systemic Whiteness

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Systemic Whiteness
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

This is the part where I usually explain that you are about to read DMs, letters and tweets from our readers. I also try to say something funny here. But today, that part is at the end.

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It’s nice to switch things up every once in a while.


We are still receiving responses about the article on senators’ textbooks. A few people wanted to know why we used the term “true history.”

From: Adam
To: Michael Harriot

I read your article “We Found the Textbooks of Senators Who Oppose The 1619 Project and Suddenly Everything Makes Sense”

I have a serious question: If America wasn’t founded on July 4, 1776, why do you think everyone agrees on that date? A white teacher probably taught you that two plus two equals four. So is that racist? Some things that are objectively true and just because a white person said it, it doesn’t mean it is racist.

Dear Matt and Adam,

Let’s start from the beginning.

The 1619 Project does not teach that America is founded in 1619. It is a project based on the premise that America was founded when the first slaves arrived in America and teaches from that perspective. An example, let’s look at the exercise below, which is actually found in a textbook, Kentucky’s Story.

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Systemic Whiteness
Screenshot: Kentucky’s Story

If your parents found you working on this lesson, would they say that the teacher was trying to teach you how to be a slave? Of course not, that would be a stupid thing to say.

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But let’s go further and examine more of American history. America’s founding is generally assumed to be July 4, 1776. France’s Independence Day (Bastille Day) is celebrated as July 14, 1789, even though it was founded on Sept. 22, 1792, when the first French Republic was established. And if you think I’m conflating a country’s independence with when it was founded, you’d be wrong.

See, 1776 was just the year a bunch of white guys wrote a breakup letter to King George saying the American colonies were tired of being England’s sidepiece. But that was on June 7, 1776, so America didn’t become a country then. In fact, the Declaration of Independence called us the “thirteen united States of America (notice the word “United” wasn’t capitalized) because, they didn’t even know if they wanted to be one country or thirteen countries.

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The Declaration of Independence wasn’t even signed until August, after the Revolutionary War had been going on for over a year. Plus we were losing! And the war lasted until 1783. And it was another five years before the Constitution was ratified, which is when America officially became a country. So, technically, the United States of America was founded on June 21, 1788.

Consider this: If you have to fight a “war for independence,” how can that be your independence day? Is your divorce date the same day your wife writes a letter saying that she’s tired of your bullshit? Is it the day you receive the letter? What if there’s a prolonged court battle? No, you are officially divorced when the divorce is finalized.

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We consider 1776 as the year America was founded because someone taught it to us that way. It’s kinda like how we consider America to be a democratic republic even though all of its citizens couldn’t vote until...well, we’re still working on that one. For Black people, it was a dictatorship until 1868, when they became American citizens. After that, it was an apartheid state. We only call it a “democracy” because white people have always been represented.

And I know, that’s how American history works. It has always been interpreted by the white majority. But why wouldn’t you want students to learn that? We teach students that France existed before 1789. Why not teach them that Independence Day is when white people decided we were founded but Native Americans had already established representative governments here and African Americans arrived in 1619?

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The only reason someone would object to that is if they believed that the white perspective is the only one that counted.

One last thing: Even though you were probably taught that the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson, that idea started spreading in the 1790s. John Adams, the man who came up with most of the ideas and the language, wrote his wife on the day that the Continental Congress formally decided to declare its independence from England, writing:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”

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That is American history.


From: J.P.
To: Michael Harriot

Your articles used to be good as I followed you for years, but you got bitter and mean and somewhat delusional. You’re kind of a bitch. Please die from cardiovascular related diseases you nasty fuck.

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Dear JP,

Thank you so much. It is possible that I am becoming bitter and delusional. It happens sometimes. Your email kind of reminds me how white people thought of Charles Deslondes.

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Charles was an enslaved mixed-race Creole man of Haitian descent. He was smart, handsome and, most of all, he was obedient. His master, Colonel Manuel Andry, eventually made him the overseer of the entire plantation and allowed him to travel along Louisiana’s German Coast on his own. He could visit other plantations because all the white people liked him. Even when they saw him hanging out with Kwaku and Quamina, two enslaved Africans thugs from Angola, they didn’t worry about it.

