The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Caucasian Virus

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Caucasian Virus
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

In light of this global pandemic, we’ve decided to come forward and admit that our claim that we respond to our readers’ correspondences each Friday may not be 100 percent accurate. After carefully contemplating this issue, we must admit that we have led you to believe a lie.


For the sake of transparency, you should know that some of the emails, tweets, DMs and comments that you read do not come from people who read The Root. We know that some of these people did not read the articles that they are complaining about. Some just read the headlines, some are just responding to tweets and, if I’m being honest, I sometimes doubt if some of these people can even read.

It’s not our fault.

Our labs are currently developing a test to determine if people actually read the material, but our readers tell me that it’s still at least a year away from public use. Plus, testing everyone who replies to each article would overwhelm our fuck-giving capacities, while putting other things that deserve to have fucks given about them in jeopardy.

In fact, when we contacted the Centers for Douchebag Control, the CDC informed us that four out of five doctors recommend the Root’s Clapback Mailbag.

The fifth one is racist.

Since we’re being transparent, I must admit that I don’t know which article this first guy is talking about. I should also inform you that I added a few paragraph breaks.

From: Ryan Q
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Cultural Contributions

German Engineering, French Wine, Italian Leather, Chinese Manufacturing, Russian Aerospace, American First in Flight and Autos. What has Africa contributed other than race-baiting, racist POS like you?

I know, I know, it’s the white man devil and the systemic racism you endure in the greatest land of opportunity in the history civilization the keeps you and your people from thriving. It’s not that 70% of black children grow up with no male/father guidance. That they join gangs seeking male role models because its absent in their adolescent upbringing.

And yes I know I know that an in proportional amount of blacks are incarcerated, not because the crimes they’ve committed but because white men get off locking up innocent black men. Education takes a backseat to Gang banging and selling drugs because that’s all these misguided souls know. And unfortunately these kids listen to race-baiters as yourself who spew victimization for their situation rather than address cultural core issues.

Funny I’ve never read an article you’ve written addressing black on black violence. Blacks are killing each other at a rate never seem before in civilized society in Chicago, Baltimore, St Louis, etc... Black Lives Matter just apparently not when it comes to your own people.

From: Sam T.
To: Michael Harriot

Pretty ironic that your writeing a blog about wypipo blaming minorities for their problems when your entire site does just that.

Dear Ryan and Sam:

I’d like to address your accusations point by point but, unfortunately, I have written extensively about every single point you’ve made. However, since we’re all under strict isolation for a while, I suggest you read some of the following pieces:

However, there is something about your letter that I have never thought about until now.


Why are you mad?

Let’s say you’re right about everything you said and I am wrong about everything I’ve ever written. Let’s say black people’s complaints are unwarranted and your observations are valid.


For a second, let’s imagine that racism is dead and every black person is imagining something that does not exist. Let’s concede that all the white people who believe we’re just playing the victim are right and all the black people are lying about discrimination. I’ll even allow that the overwhelming amount of mathematical data, government statistics, historical evidence, and peer-reviewed research are all just one collective illusion created by a secret, coordinated group of savvy magicians who want to perpetuate a narrative that has existed for 400 years.

Why do you care?

It is obvious that you don’t care about black people. If your diagnosis of all the negro deficiencies are correct, then shouldn’t you be delighted that we’ve eschewed education and hard work to embrace self-victimization and black-on-black crime? If all of our failings are our own, then you should be happy to see us perish from our stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the white way is the right way. Why the fuck won’t you let us be wrong?


And what does it matter to you? According to you, you’re smarter, harder working and have everything figured out. Even if you feel like you’re being unfairly vilified, can you name a single instance when black people’s vituperation of racism, privilege or whiteness itself has made one millimeter of a negative impact on white people as a whole?

One more question:

What’s in it for everyone else?

I know you think I’ve invested dozens of years of education, hundreds of hours of research and thousands of dollars working toward a career in being wrong as fuck. But what do I get out of it besides this lucrative position at The Root? Where are my victimization benefits? When do I get my reward?


