The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Ditch and the Dookie - A Movement in Three Parts

Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: The Ditch and the Dookie - A Movement in Three Parts
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante
Clapback MailbagEach Friday, we select the best (or worst) emails, tweets, DMs and comments from our readers and respond to them in the The Root's Clapback Mailbag.

Today’s mailbag is just one long story that’s actually three long stories that began a few months ago. when I wrote an article about Pete Buttigieg:

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From: Tammie H.
To: Danielle Belton

When you write articles about white people need to do this and white people did this again you are part of the problem. You are putting all white people in one category ignorantly. Common mistake with todays journalism. In my family we have have gay, straight, bi, transgender, white , black, Mexican, convicts and high scholars...we all get along fine regardless of our differences and skin color....so white people are the problem?

To: The Root

From: Tom

So, another unlawfully blatantly racist publication … The Root.

Dear Tammie and Tom,

In that Pete Buttigieg piece, I wrote about a ditch that ran through the town where I grew up.

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In the late 1940s, the city dug an eight-foot-deep reservoir that separated the Black part of town from the white part of town. It really didn’t matter, because the town was segregated. But after the high schools desegregated in 1985 (the entire Darlington County school system didn’t desegregate until the year 2000), kids in the part of town where all Black people lived had to cross that ditch to get to school.

Normally, there was a 2x4 that you could walk across to traverse the ditch. But, on days when it would rain, assholes would move the boards so you would literally have to jump this huge ditch to get across. And yes, you had to jump. On rainy days, kids from downtown would gather around the ditch to see who fell in. And if you had a mean shoe game, forget it.

I have seen motherfuckers mistime their jumps and fall into that abyss like Buck Rogers into a black hole (I’ve never seen Buck Rogers but there had to be an episode about a Black Hole, right? If not, they really missed a golden opportunity). Of course, you could take the long way around—you could basically walk a mile out of the way, along the border of Hoptown until you got to the school—but the straightest path was to jump the ditch.

The ditch is a metaphor.

After I wrote that little story, people had a million questions.

They didn’t ask about education or racism. In fact, most of them didn’t even ask about the facts of the story. A lot of them just wanted to know why I was so upset about the ditch. Many of them said: “Well, Pete Buttigieg didn’t build the ditch, so why are you blaming him?”

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But of the million or so people who read that story, the most common question posed to me by readers of that article perfectly explains why white people are the problem.

“Hey, I read your story and while I don’t agree with it, I have a question,” they invariably begin, before adding:

“Why didn’t you just ride the bus to school instead of jumping the ditch?”

And that is the problem with white people.


This letter from John C. helped me find the answer to that question:

From: John C.
To: Michael Harriot

Subject: I want to hear more

I came across your name when reviewing a group, the “blackpac” they have videos on youtube calling Trump a racist. So I started to look at who supports him, and I came across this article from 2018, . I was honestly shocked that you took such a swipe at people in your own race, and put them into categories, further marginalizing your own people?

Are Black people simply not allowed to be conservative and vote for Trump? I mean I’m white and like millions of other white people I voted for Obama, does that put me into some category of creamy white skinned folks trying to appease black people or maybe I was trying to impress my black fiance? I couldn’t just have my opinions about the guy right, we are all just categorical morons to you huh? I hope one day that we have a country that isn’t racist, but unfortunately with people as full of hate against anyone who doesn’t think like you or vote like you, it will never happen.

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Dear John C.

The answer is: Southside.

Most of the Black children in my hometown didn’t have to hop the ditch. In the 1960s, Hartsville’s Black population expanded past the borders of that little segregated square and spilled over into an unsettled area south of town.

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Most of the people who built homes in Southside there were middle-class factory workers, teachers and professionals. They also attended the city’s Black high school. But, because they were technically outside of the city limits, Southsiders weren’t subject to the regulations of the Black people who lived within the city limits.

They built their own parks and community centers. Southside Elementary was newer and better. They even funded their own bus system. Because they lived outside of the area where the majority-white city council controlled their lives, they essentially got to govern themselves.

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And guess what happened?

Whenever Black people in the city limits spoke about racism, police brutality and unequal schools, the white people pointed to the Black people on the Southside and said: “The Southsiders seem to be doing OK without our help. Why can’t all the other Black people do it?”

