The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Answer to All Your Questions Is 'Wally'

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Answer to All Your Questions Is 'Wally'
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

“The answer to all your questions is money” — Don Ohlmeyer

Who is Don Ohlmeyer?

Everyone knows that Don Ohlmeyer is a genius who will go down in history as one of the television industry’s greatest men. He produced and directed two Super Bowls and three Olympic Games, including the one in Munich. He ran NBC when it was the only profitable network and won 16 Emmys. Ohlmeyer spearheaded Seinfeld, ER, Friends, Frasier and a little-known sports show called Monday Night Football.


What’s so amazing is that Don Ohlmeyer reportedly did all of these while being an unrepentant drunk. He was also accused of sexual harassment. He is also responsible for hiring Dennis Miller for Monday Night Football, even though Miller had no background in sports. The move is still considered one of the dumbest decisions in sports broadcasting history. Ohlmeyer fired Norm McDonald from Saturday Night Live for joking about one of Ohlmeyer’s best friends...

Orenthal James Simpson.

So how can Don Ohlmeyer be remembered as one of the television industry’s greatest men?

The answer to all your questions is in this week’s Clapback Mailbag.

We received many comments about our election coverage. Some of them were good. Some were bad.

To: Michael Harriot
From: TJ

You are by far the most racist sob I’ve ever seen or in this case had the complete displeasure of ever coming across a written article

To: Michael Harriot
From: Steve

Who the fuck cares what your opinion is you dirty nigger. You treat whites like they are trash, so expect to be treated like shit right back at you, you piece of constipated shit.

To: Danielle Belton
From: Leslie W.

I‘m a privileged white woman closing in on 50. No kids, no husband, I don’t even keep plants in my apartment.

I read The Root daily to make sure I get the stories and perspectives I need to be an ally. Or at least recognize when I’m not being anti-racist and just going with the status quo so that I can do better.

Thank you and your writers for calling out the ridiculous, the sublime and everything in between. I can’t speak for any other white person, but I appreciate what you put out into the world and I hope that you never stop calling out the hypocrisy and ridiculousness. We deserve it (and yes, both interpretations of that are correct). I love the success stories that may not make to the front of the New York Times. And not for nothing but naming Yamiche Alcindor “The Necklace” is brilliant and I hope that nickname follows her for the rest of her life.

I don’t consider my opinion anything of note, but I expect you get a shit-ton of hate mail on a weekly basis, so I might as well try to put something positive in the world to counter it. It’s (almost literally) the least I could do.

Kind regards


To: Michael Harriot
From: Lisa G

Do you and the root seem to have joy about the stolen election because Trump supporters are upset. This is not funny.

You and the root are not journalism. All you do is rant and call it journalism. How does that make you feel?

To: Michael Harriot
From: Phil

Thank you for your articles about the election. Sometimes I watch the news and want to scream. But when I read you and Stevie Crockett’s rants, I feel like someone is ranting for us.

Keep ranting.

You’re the only sane people left.

I know you don’t get a lot of appreciative mail so I just wanted to let you know you are appreciated.

But I want to know, do you feel like anything will change for Black people? Do you feel like we really did something? Did America get less racist?

PS: I know that’s not Stephen’s name. I read last week’s mailbag [smile emoji]

Dear everyone,

You ever heard “Wally?”

Rant? I don’t rant! OK, maybe Stephen does, but everyone knows he has a substance abuse problem. He’s addicted to sneakers. Yep, I said it. He is like a Nike Imelda Marcos. He’s like a hoarder and a doomsday prepper if Jesus was coming back to judge us by our shoe game. But then, Jesus mostly wore Pic n’ Pay sandals, which probably left him with ashy feet, but he could turn water into lotion and not that watery hotel shit, either because—

Oh, wanted to know how we feel.

Have I asked you about “Wally?”

According to legend, Prince came into the studio one day and everyone could see that he was distraught about a breakup with Susannah Malvoin (Wendy’s sister). Everyone could see it. So, to try not to cry, He turned to one of his backup singers, who was wearing shades, and just said:


“Wally, where’d you get those glasses?”

And then, by all accounts, Prince made the most beautiful song since “Jesus will Work it Out.”


Every single musician in the room (and he had damn near an orchestra) said they’d never heard anything like it. Every instrument wailed. The guitar cried. Prince supposedly came back the next day and re-recorded the song over the tape of the original, so the original will never be heard. But Prince didn’t think the new version felt the same, so he never released it. However, since then, the original tune and the re-recorded version have become a musical urban legend.