And I’m not just talking about me. I’m talking about my coworkers and our editor-in-chief. Are they taking money from this magical cabal that wants to perpetuate the scientifically proven but somehow incorrect narrative? Are the academics, social scientists, economists, historians, and other journalists in on it, too? How about the outside observers who have never been to America but still see the blatant white supremacy that exists? Why, in 400 years, has no one been able to infiltrate this secret society or—at the very least—prove beyond a reasonable doubt that we are all incorrect?

These are all rhetorical questions because I know the answer.

Either every bit of sociological, historical, empirical and anecdotal evidence has been wrong about the discrimination, inequality and injustice that has permeated this country for its entire existence or


I’m right.

And you’re racist.

Either way, I want my prize.

Here’s another one about the Black Person’s Guide to the Coronapocalypse

From: David
To: Michael Harriot

Michael - saw your article on TheRoot and thought I’d add a suggestion.

How about using this occasion to tell your readers to not be racist against other races, like Asian Americans? You know, like how ALL races here in the states are as likely to give you the coronavirus and that it’s not just Asians? If anything, giving all Asian Americans the stinkeye and treating them as the only ones with the disease is probably more dangerous, because you’re ignoring the fact that your Latino friend, or the white Can-I-Speak-To-Your-Manager Karen, or even your black coworker might have it.

I know African Americans dislike Asians, but I don’t think it’s that radical to say that fighting back against racism means fighting back against racism between all races. A little goodwill between races is probably beneficial for fighting back against all forms of institutional racism here in the states!

Stay safe!

Dear David,

Thank you for your suggestion. As you will see from the Mailbag’s correspondence, I am happy to announce that we have actually written about this issue since you wrote your letter.


While these articles were not written in direct response, I can’t help but wonder what makes you think “African Americans dislike Asians.” When did this happen?

First of all, I’ll have you know that one of my best friends is Asian. His name is Quang and I haven’t seen him in over a year because he lives across town from me but we rode together from a poetry tournament in Arkansas a few years ago and we’ve been very close ever since. Plus, I have an Asian in my family. That’s right, my niece is named Asia and I love her to death.


And while I can’t say I grew up around Asians, I actually lived in China for a few months and traveled extensively through Thailand, which counts. Plus, my daughter took Japanese lessons for 7 years and my son and I both studied Chinese, so we can’t be racist.

No, David, you’re the real racist.

Why did you name your fictional white woman Karen? What if I told you I was married to a black woman named Karen who wants to strangle me every time someone at The Root uses her name as a placeholder for someone who wants to put cranraisins in potato salad? She actually hates potato salad and the joke doesn’t affect her in any way but it still bothers her a little bit. Why do you refuse to speak up about the oppression of black Karens, David?


It’s because Asian Davids dislike black Karens, don’t they? A little goodwill between Davids and Karens (and I include Karyns and even Caryns in this) could go a long way. You should tell all the Asian Davids (and I include Daves and even Daveys in this) to stop giving all Karen-Americans the stinkeye and treating them as imaginary white people.

Damn, this sounds a lot stupider than it did in my head. Perhaps before being defensive and trying to prove I’m not racist against Asians, I could have said something simple, like: “You’re absolutely right, Dave.”


You’re absolutely right Dave.

This last email and DM concerning the articles condemning the use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” are hot off the presses


From: Leftists Are Losers
To: Michael Harriot

If you calling a American virus that originated in china Chinese is racist then is Chinese food racist? Is Mexican food racist? We know it isn’t made there but that’s where they originated.

Don’t you think that’s why noone has corrected it but a few leftist media peoople?


Dear Leftist:

You make a valid point. So let me tell you a story that I just realized.

When I was in high school, my English teacher asked me to perform in the Christmas play. Having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian family that didn’t celebrate Christmas (or any pagan holidays), I didn’t know shit about “the Christmas” but I agreed because I fucking loved Mrs. McDonald. (Honestly, I think it was because she once let me perform Eric B. and Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” in class as poetry and she knew all the words!)