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They never mentioned that the citizens of Southside weren’t paying property taxes to the city. They completely ignored the fact that the Southsiders could create good neighborhoods because they didn’t have white people interfering with their economic and social progress.

And so, in 1985, when Hartsville decided to shut down the all-Black high school and send the Black students to the all-white high school, the Southside was elated. They would finally get to attend a well-regarded school (which was actually close to the Southside) instead of the Black school with all of us downtown kids. Plus, they wouldn’t have to maintain their separate bus system.

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All the Southsiders had to do was agree to be annexed into the city limits and pay city taxes. The Black folks who lived downtown warned the Southsiders that this was a bad idea. First of all, although the white high school was closer to Southside than the old Black high school, it was a long way from the Black downtown area.

But the Southsiders had lifted themselves up by their own bootstraps and built their own thriving community. They knew white people could be racist but they didn’t think it would affect them. So they voted for annexation and, in a gesture of goodwill, they even donated their buses to the white school. Maybe that would help the downtown negroes get on their level.

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But, instead of giving the buses to the downtown areas, the school system used them for the white kids. And, to justify their move, the school district created a now-legendary map that proved that Hartsville High School was less than a mile away from the Black part of town. The map wasn’t wrong, it just left out one small detail:

Roads.

So, to literally bridge the gap and make it to the new integrated high school, the Black kids found a way to traverse the literal hurdle to their education. Every day, including today, dozens, if not a few hundred Black kids still “hop the ditch.”

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As years passed, a perception began to grow that the Southsiders were the “good kids.” Some parents wouldn’t even let their kids go to the old Black neighborhood because it was now a “bad area.” But the people in the old Black neighborhood didn’t blame the Southsiders. They blamed the system that had convinced the Southsiders to contribute to the oppression of the Black people.

They knew that the allure of whiteness was an evil siren. They watched the Southside gradually decline as the city allocated the Southside’s resources to the white neighborhoods. They watched the Southside become a “bad area,” too.

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However, to this day, there is an air of superiority that Southsiders exude. It isn’t necessarily divisive—they know they’re Black—but they assume that they live in a better part of town than the other Black people—the part of town where I grew up.

But that part of the Hartsville isn’t called “The part of town where Michael Harriot grew up.”

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It isn’t even called “Old Blacktowne.”

The kids who still hop the ditch, now proudly claim the name that was given to them by people from Southside. I can’t even lie, I use it too. If you were from my hometown you’d know exactly what I meant when I proudly say:

I’m from “Hoptown”


And finally:

To: Michael Harriot
From: Celticsman

It would be nice if you highlighted the fact that ‘wypipo’ are also experiencing disenfranchisement not just African Americans. And the disenfranchised white people having their votes stolen because they support policies that will help your people.

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I actually responded to Celticsfan:

From: Michael Harriot
To: Celticsfan

You’re right. I should treat everyone the same.

I just checked your Twitter timeline and you’ve never mentioned voting rights, election inequality or a single thing about voter suppression until last month.

But, because I am a fair man, expect me to write a scathing article on white voter disenfranchisement in the year 2420.

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To which Celticsfan replied:

From: Celticsfan
To: Michael Harriot

You think its funny?

You;d say I was racist if I wrote that.

Dear Celticsfan

This story is crazy but I swear on everything I know that it is true.

When I lived in Columbia, SC, I briefly dated someone who was always checking to make sure her car doors were locked. Now, this was before every car came with a keyfob remote, so she would always go back to her car and check every door. I always thought it was strange but I never asked any questions.

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One weekend, I dropped my car off to get the oil changed and she picked me up. But, instead of going to my house, we went to her house. After a few hours, we went to pick up my car. As we walked toward her car in her apartment complex’s parking lot, I could see the expression change on her face. I didn’t realize what had happened until we got to her car.

Someone had shit on her windshield.

(OK, maybe that shat. Or is it “shitted?”) Anyway, there was dookie on her windshield. It was human shit, too. And it wasn’t solid but it wasn’t liquid. It was the consistency of a hearty bowl of grits. It was unsturdy, as if someone had eaten nothing but soup and collard greens for days while making sure they were well hydrated.

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And you know what she did?

She got in the car!

