Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Credit Card

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Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

I kinda like hate mail.

More than a year ago, I promised to include more complimentary correspondences in the Clapback Mailbag. I swear I tried. It’s not that people don’t share their appreciation for The Root with us. The problem is—and I am still trying to figure out why—I don’t take compliments well.

I recognize that this is a problem but there is something innate that prevents me from acknowledging compliments. I don’t think it comes from self-loathing or a lack of confidence; it just seems indulgent or narcissistic to me.


But hate, though.

There’s something satisfying and reassuring about knowing that dumb, racist people can’t stand you. Having someone whose entire worldview is wrong tell you that you’re an idiot is the closest thing you’ll ever get to a confirmation that you’re on the right path.


So, to the people who read The Root and fire off angry emails, tweets and DMs, I’d like to say, from the bottom of my heart:

Thanks for the compliment.

It would be impossible for me to include all the hate mail from the article about dumb white people:


However, I really feel the need to respond to one subset of readers: The non-racist white people who didn’t vote for Trump.

To: Michael Harriot
From: Gary


I was born white. I’m neither sorry nor happy that I’m white it’s just who I am.

You don’t know me. I could be a good person or a jerk, so judging me by the color of my skin is an old concept that hasn’t made any sense for any shade of epidermis at any time in human history.

I was fortunate to have been raised to be color blind, and status blind, and looks blind.

My mother was ahead of MLK. She advised me that to determine the heart of a person observe how they treat others...especially those less fortunate in all the categories above.

I’ve been a Democrat for all of my 78 years. I don’t like President Trumps manners, but I don’t hate him. For the last four years I’ve seen him attacked, insulted and threatened. It’s okay to disagree with him but it’s not okay to behave worse than he does.

It makes me sad to see people divided and angry, but it devastates me to see mindless hate...and that’s what is happening all too often.

I don’t know, but I imagine that you’re a good husband, father...maybe even a grandfather like me, and a good friend.

Compassion and tolerance will heal us. Hate and intolerance pave the way to violence and destruction.

We all have a choice.

What will you choose Michael?

To: Michael Harriot
From: Mark
Subject: racism

Message: Hello, I read your article about white people being dumb, deniers of science, and voters of Trump. Your article stated that 54% of white people voted for Trump. That means almost half did not. I fall into the latter category just like you fall into the majority of black people that did not vote for Trump. My point is you generalized which is the exact thing that you claim white racists do, which they do and for someone that wishes racism to go away shouldn’t we end all generalizations?

Until people recognize that all people are unique and cannot be categorized we will suffer with racism. We see it all the time. The media takes for granted that the Black vote will be for democrats while the White vote will be for republicans. Doesn’t this irritate you that you are taken for granted? I know it irritates me so please stop. If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

To: Michael Harriot
From: White Person

Im white im not dumb. I voted for biden for the fact he will be a great leader. Trump is a facist delusional meglomaniac. Socialpath and plain and simple priviledged idiot. The point is im not dumb. The article you wrote was pretty racist and it scapegoated a group. Im sure you know what this feels like. If you want to know what the problem is in this country its what you named that article. Black lives do matter. But dont turn around and make a racist comment about another group just because you dont agree with their politics.

You are just as bad as they are.

Dear Gary, Mark and White Person,

First of all, I’d like to deeply apologize for my complete failure to acknowledge your efforts to vote for Joe Biden. It is inexcusable.


I’d also like to apologize for forgetting to praise:

  • All the people who didn’t own slaves.
  • The white people who never lynched a Black person for not raping a white woman.
  • The people who didn’t spit on kids integrating schools.
  • All the stores who only had one water fountain during the Jim Crow era.
  • Diners that served Black people who sat at lunch counters.
  • People who don’t kill puppies.
  • Non-poisonous snakes and spiders.
  • All the women who are not my mama.
  • People who were born in mangers but were not Messiahs.

In fact, I often think about how we forget that most people in Germany’s Nazi Party never laid a finger on a Jewish person. Haters like to focus on the men who herded people into concentration camps and participated in the Holocaust but we never recognize the people who didn’t contribute to the genocide. What about the people who voted for Hitler because they liked tiny mustaches? How about the people who just wanted to keep their jobs and go about their lives as usual? Why should they be condemned?


Sure, they might not have done anything to stop Hitler but a lot of those people were just working-class garbagemen and secretaries and tailors and train conductors and schoolteachers. A lot of them just liked the National Socialist German Workers’ Party’s economic policies because it had a great pension and profit-sharing plan.

It’s terrible that we “scapegoat” the Nazis and paint them with such a broad brush.


You know who else gets a bad rap?


Did you know that most Southern whites who fought for the Confederacy didn’t own slaves? Sure, they killed their own countrymen for the right to create a white supremacist state that was based on the subjugation of human beings, but most of them weren’t slavemasters. And yeah, some would say that it is impossible for them not to know about the brutal and inhumane treatment Black people were subjected to, but that doesn’t mean all white Southerners wanted to enslave Africans.