Everyone who was there says the original “Wally” might not be Prince’s best song, but it is the song that most exemplifies him as a beautiful, complex, tortured soul full of love and angst trying to pretend he is normal. It’s supposedly the princiest Prince song.


This ain’t no rant, nigga. This is a poem.

For four years we’ve been covering this administration while having to come up with a new way to describe this dumpster fire every day. I don’t know how Stephen does it, but I can almost guarantee that there isn’t a human being on the planet that has written more about Donald Trump than Stephen Fucking Crockett (that’s actually his middle name). I know—without a shadow of a doubt—that no one has dragged him more than Crockett.


The first story I wrote as a full-time employee was about how Trump was going to kill this country.


I was nervous about writing it because, for some reason, Stephen was on vacation and the last thing he said before he left (which is actually the first thing he ever said to me) was: “You better drag this shitty administration while I’m gone.”

This nigga stays in the “Prince Part.”

There’s a part of every Prince song (it’s not the bridge or the chorus or...well, anything) where he would start squealing, breathing hard and moving his high-heel booted feet really fast in squiggly lines. James Brown would also do this during live performances but in his recorded material, JB usually stuck to the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse format.


I didn’t make this up. In interviews, people who performed and played with Prince say they have to learn the basic structure of every song and be prepared to improvise because Prince is liable go into the “Prince Part” at any time. They say they can see in his eyes when the song is “getting good to him” and he’s about to go off.

Perhaps, the most easily accessible example of when Prince did this is in “Little Red Corvette.”


The song has a guitar solo in the traditional place between the second and third verses. But there’s another part of the song where Prince starts lowkey preach-sanging like when the pastor gets to the fourth quarter of a sermon and has to dab his forehead with a handkerchief to keep himself from sweating out all of his anointing.

You can tell when Prince gets to that part in a song because he will always randomly change octaves. And he doesn’t slide down the octave scale. Nah, this nigga hopscotches from a falsetto soprano to a deep baritone, not even stopping by alto’s house. He be like: “Fuck tenor, I’m going straight to bass, bitch.”


People who played with Prince refer to this section of Prince’s song by different names. Some called it the “Prince Bridge.” Others call it the “second bridge” or the “second solo.” I had never even noticed it until I heard my musician cousin, who is an opera singer and Prince fanatic, refer to it as the “Prince Part.”

I call it the Purple Holy Ghost.

Didn’t I tell you that I don’t rant!

If you’re lucky, no matter who you are and what you do, you will have the experience of doing what you love and feeling as if it matters. The absolute best of these moments is when you feel like your entire being was manufactured by the universe just so you could exist at that particular space in time. And—whatever you’re doing in that moment, you know you’re fucking shit up.


I’ve heard basketball players say the hoop looks as big as a garbage can when they’re “in the zone.” During an interview, I heard Malik B. of The Roots once say Black Thought’s mind works so fast that he has to clench his jaw to keep the words from tumbling out of his mouth.

It’s like when you’re halfway through your third drink of brown liquor and the DJ plays “One More Chance” and the woman in the red skirt gently grabs your hand and pulls you out on the floor and she’s dancing close enough for you to smell the coconut oil in her hair but then the DJ switches it up and you are like “fuck! Why does this have to end?”


But then you hear Chaka Demus and/or Pliers wailing and you realize it’s the reggae portion of the evening and you’re winding and sipping and your head is tilted back a little bit and you realize you might marry that girl...

Or maybe it’s just me.

Because that’s the Holy Spirit, too. It’s inspiration. It’s an out-of-body experience.


And, yes it’s purple.

Ain’t no other color that could describe it. It is all sky and sunshine and night and royal and inside the part of your body that feels like Christmas morning after you unwrap the presents and you don’t mind cleaning up the wrapping paper because you have a new bike and you take the bike outside and pop a wheelie—the longest one you ever did—and you’ve NEVER popped a wheelie that long.


And if someone steals that bike or that ball or that girl or that freestyle verse you spat, it doesn’t matter. Because it wasn’t about that thing. It was about that time.

Now, if The Root staff ever entered a basketball tournament, we’d probably just have to keep passing to Damon because everyone else is either short, old, slow or bad at basketball (Although Managing Editor Genetta Adams—and I don’t know why I feel this way with no evidence—seems like she has a decent jump shot). I know for a fact that Stephen is terrible at freestyling. I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas and—I don’t know why I was cursed this way—but I could never pop a wheelie.


But we can drag white folks.

Calling out these white nationalist, mask-hating, racism-denying, police brutality-ignoring, Trump supporters throw tantrums because Black folks made them shed all the white tears, is what we were put here to do. So stay mad motherfuckers; the dumpster fire is turning to smoke and ash. fuck your feelings. Ding Dong, the King is damn near dead!


