Nigga, I ain’t shit
I just know how to rhyme a lil’ bit
I’m just trying to squeeze fit my fat ass in
wherever I can fit.
— Cee-Lo Green
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I already know what I’m going to say before I even begin to write the Clapback Mailbag.
Today is the other one percent.
As you may have heard, I was arrested last week.
My mother keeps calling me. She left a message saying she had a secret.
She wasn’t at all concerned when I was arrested because, as my Uncle Nero used to tell her, “Don’t worry about Mikey. I know his secret: He won’t let anything break his faith.”
My uncle Nero Benjamin was a preacher. He had a long beard that made him look like a biblical prophet. He had a loud booming voice and an even louder laugh. He could recite any verse in the Bible by heart and always referred to it as “a guidebook for life.” From his presence alone, you could tell that he was a man of God and most people had this weird reverence for him. In fact, everyone in the world, even his wife, called him “Elder Benjamin.”
I called him “Uncle Nero.”
“Elder Benjamin, boy,” he would always reply before laughing. Even though he pretended it annoyed him, I don’t think he minded it at all. His wife loved that I regularly challenged him. That’s because Uncle Nero and I argued every time we saw each other.
Every year, Uncle Nero’s church would hold a $500 oratory contest and his wife was always one of the judges. Because it was a fundamentalist Holiness Church, most of the contestants would recite bible verses or even entire chapters from the Bible. I was never a member of my uncle’s church, but I won so many times that I was eventually banned from competing.
But I had a secret.
Before I was born, Uncle Nero bought a few acres of land on the edge of town and raised his eight children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren on that piece of land. It was about 10 miles from where I grew up, but when I was a kid, I would wake up early in the morning, and ride my yellow Huffy bicycle out to his house and spend all day with my cousins. One day, it started raining and my Uncle Nero put my bicycle on the back of his truck, covered it with a tarp, and took it home.
On the way home, we were stopped by the police.
The cop went through a few perfunctory questions and asked my uncle to step out of the car to show him what was under the tarp. When Uncle Nero pulled the tarp back and showed the officer my bicycle, the cop told my uncle to stand there in the driving rain. Then, the cop went back to the car and just sat there. I could see, in the rearview mirror, that the cop wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t running a license or checking the registration. That cop was just getting a kick out of making my uncle stand in the storm, as people drove by and saw the revered Elder Benjamin being detained by the police
And then he let us go.
A few minutes later I decided to break the awkward silence by using the only tactic my 10-year-old brain knew: By making a joke:
“Your name is Nero?” I asked. “I thought your name was “Elder.”
He laughed so loud. I went on to inform him that that police stop was unconstitutional because there was no probable cause for the officer to search the truck.
“Constitution?” replied my Uncle Nero. “That ain’t for us.”
For the rest of the ride, we argued about the Constitution versus the Bible. He really believed in the goodness of humanity and that there was an ultimate reward for every action. Because he was older and wise as fuck, he won the argument.
But, as an obstinate child, I continued that argument for years. From then on, I made it a point to never called him “Elder.” And every year, I would go to his church and take his money by subconsciously proving that I was right all along.
Here was my secret:
I never recited a single Bible verse.
I always recited the Constitution.
My Uncle Nero died when I was in my twenties but my mother reminded me of that story a few days ago.
She keeps calling me.
To: Michael Harriot
So you were arrested for being out after curfew. We have to have a curfew because you personally have inflamed tensions in this town.
To: Michael Harriot
This situation embodies everything you talk about. If you had just followed the rules and had your credentials, none of this would happen. If I don’t have my license, I go to jail. That’s why they give you credientials. Sure, some cops are POS but if Gregory Floyd hadn’t broken the law he would be alive.
Take responsibility and stop blaming whitey.
To: Michael Harriot
I have a piece of advice that can help you and every black person who suffers from police brutality.
Follow the law. Don’t break the rules.
From: Ed S.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Current riots
Message: I think it appalling that all religious, civil and political Leading continue to brush over the fact that all though wrong je is yet another criminal blackman who failed to obey police and the blacks riot, burn and steel. This behavior will keep you out of normal, moral and polite society. What would america be if every time a white msn was killed or a woman rapped or a theft committed by a black man the whites rioted. Work harder to get you males to be proper fathers and family men. Stop your gangs from destroying every inter coty in america and join gentile society one day.