Kwaku and Quamina were among the 50 percent of captives who made it to the New World without committing suicide or dying along the way. Because they did not speak the language, the two African prisoners knew nothing about their surroundings. They had no idea that the Louisiana Territory had only been part of America for five years. They didn’t know that France had sold the territory to America after Haiti’s slave revolt forced France out of the New World colonization business. The duo would have never understood that there had never been a successful rebellion of enslaved men in America. But before they became the property of Mr. James Brown, one of the men owned by the slave market’s proprietors gave Kwaku and Quamina the only advice they would ever need:

“Learn English.”

So the white people thought Charles was the perfect person to teach them. For five years, Deslondes gave them regular lessons.

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On the night of Tuesday, January 8, 1811, Andry awoke, wondering why his most loyal slave was standing over him with an axe. As the fog of sleep lifted, he noticed that Charles was not alone. Just as Deslondes lifted his axe, Landry leaped out of his bed and bum-rushed his accosters and escaped down the staircase, wounded but alive. As Andry exited his home, he caught a glimpse of the revolters hacking his son Gilbert to pieces.

Deslondes did not chase his fleeing master. Instead, he directed his compatriots to seize every weapon on the farm. Because both Andrys were leaders of the local militia, there were plenty of muskets to distribute to the Africans skilled in firearms training. The men who were skilled with the blades required for sugar cane farming armed themselves with machetes and swords while Deslondes rifled through Andry’s closet and found what he was looking for—Andry’s colonial army attire. In a few short minutes, the respected slave driver had transformed himself into the man he had secretly wished to be for years.

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He was now the uniformed military leader of the largest slave revolt in American history.

What Andry, and no else, had known was that Kwaku and Quamina had been raised as okofokum, Asante soldiers trained in hand-to-hand combat, firearms usage and war tactics from birth. Kwaku and Quamina were not learning from Charles; Charles was learning military tactics from them. They had organized and trained slaves on nearby plantations by the country they came from. And, because Charles was a literate slave from Haiti, he had read about the French and Haitian Revolution. In fact, he was using the same tactics.

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Over the next two days, while the local militia was out of town, they went from plantation to plantation, freeing slaves and marching toward New Orleans. The revolt was only suppressed because Andry had made it across the river and organized a force that defeated the rebellion in a surprise attack from behind.

When they found Charles Deslondes, Landry’s squad chopped off both of Deslondes’ hands, broke both of his legs at the thigh, shot him and then burned his body on a bed of straw. During the ensuing tribunal, one enslaved man named Jupiter was asked about the plan. They wanted to know how Kwaku and Quamina turned Charles Deslondes and all the other slaves against them.

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Jupiter had no idea what they were talking about.

JP, It’s hilarious that white people think that Black people enjoy being oppressed. You liked me when you weren’t affected by my criticism. Now that you are, you have decided that I am “delusional” or “bitter and mean.” I am the same writer now as I was when you appreciated me. I can’t turn Black people against white people any more than Kwaku and Quamina “turned” Charles Deslondes.

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Kwaku, Quamina and Charles Deslondes didn’t promise liberty or freedom. They initially wanted to establish their own free colony. But when they asked the other enslaved men and women what they wanted, everyone who participated said they had the same desire:

To kill whites.”


This is concerning the article on Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and why America is racist.

From: S. W.
To: Michael Harriot

Your comment a few days ago regarding Senator Tim Scott has spurred me to write you. I certainly never thought I would be compelled to write to an apparently well-educated and thoughtful person about such a matter, but nothing is surprising in the partisan and misinformation world we live in today.

The continuing claim that the United States of America is a racist nation is simply not true and is severely damaging to our republic in so many ways. There are certainly racists in the United States, but the United States of America is not racist; systemically or otherwise. No matter how many times some people claim the United States of America is racist or use racial epithets in some weird attempt to paint another person of being in concert with racists, those claims will not change the fact that it is not. What those claims do suggest is that those people, you for example, might need to look in their/your respective mirrors when it comes to claims of racism.