This election is our “Wally” and we got the Purple Holy Ghost.

And no, we don’t feel like America has found the cure for white supremacy or ended oppression. We ain’t jubilant about America. We know white people are going to keep white peopling. We’re just happy we survived the flames this time. We are acutely aware that they will surely find another dumpster to set afire. And when we do, we will still be here, watching them carry their tiki torches to the next dumpster.


Perhaps Black people’s greatest asset is our indefatigable ability to not be white.  Instead of responding to their hate and ignorance with more hate and ignorance, we respond with truth because we see how stupid their hate has made them. They truly believe they are living in a country that offers liberty and justice for all. No, we aren’t destroying their country, we are just holding up a mirror to their dumb, racist eyes.

And that is precisely why they’re mad.

But if you really wonder how we feel, we feel the same way we felt on November second.


We already know they can’t kill us. We are keenly aware that we ain’t gonna die. The only thing we want to know is this:

Where’d they get those glasses?

There were quite a few responses to my contention that white people are just dumb


Honestly, there were so many emails, DMs and tweets that will probably be the subject of next week’s mailbag too. Many of these people used the tired old “But what about Black on Black crime” argument:

To: Michael Harriot
From: Michael C.
Subject: White People Are Stupid

I read your “article” when it was linked on Yahoo. I did not vote for Trump and agree that the arguments by his supporters are illogical. I do not agree with Trumpites in the slightest.

However, riddle me this - which is the more stupid and destructive behavior - supporting an idiot politically or spraying down a funeral with bullets because of some beef about a corner drug turf? In this discussion about racism it seems that any mention of Black behavior if off limits. Just because current times allow you to be racist against Whites in a way that would never be tolerated if things were reversed does not make it smart or right. Fix your own house first. Michael

To: Michael Harriot
From: C M

So I don’t believe in racism at all, but it seems to me that if White Supremacy groups are terrorism then so is Black Lives Matter, same kind of group just different agenda. Why are journalist so bias these days!

To: Michael Harriot
From: Neil

As long as we are now discussing characteristics of race, let’s talk black crime rates, specifically violent crime rates. Your piece in the Root is a prime reason we will never coexist to anyone’s satisfaction and that it’s time to give in to the NOIs demand for a separate country for all blacks

To: Michael Harriot
From: Joe Blow

Racism is racism and i will not stand for it. What you wrote about white people being dumb crossed a line. Your so far off base with your article, i have no idea how your a credited joirnalist. Your about as racist as it gets. Because your black you can not be? Thats the dumb things you believe in. White is a race too. Because a white man sticks up for white people, his own people, he is white supremist. But if a brother backs his own people hes an activist and great person. You all live in this hypocracy bubble and think you can do and say whatever you want, but if a white person says anything about another race, its racist. It’s a joke and why your still minorities because the Dems keep you there. Just shut up, go to work and be good human beings like were supposed to and we will be all set. Murder rates? Black children dying by black hands on guns and the police are the problem? That same cop would do anything to save your child if it was in harms way. All men are created equal, at birth, creation. Its what you do in life, your actions and decisions that will make you equal or not. I am nor are you, in no way equal to some child murderer. Lets see the numbers for white vs black as who is on SSI benefits. If we, as white people stopped going to work, the country would shut down and your people would be left starving and resort to looting like usual. You make up 14% of our population, so how did just black voters win the election for Joe Biden? Black americans did vote for trump, more than 2016. Black people, especially men have a high school dropout rate of 47%. Lack of fundamental skills to complete a high school program was stated as the reason. Whos dumb? I dont want to hear about culturally bias testing. Were a country, its all our culture. Simple math and English are on the SATs. If your in school putting the effort in, then you earn the skills needed to excel in this country. Where you refuse to change. High school is a breeze and ya’ll can’t make it. You have hip hop and sports to rely on and look to these people as role models, when in fact most of them did not complete high school and with sports, most didnt graduate college. All dropouts and you look to them for advice and leadership, thats why you all are dumb. You put your resources into the wrong place. Start taking care of your kids, feed them and make sure they are prepared for school and things will change. You writing these articles doesnt help anything but divide us more. white men created this country, the best country ever estsblished. Africa been around how long and they just fight and kill thier own people. Most parts look like a 3rd world country. You care so much about being african, take our thoughts over there and make a change. You dont care, thats the problem. Your just in this part of time where you think your doing something good but your not. No one will remember you, no one will care what you wrote. Slavery happend since humans began creating civilizations. Every race has been a slave to someone over the years. We have all this great history going back thousand of years, wheres your written history. Wheres all the bill of sales from your African chiefs selling of your ancestors. Colonizers didnt just come steal them. Either they were sold or given as a peace offering. Should north africans give southern Italy reperations for invading and changing their DNA through rape of women and murder of the men. The past is full of awful shit. We all have to let it go and move on. If your so one sided and unwilling to change. How do you expect whites to. Articles you write will just turn the white peoole that care, to people who have to defend themselves from attacks like the one you have wrote. Get a grip and a life. Oh wait you think you have a life, but really your a big part of the problem. Use your resources and platform to be positive, your outlook will not get us anywhere. Also, as a journalist, use better grammar. You obviously got through college. Its English whether you like it or not. Using bad grammar is a sign of stupidity. Your the ignorant one.


