The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Declaration of Blackness

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Declaration of Blackness
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bonds which have connected them with wypipo, and to assume among them their equality on this earth to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the stupid opinions of Caucasians requires that they should answer some of the white people’s tweets, emails and comments which propel caucasity.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all white people are created equal, that they are endowed by America with certain unalienable rights, that among these are privilege, wearing sunglasses on the bill of baseball caps and the pursuit of whiteness.

That to secure these rights, unmelanated Americans will write stupid shit to excuse their behavior. But when we grow tired of the long train of tweets, emails and comments, wet with white tears ...

It is our right, it is our duty, to clap back at these bitches.

These first two tweets accurately sum up a series of emails, DMs and comments received concerning a story about me warning my daughter about certain things she had to do simply because she is black. In this case, it was carrying her identification.


Dear Jennifer and Marvin:

First, I’d like to thank you for explaining to me how to raise a black child. While I recognize the implicit privilege in the “There’s only one race—the human race” theory, the reality is different for most black people. Your tweets fail to acknowledge the fact that racism exists and that black people must balance the idea of their inherent humanity against the stark truth that ignoring the existence of societal prejudice—even if it is practiced by a small minority—can sometimes lead to death.


Imagine, if you will, that there was a serial killer on the loose. Although the police couldn’t figure out who this serial killer was targeting, or why he was killing, imagine if the investigators noticed that a large number of the victims were wearing black shirts. Not all of the victims wore black shirts, but of all the colors of the palette, black-shirt wearers were disproportionately represented.

Anyone would agree that your children have the right to wear whichever-color shirt they choose. I assume that you would also agree that—even if your son or daughter wore a black shirt—it was still statistically unlikely that the serial killer would target your child. After all, the mass murderer couldn’t kill everyone wearing black.


Now imagine that your child was preparing to walk out of the house one night and you noticed that he or she was wearing a black T-shirt. Would telling your child to change shirts reinforce a “victim mentality”? Would you be perpetuating an “oppressed mindset” if you forced him or her to wear another shirt?

There is a serial killer on the loose, Marvin and Jennifer. We know whom he kills. We know which population is disproportionately murdered by this serial killer. But our children can’t remove their blackness, hang their race in the closet and put on a differently colored skin. True “freedom of thought” is a theoretical exercise that black people cannot afford to practice.


Philando Castile rightly thought that he had the freedom to carry a gun. Yet when he informed his killer that he was carrying a legally permitted firearm, Castile was magically transformed into a nigger in a black shirt.

When Trayvon Martin encountered his killer, he did what every parent in America tells their child to do if he or she sees a stranger with a gun: He ran. When George Zimmerman caught up with him, Trayvon had the right to fight the grown man who was following him.


Lecturing me on how to avoid a mass murderer is the height of self-righteous privilege when your children aren’t on the kill list. Until I know that this serial killer is no longer on the loose, I don’t give a fuck what white people think I’m doing to my child’s “mindset,” because I have seen what white people will do to her mind:

They will splatter it all over the sidewalk.

A few weeks ago, The Root’s deputy managing editor, Yesha Callahan, told the story of what happened when a restaurant owner showed up at her house unannounced after she left a three-star review on Yelp. The story was picked up by news outlets from San Francisco to Australia and even turned up on The Wendy Williams Show, causing Yesha’s computer to short-circuit after her email inbox became submerged in white tears.


From: Cisainten_
To: Yelp

So originally I wrote a 5 star review stating that im going to give 5 stars so the owner doesn’t come running to my house late at night lol.

So later on i deleted the previous review because I felt bad for their situation.

I’m going to give porchetta 5 stars for their effort because a lot of places wouldn’t do this. I don’t like how the customer is playing the victim. She is acting like a petty little kid. I mean shes from Virginia so im prety sure she has nothing better to do than call the cops on restaurants. Even the cops looked at her and laughed because they didn’t even follow up on this petty situation. Also i was watching the wendy williams show and wendy mentioned this yelp story. Wendy stated that the customer is so petty and should be grateful for what they done. Me as a chef I wouldn’t want this happening to my restaurant. This place wasn’t even opened for a mont. So im sure that they are going to habe many mistakes to learn.

Oh and don’t think that porchetta paid me for this review because they didn’t. check my profile i’m from brooklyn NY. I’m just wondering to myself if this lady is living in Virginia and is also scared of people knocking

At her door ar night. Why doesn’t she just moved in back with her mama?

From: Michael
To: Yesha Callahan

“He left an apology on Yelp but, you know, it’s too late.” Your mother must be proud to have raised such a small, petty, vindictive person. Now the whole world knows.


Dearest Cisainten_ and Michael:

Lord knows I want to clap back at you guys, but I gotta be honest here. Because of my journalistic integrity, I cannot dispute that Yesha is one of the pettiest people I know. Her petty is legendary. If there were a Petty Hall of Fame, she would be voted in on the second ballot (her credentials warrant first-ballot consideration, but you know how the voters are ... they’re petty).