Yep. She got in the car, hit the windshield wiper fluid button and sprayed that shit off her car as if she had just encountered the mailman or a...

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“DID YOU SEE THAT SHIT ON YOUR CAR?” I yelled.

I couldn’t play it off. I don’t know what kind of existence you are living but I don’t encounter other people’s diaper gravy in my normal everyday life. And when I do, I’m probably gonna mention it.

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So she explained that sometimes her ex-boyfriend/baby daddy occasionally shits on her car. It was just that simple. He wasn’t violent. He wasn’t confrontational. He just had a habit of depositing his turds on her car if he suspected she was with someone else. It was really a coping mechanism.

Oh, and he just happened to live in the same apartment complex.

Now, this wasn’t my first time at this woman’s house, so I asked her why she hadn’t warned me about the possibility that I could encounter revenge poop.

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“Come on,” she said. “It ain’t that bad. At least he didn’t get in the car.”

Then I waited.

She said nothing.

I waited.

She said nothing.

Look, I don’t know how you were raised, but you don’t bring up the subject of something worse than spontaneous buttfudge and just let it go. There must be some booboo-related follow-up questions, the first of which is: What happens when he gets in the car?

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She replied so matter-of-factly that for a half-a-second, I thought I was in a special shitty episode of Punk’d. I knew Aston Kutcher must have been somewhere close by, so I started looking for the hidden camera when she looked directly into my eyes and said:

“Welll...then he shits in the car.”

What! Am I sitting in the catbirdshit seat? (He usually does his business on the driver’s seat but one time he wiped some extra-soupy leftovers on the door handle.) How do I know there aren’t remnants of diarrhea on my hand right now? (I don’t.) What does he wipe with? (She doesn’t watch him do it, dummy!) How long has this been going on? (Two years.)

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TWO YEARS!

She said she’s called the police about it but they couldn’t do anything unless she had proof. What’s she supposed to do, take pictures while he defecates in her car? Then she dropped me off at my car and said she was heading to the carwash.

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That was my last time speaking with her.

I didn’t stop seeing her because I am leery of dookie (even though I am leery of dookie). It wasn’t because of her crazy ex-boyfriend. I left her alone for one reason:

She was laughing!

Maybe it was the look on my face, but she thought it was hilarious that I was so appalled. She had never seen anyone “appalled” before and, to be honest, I was appalled AF. She was doubling over laughing, too. She was wheezing and covering her face and holding her stomach like she was about to produce a second number two. I thought I was going to have to rush in and get her asthma pump. But she didn’t have asthma. She was just out of breath from guffawing at my anti-feces face.

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Now you understand Celticsfan.

The dookie is a lot like racism or voter suppression. It might be appalling but imagine if it happened 5 times. Of course, you’d still be mad. But what about 20 times. What about six months?

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Would you still be mad after a year of someone shitting in your car?

If, after a year of shitting in your car, what if, they stop shitting in your car and started shitting on your car. It sounds crazy now, but after 18 months of cleaning someone else’s feces, you’d thank God that someone was nice enough to shit on your car.

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Would you even be disgusted after 2 years?

How about 10 years?

Twenty?

How about 400 years?

For 400 years, we’ve just been trying to live our lives and go to the places we want to go—not to Disneyland or the strip club, but to school, home or to the goddamned oil change place. And we’ve gotten so used to jumping ditches and wiping off other people’s shit, we’re not even alarmed by the audacity of whiteness anymore. We just try to find a way to hurdle over the obstacles because we know no one is coming to help us. We spray that shit off and keep driving.

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And sometimes we laugh.

Because, after suppressing, stealing, purging, discounting, and downright dismissing the Black vote for years, it’s funny to watch white people be appalled when it happens to them. They are genuinely shocked that their votes might not count; that there might be violence on or after election day, or that it’s so hard to vote.

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They can’t imagine jumping that ditch.

They can’t imagine dealing with this shit every day.

So no, Celticsfan, I am not going to talk about white oppression. But since you brought it up...

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It is kinda funny.

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

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DISCUSSION

joplin12
GreatScott

This reminds me of the saying about the Great Depression when chalkasians talk about people jumping out of buildings and what not.

“Know what Black people called the Great Depression? Tuesday.”