Hey guys,

I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of Black-on-Black crime, lately. Of course, I have written a lot about this subject, specifically about the sociological implications of this issue. I also struggle to figure out whether white people’s belief that Black people can snap their fingers and stop crime is an insult or a compliment. Do they believe we are powerful but apathetic superheroes or secretly supportive of Black people being shot in the face by other black people?


More than a year ago, I wrote a piece for Very Smart Brothas, which began with a story about me being pulled over in a car with a drug dealer whose nickname was Smurf. In the story, Smurf took the blame for everything and told the police I had nothing to do with the tiny amount of drugs in the car. He paid a lawyer to clear my charges and, ultimately, he beat his own charges.


He wasn’t my childhood friend. We hadn’t even known each other for very long. He was just a quiet, reserved dude who moved from out of state to my hometown to sell dope and boy did he do it well. He grinded in the streets like a third-shift worker and his intelligence belied his demeanor. Now that dude had a hard life. I learned that he had basically been in the streets since before he was a teenager.

The reason Smurf took the blame for that incident was that he loved me.

Everyone knew it. I don’t know why. The nigga just thought I was smart and cool. My entire family basically adopted him. My mom and sisters would cook for him. When I was a broke college student, he would—unprompted—send me care packages. One of those care packages contained the first computer. Sometimes, he would just show up at my apartment, ask me to ride with him (after promising that he was “clean”) and just ask questions. I realized that he just really liked hearing me “talk that smart shit.”


I really don’t know how we lost contact but we did. It has been at least 15 years since I heard from Smurf.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, my phone rang and it was him. He told me that he had seen the story and had been following me from afar after I just popped up on his television on CNN. Apparently, Smurf had been sentenced to federal prison for drug trafficking.


No, Smurf wasn’t caught with drugs. According to his court documents, he was caught because some other guys were caught with drugs and testified against him. The prosecutor simply tallied up the amount they said he had sold to them over years and charged him with “ghost dope,” which is actually a thing in the criminal justice system that you can read about here, here and here.

Smurf was charged under the old federal guidelines that made every gram of crack cocaine equivalent to one hundred grams of cocaine powder. And because he took that negligible charge that time with me, Smurf was considered a repeat violent offender, which caused the prosecutor to file what is called an 851 enhancement, a tool used by prosecutors that forces judges to hand down harsh sentences.


According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (which, again, is a government agency): “Black offenders constituted the majority (51.2%) of offenders against whom the government filed an information seeking an 851 enhancement, followed by White offenders (24.3%), Hispanic offenders (22.5%), and Other Race offenders (2.0%).”

Smurf was sentenced to life in prison for drugs that did not exist because he didn’t let the criminal justice system commit an act of violence against me.



But this got me to thinking::

What is violence?

For instance, why is drug dealing only a violent crime if the drug is illegal? According to the federal government data, there are more overdose deaths from pharmaceutical drugs than from cocaine, heroin and meth combined.

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Answer to All Your Questions Is 'Wally'
Graphic: National Institute for Drug Abuse

Of course, the government’s answer to this riddle is that illegal drugs generate violent crime. But do legal drugs cause less violence than illegal drugs if people are dying from legal drugs at three times the rate? Even if illicit and prescription substances cause equal damage, why are Black drug offenders 62.7 percent of the state prison population while whites are only 36.7 percent of all drug offenders admitted to state correctional facilities?


I understand what you’re saying about the Black-on-Black crime thing, though. I’ve written about so many of the drug dealers I’ve known and grew up around, so maybe I am a willing supporter of violent crime. Perhaps all black people are criminals. Maybe the entire Black community is at fault for fueling the problem by celebrating or ignoring criminals and drug dealers. Maybe I am contributing to violent crime if I don’t do anything about all of the robbers and homicidal maniacs that I have never met.