Plus, I have to ask myself: What kind of person would call the police just because they felt uncomfortable? Imagine if she were in Starbucks; Waffle House; a Tacoma, Wash., clothing store; or—now, this is totally hypothetical—a Yale dormitory and called the cops just because someone was making her feel unsafe? Nah, that would never happen. I’m just spitballing here.

I know no one would ever do such a thing because it would be idiotic. It would reek of privilege. But instead of those previously mentioned, totally made-up examples, Yesha took it a step farther. I could halfway understand if she called the cops on people in a public place; but like Cisainten_ said, Yesha was “playing the victim” by expecting safety in the privacy of her own home.


How dare she?

Furthermore, Yesha’s actions revealed her prejudices. She’s so petty that she went on Yelp and rated a business. Who does that? Even more appalling, she actually gave it three stars based solely on the quality of the food! How petty! That’s not what Yelp’s business-rating service is for!


I think Yesha should march right down to 21950 Cascades Parkway, No. 155, in Sterling, Va., and apologize. Asking a person or a business to take responsibility for their actions is crazy. Painting anyone in such a terrible light for making a simple mistake is so ... I need to come up with another word to describe this. No,petty” isn’t the right word. There has to be a good name for this. Oh, wait, I know! It’s so ...


Finally, the last item for today seems to come from a sincere place, so while the direct message still deserves a clapback, I have designated it as our positive response of the week:

From: Jackson
To: Michael Harriot

Hey, I had an honest question.

Do you really think that writing stereotypes about white people on The Root will help at all with ending racism? I get that stereotypes against white people are just jokes and stereotypes against blacks can end up killing them (police racial prejudice, etc.) but I still don’t see why you fel the need to also refer to white stereotypes in your blogs. Seems a little counterproductive.



I’m going to restate something I’m sure I’ve said in the mailbag before:

I’m not trying to end racism.

Although I am against racism, I am not delusional enough to believe that Jesus, God, the ancestors or T’Challa has blessed me with the requisite amount of writing talent to end white supremacy. I am paid to write about race, not to end it.


In fact, when I sat down earlier this year with The Root’s editor-in-chief, Danielle Belton, for my annual performance review, I thought things went pretty well. At no point during our conversation did she say, “I’m generally pleased with your work, but I’m going to have to reduce your salary because, according to our metrics, racism hasn’t declined since you started working here.”

If James Baldwin had a baby with Toni Morrison and gave it up for adoption so that Ta-Nehisi Coates could co-parent the kid with Roxane Gay, that child still couldn’t write elegantly enough to erase racism. That’s because no black person in the world can cure America of this particular mental illness.


Racism is black people’s burden, but it is a white man’s disease. We did not create the sickness; nor did we spread it. It continues to spread because white people are simply carriers of the contagion, yet they are immune to its effects. They have no desire to eradicate it from the planet because it is one of the few sicknesses that make them stronger.

And even though you may feel aggrieved by my characterization of white people, you should know that there is a purpose to it. I’d like you to conduct an experiment:

I’d like you to go to Google and type in the word “black,” followed by any noun used to designate anything associated with human beings. Feel free to use “man,” “woman,” “child,” “children,” “people,” “neighborhood,” “group,” etc. I’m offering you the freedom of thought to choose whichever term you like.


After you hit the search button, browse through the Google results and tell me how many positive stories you see. Let me know what percentage of those stories make you smile and which percentage of those stories contain references to something negative.

I totally relate to how you feel. There’s this one little site on the internet that often casts white people in a negative light. I can understand why you think it is not fair. But when I use these phrases that cause you consternation, I am not doing it out of retaliation or reciprocity. I do it because it is true.


If it bothers you so much, I would suggest not clicking on this site again. If you avoid The Root, you probably would never see your people cast in what you consider a negative light.

I wish I could do that.

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


KC Complains A Lot

I think white people figure that the best way to “solve racism” is to pretend it doesn’t exist. Or, if we’re being slightly more generous, to acknowledge it’s existence...and then pretend it doesn’t exist.

When we point out racism or prejudice or whatever, they think we’re being “divisive” instead of just pointing some shit out that’s fundamentally wrong with the way the world works. It’s not divisive to say “this thing that happens to black people because of white people”. It’s a matter of fact. It’s a statement. It is an acknowledgment that shit is not fair.

Black people ( or people of color in general) can not end racism. We did not create white supremacy. White folks did that. It’s their cross to bear if they really want to end it. But in reality, they don’t want to end it. Because they want to be comfortable.

And confronting the reality that white supremacy is a big, massive, ever changing that’s been built from the ground up to make sure their status as the de facto group of people that matters is deeply uncomfortable.

But what’s even more uncomfortable to white people is that given the opportunity to truly end white supremacy, knowing what it would do to all the privilege they enjoy and shit they can get away with...they wouldn’t. They are more uncomfortable with the thought that their position at the top would be threatened than they are with inequality.

And so they shift the burden and the blame on to black folks to “end racism”, which amounts to never talking about, never mentioning it, and just letting that shit quietly pass until such a time between now and never that they deem it necessary to do away with it. The only way to get rid of racism to these people, is to comply.