Many people today claiming that the United States of America is systemically racist also claim that the system must be torn down and reconstructed from the ground up because that is the only way to rid the country of its systemic racism. Their hypothesis is that a racist system is irredeemable and cannot change or evolve. In their minds that is simply impossible. I find this line of thought both interesting and laughable. The very people promoting that premise would have everyone believe that the Democratic Party did exactly what they say the country cannot do. On the one hand, the United States of America cannot escape its systemic racism, but the great Democratic Party can. What absolute malarkey.

What I suggest is that most U.S. citizens are not racist, the United States of America is not racist, the GOP and its members are not racist, conservatives are not racists, libertarians are not racists, moderates are not racist, independents are not racists, but the Democratic Party and its liberal and democratic socialist members just might be. The Democratic Party certainly has a long proud history of racist activities and policies and it is not just ancient history either. There is simply no denying that, no matter how hard the party and its supporters try.

Malcolm X knew what liberals were and he eloquently explained it in speeches and interviews in the 1960’s. His interview with Professor John Leggett and Herman Blake at the University California, Berkeley on October 11, 1963 is just one example. Despite the near 60 years that have passed since that time, his opinions of liberals hold true to this very day. Malcolm’s opinions of black leaders of the time who aligned themselves with liberals are no more flattering. Those opinions also ring true of many of today’s so-called black leaders.

The rhetoric being spewed by the Democratic Party and its partisan liberals and socialist democrats is disgraceful and frankly insidious. What is also destroying our republic is partisanship fueled by career politicians of both major parties and their ideologies who are seeking power beyond what the Constitution provides. Those who enable them and support their partisanship are accomplices and it seems you may fall into that group.

Unlike others, I would not call for the cancel culture to take you away, but I will call for you to reconsider offering additional comments that are untrue and incendiary. I would also suggest you take a step back and conduct a re-review of history in that you might be enlightened as to the true history and never-ending nature of the party for which you apparently support. You sir remain in the in the figurative shackles of those who, if they could, would place you back in the literal shackles their soulmates did so many years ago.

Regards, S. W.

Dear SW,

Thank you for reading The Root’s Clapback Mailbag but I’m wondering why you wrote me instead of the president of G/O Media. I’m also wondering why you quoted Malcolm X. Is it because you are ascribing Malcolm’s words and thoughts to Black people as a whole? Or do you think his words are indicative of what Black people think? Or as a “Black leader,” do you see him as some kind of representative spokesperson for Black people.

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Then why can’t I quote Tim Scott or other Republicans as “white leaders?”

Also, why is it that every time someone mentions racism, white people respond with “but the Democratic party...?” It’s almost as if the Democratic party has been defined as “the opposite of racism.”

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And, no one–absolutely no one–has a “hypothesis is that a racist system is irredeemable and cannot change or evolve.” That’s the entire point of speaking out. If no one thought this country could change, they wouldn’t put their lives and careers on the line opposing white supremacy. That’s just something white people believe.

But let’s get back to your claim that: “There are certainly racists in the United States, but the United States of America is not racist; systemically or otherwise.”

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Every week, I sort through emails, DMs, comments and tweets and respond to readers like you. I don’t respond to every aggrieved reader, nor does everyone who works on the site clap back individually. Our other writers will often forward a particularly nasty email or DM to me for the Clapback Mailbag, which means we have a system for it, but we don’t get together and vote on how I’m gonna clapback. In all the years I’ve done this, I have yet to receive an email explaining that not all readers are stupid.

But it’s not called “The Friday, May 14th Mailbag.”

Even though I am the only one who writes it, it’s not called “Michael Harriot’s Mailbag.”

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And, even though it is just one of the hundreds of articles we publish every week, it regularly appears on this site just like racism regularly appears in America.

America is a racist country.

And this is The Root’s Clapback Mailbag.

Regards, MH

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

DISCUSSION

murrychang
Murry Chang

I can understand how people don’t know about redlining, its history and how we never really got away from it, but holy hell does nobody learn about the Articles of Confederation in school?

Probably a stupid question but it never ceases to amaze me.