On the first day of practice, Mrs. McDonald asked me if I was cool with being Santa Claus. Now, it doesn’t get more pagan than Santa Claus, so I know I was risking becoming a heathen, but I decided to take the starring role, much to my mother’s dismay. Apparently, the town Christmas play was a big deal. I’d never heard anyone talk about it but, again, I had never even seen a Christmas concert so I figured that it’s what the heathens do. After a talk with Mrs. McDonald, my mother even agreed to let me participate.

The play required me to burst out of a fireplace. Traditionally, no one was supposed to know the identity of the Santa until he emerged. I had to make sure I could do it without getting my Santa suit tangled or it would ruin everything, so I practiced climbing out of that fireplace incessantly. At every practice, as I drilled, Mrs. McDonald would ask me if I was cool with being Santa, and I would reassure her that I was. She seemed acutely aware of my religious upbringing and she didn’t want to make me do anything that went against my ethics. But I was so damn proud to be the Santa Claus in that Christmas play that none of that Jesus bullshit mattered to me.


On the day of the play, I killed that shit. I was the best Santa Claus in the history of Santas. I took their breath away and received a standing ovation. Everyone cheered and clapped like the building was on fire. It still stands as my proudest theatrical moment. Mrs. McDonald was so proud of me she stood beside me that entire night.

At least I think that’s how it went.

I don’t remember much about the play because my grandmother died that day. But in my head, there will never be another Santa Claus like the Santa Claus of Hartsville High School’s Christmas play.


A few weeks ago, one of my white friends and I were talking about our high school days and she brought that play up. (Yes, I have white friends.)

“Did it feel awkward at all?” she asked. “Were you nervous?”

“Nah,” I replied. “There was nothing to be nervous about. I practiced coming out of that fireplace a million times.”


“I mean, about the controversy,” she replied.

It turns out, that Mrs. McDonald wasn’t concerned about my religion. She had conspired with my mom.


Unbeknownst to me, until maybe a month ago, Mrs. McDonald had taken a lot of heat about that play. I had no idea that the concert was considered the white people’s Christmas play and they were incensed about there being a black Santa Claus. That’s why she kept asking me over and over again. That’s why she hovered over me all that night. She thought there would be backlashand there was...among a very small number of white people.

The rest didn’t care.

Apparently the ones who objected were quickly dismissed by the overwhelming majority of people who pushed back against the racism. I’m told that there was a lot of anger at the few racist white people who objected. I probably would have heard it if there hadn’t been a death in the family.


What’s the point of this story?

Racism is stupid.

Being adamant about the nationality of a virus is as stupid as being intransigent about Santa Claus’ race. PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor, CBS’ Weijia Jiang and a few “leftist” reporters weren’t the first ones to notice Trump’s racist act. But their pointed questions exposed the sheer racist stupidity of the president’s insistence on giving a virus an origin story. Pushing his antagonistic act into the public consciousness may actually save lives because people who would have never committed an act of violence against a Chinese person now see how stupid it is to ascribe an ethnicity to coronavirus.


The problem has never been that most white people commit acts of racism. It’s that most white people sit in silence. Even if they subconsciously know what’s right, they will give implicit support to discrimination because, sometimes, they don’t even think about it. If you don’t see the difference between calling something “Chinese food” and referring to an illness as a “Chinese virus,” it may be because you’ve never thought about it.

A lot of those people never wondered why Santa Claus was always white. But hearing their friends and neighbors complain about the existence of a black fictional character exposed the sheer stupidity of the idea. Why hasn’t there ever been a black Santa?


Sometimes, changing people’s perception doesn’t even require convincing people that they’re wrong. Sometimes, you just have to make them realize that their silence has provided cover to the racism that surrounds us all. People often assume comfortable silence is a mandate for maintaining the status quo.

Except for Mrs. McDonald.

She ain’t no joke.


Dosadi's failed experiment

I had a “Mrs. McDonald” in my life, her name was Mrs Thompson and she helped me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. Teachers like these are the lifeblood of successful schools. Thank you the Mrs. McDonald and Mrs. Thompsons in every school.