During Jim Crow, when white people turned on the news and saw Black children being bitten by dogs and sprayed with water hoses, most white people still didn’t support the civil rights movement. But does that make all the white people bad? We can’t possibly know what all those white people thought so it’s dangerous to condemn all the white people.

Now, let me ask you a question:

Do you think a Jewish person differentiates between a fair-haired German who just wanted a pension plan and the engineers who built the death chambers? Do you think Harriet Tubman told her Underground Railroad passengers to only hide from the fugitive slave catchers or from just “white people”? Do you think the people at sit-ins thought the man behind the counter was a racist but excused the actions of the white diners silently eating ham sandwiches at the same lunch counters?


Here is the thing about holocausts, Jim Crow and racism in America.

It is all white people’s fault.

All the enslavers, lynchers, Nazis, Klansmen and violent white extremists who ever existed could not have carried out their hateful deeds if not for people like you.


Gary, you are supposed to hate Trump. If you have an iota of tolerance or compassion for someone whose politics, ideology or plans include disregarding or harming other human beings, you are helping them. The fact that you don’t, means that you are not only complicit, but you are a coward.

If you knew anything about Martin Luther King Jr., you’d know that he didn’t believe that love and compassion could defeat injustice. Love and compassion are simply the necessary ingredients necessary to make someone do something about injustice. It’s the “doing something” that is important.


And perhaps that is the difference between me and you.

I hate the death chambers. I hate the segregated lunch counters. I hate the lynchings and the slave catchers and the chains and the inequality and the racism and the white supremacy.


And you’re just a white man trying to eat his ham sandwich...

With tolerance and compassion for it all.

Of course, I must acknowledge that not all white people feel like Gary, Mark and White Person

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: Jan

Trump is going to win and kick niggs like you out of the America. Hope you have fun in Africa

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.


Dear TJ, James and Steve:

After reading Gary and Mark’s letters, you don’t know how much I needed this.


Here’s a brand new argument that I’ve never heard before from white women:

From: Lara
To: Michael

Instead of using the race card against white women because they voted for Trump (I didn’t but recognize that many did), maybe you should point out how much we progressed. If black people couldn’t vote, who do you think elected the people who passed the civil rights laws? Many white women suffragists participated in the underground railroad and the abolition movement because we have an innate sense of right and wrong. It’s no coincidence that equal rights took a leap forward after we got the right to vote.

Intersectionality begins with feminism and it’s sexist and ignorant to lump us in with the white patriarchy. We’ve been fighting for your freedom and equality along time. Yasss!

An ally

Dear Lara, the ally,


“We?” Damn, girl, that was you! You did that? Chile, I had no idea.

I mean, I know that the women’s suffrage movement evolved out of the abolition movement but when I read my history books about how Quakers and Black women who started the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, I must have missed your name, Lara.


Of course, had I known it was you who freed the slaves and dealt a crushing blow to racism, I definitely would have given you credit. You deserve a round of applause for coming in second place to white men in the Olympics of historical brutality.

But then again, I was probably concentrating on all those male slave-owners, segregationists and Trump supporters and forgot that white women owned 40 percent of slaves according to the 1860 census. I forgot that the Daughters of the Confederacy are largely responsible for all the Confederate monuments. I forgot that by Brown v. Board of Education, white women were on the school boards that refused to integrate and voted for Southern segregationists. I forgot that Alabama’s Lurleen Wallace became only the third woman to be elected governor because her husband, segregationist George Wallace, couldn’t be re-elected because of term limits.


Was that you, too Lara?

What? You want credit for all the good stuff white women did but not the bad? I thought you were a part of the “we,” Lara?


This you?

Why’d you do that? Why’d you let your homegirl lie on Emmett Till? Or the people in Rosewood? Or that boy in Tulsa? Why’d you throw bottles at Martin Luther King Jr. and support Jim Crow? Why’d you let Black women organize your suffrage movement and kick them to the curb? Why’d you uphold white supremacy and pretend that you were an innocent little victim all this time?


It was a rhetorical question, Laura.

I know why.

Because everyone wants freedom. Everyone wants equality. And most of the time, the path to acceptance means pledging your loyalty to the oppressors and proving that you are no different than they are. It’s not the only path but it is often the easiest path. But even if I don’t blame you for that, you can’t expect me to believe that you aren’t with them just because you knitted yourself a pink hat and bought a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.


I’m not blaming you for the misdeeds of all white women Laura. I’m just asking how I’m supposed to tell you from them? You just said you were part of the “we,” Laura!

Anyway, Congratulations on being slightly less of a white supremacist than white men. I’m sure the Oppression Olympic silver medal feels nice next to your cold, heartless breast.