I admit that might be a criminal but there are a few other crimes for which white people should confess:

Almost every speck of every sociological, academic or criminological research know that violence is more related to poverty and education than people “fixing their own house.” So the fact that white people are largely unconcerned about school funding disparities, the Black unemployment rate, the wage gap, college debt or HBCU funding means they are more responsible for violent crime than Black people or the Stop Snitching movement.


The fact that white people don’t confront the right-wing extremists in their ranks means they are more responsible for terrorism than the zero deaths caused by Black Lives Matter. The fact that they “back the blue” and ignore disproportionate police violence means they are partially responsible for police killings than BLM.

Is that a crime?

OK, here is another question:

Knowing what the combination of poverty and lack of education does to Black children, if the poorest white school district receives $1,500 per student more than the average majority non-white district, isn’t that an act of violence? If you know Black drug dealers don’t own fentanyl manufacturing facilities, poppy-seed farms or coca leaf extraction outfits, is incarcerating Black dope boys at three times the rate of whites an act of violence?


What about the violent corporations who take Black taxpayers’ money and refuse to pay their fair share in taxes? How about the violent white citizens who call the violent police every time they see a Black face? What about the violent pro-lifers who rail against abortions but remain silent about the doctors who dispense substandard healthcare to Black expectant mothers.

What about the homicidal maniacs who cast ballots for “small government” conservatives who refuse to put resources on impoverished neighborhoods because they want to keep taxes low? What about all those murderous monsters who would rather watch poor people die than expand Medicare? What about the GOP politicians who burgle our access to democracy from our bleeding hands? What about the brutal bastard teachers who diminish our daughters’ dignity by punishing them disproportionately? What about all those black boys who could’ve been something?


I bet Smurf could have been someone important.

Well, Smurf is someone important.

While in prison, Smurf watched a bunch of his fellow incarcerees go free because of the First Step Act. Again they told him that he was ineligible. But, because he hadn’t actually committed a violent crime, he insisted that he should be let go. He started telling the authorities that he was eligible, but no one would listen to him. He tried to contact attorneys but no one would listen. After a while, Smurf convinced his homeboys who were in similar situations, that they should all be out of prison. At first, they didn’t believe him...


Until he remembered those articles in The Root.

OK, technically, they were pieces dragging Donald Trump and Van Jones. But when we mentioned the laws in the articles, we linked to the actual text of the legislation. It seemed as if Smurf was right, but they couldn’t even print out the articles. So, let me tell you what these nigga did:


One of the friends got their relatives to print the text of the law we linked to. And because prison officials can’t stop incarcerated people from receiving legal documents, they had it mailed to them. Then they decided, on their own, to start fighting it.

The First Step Act supposedly retroactively reduces the sentences of the unfairly harsh crack laws. But, just because an unfairly sentenced person qualifies doesn’t mean he or she is automatically released. Each prisoner has to apply for early release through the original court that sentenced them. To be fair, as Smurf told me, it wasn’t hard. Other federal courts had already ruled in favor of the exact same argument as his. But, apparently, the releases are up to the judges’ discretion and, for some reason, the rulings weren’t applied to many of the people who were unfairly sentenced in the Middle District of Florida, which is filled with Trump-appointed judges


I know, it doesn’t make any sense.

But they kept fighting. They weren’t lawyers. They weren’t scholars. They were those same violent, Black on Black criminals you hate. And finally, a goddamned Florida dope boy got a federal judge to hear his case.


But here is the genius part of this shit.

Because of the luck of the draw, Smurf drew an Obama-appointed judge. Smurf didn’t argue the merits of his sentence. He didn’t flaunt his record that was filled with commendations for continuing his education. Instead, Smurf contended that the Eighth Circuit and the Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals had already freed people with the same sentence as his so essentially, he argued, his sentence should be reduced because he had been arbitrarily defined as “violent” by one court.


“[The judge] said, ‘if I’m wrong, let me be wrong with the Fourth and the Circuit circuits,’” Smurf told me. “Immediate release!”

I want to end this Mailbag by saying something clever like: “The Root shall set you free.”


But during our conversation, Smurf asked about a few people he knew from South Carolina, including a mutual friend I have written about here, Mecenia Macie” Dials. When I told him that Macie had passed away from cancer, after serving 20 years in prison, he mentioned that her life could have probably been saved if she hadn’t been in prison.

And then he said the thing that changed how I thought of America.

“She wasn’t even a drug dealer,” Smurf said. “Those violent motherfuckers.”

So when you dummies accuse Black people of being violent after seeing how America rapes, tortures and kills us, my question for you is:

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



Case in point, “Joe Blow.” Thanks.

Using bad grammar is a sign of stupidity. Your the ignorant one.

*You’re the ignorant one...