Dear Adam, Julie, and EndofTimes,
It’s my fault.
Each of you (and many others) made the same point—that I should have been carrying my media credentials and none of this would have happened. As I pointed out in the story, I had my media credentials on my phone but technically, you are correct. It is likely that I wouldn’t have been arrested if my media credentials were hanging from my neck. After all, the curfew proclamation says: “These restrictions shall not apply to...credentialed employees of any newspaper, magazine, radio broadcasting, and television broadcasting corporations.”
Now, if I wanted to deflect, I’d point out that I was standing less than 10 feet from a white man who didn’t have his credentials in his possession but wasn’t even questioned by the police. I’d say they were just fucking with me because I am black. But in my defense, I’d like to point out one thing:
I am actually a credentialed employee of an online magazine.
But it’s my fault.
I should have explained that, as a print reporter who has covered every major protest in the last five years, my experience tells me that it is sometimes easier to get the story if your press credentials are not emblazoned across your chest. Maybe I should have explained that one does not need credentials to cover an event on a public street. Perhaps I should have explained that there is no law or rule that says how one should carry their credentials. I probably should have told you that if the press is excluded from the curfew, the Birmingham Police Department can’t even legally require me to produce credentials. Maybe I should have told you why they can’t.
See, there’s this little document that was written when this country was founded. It was imperfect, so the first edit to that manifesto banned the government from even creating a rule that abridges “the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
The simple fact that I work for a news organization means I am a “credentialed employee” and there is no legal document that a city or local government can issue that grants me that official title. There is no statute that says where I have to carry my credentials or that my status as a reporter even has to be written on paper. My profession is literally written into the Constitution of the United States and there is only one thing that can override it:
Likewise, that same Constitution guarantees every person on American soil, including George Floyd, the right to never “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and there is only one thing that can override the constitutionally enshrined right to breathe:
Adam, Julie, and EndofTimes, you might not hate me, but if you are arguing that I or George Floyd should comply with some arbitrary, made-up rule to escape an unjust punishment that is not inflicted on white people, then you are advocating for racism. And I am not arguing this point because I want to avoid taking responsibility for my actions.
Honestly, I just keep hoping that my Uncle Nero was wrong.
And mom keeps calling me.
This article has been trending since the George Floyd Protests
To: Michael Harriot
I agree with nothing in this article. It amazes me how blacks in America address what is done to them but not by them. It IS their business because we made it so. White surburban youth are the ones buying our so called hip hop that overwhelmingly glorifies the violence so often copied in our streets while the consious artists, Talib, Def, Erykah, Jill, Lupe, Kem etc. can barely get a gold records. This music is echoed in our community when black women killed by police gets less reaction than Black men. Why? because our music treats women that way and many women internalize the standard frequently becoming the video hos to gain acceptance. Let’s keep the shit 100, all you did was ‘dumb it down’
To: Michael Harriot
While you are correct that 99.989497% of black people didn’t commit any murder in that year, the problem is that the black community defends it’s trash. You go into a white neighborhood and see ole bubba getting busted for running a meth lab, the rest of his community aren’t going to give a shit about bubba going to jail, in fact most are overjoyed that that shit is out of their community. But if a black person is busted for some shit like that in a black community, you’ll find blacks coming out of the woodwork defending them, saying they dindu nuffin wrong an they was a good boy. I am not aware of any other racial group that defends it’s trash like that- not even Mexicans. Any chance you’d be willing to address this in an upcoming tweet or data breakdown?
To: Michael Harriot
You are a raaaacist pos. Funny how your last name has riot in it. The Democrats are the party of the KKK and murderous communists. If you rub your two brain cells together long enough you may learn real history not just Regurgitate race baiting bullshit.
I missed my mom’s call.
She keeps calling me, so I call her back. She doesn’t answer.
When I finally get her, she says she forgot why she called because she was on a conference call praying for Macie.
I’ve known Macie all my life but she was really my sister’s friend. She was smart as fuck, bordering on genius. She planned on going to college but when she graduated from high school, she started working in the local factory. She was also the first feminist I ever knew. Even in high school, she used to call me a “misogynist pig.” She believed all men were.
One night, at my cousin Metia’s tiny one-bedroom apartment, Macie, along with three of my cousins, were all laying across Metia’s king-sized bed. I can’t recall how we got on the subject but Macie stated that all women have been sexually assaulted by men.
“Come on,” I insisted. “Not all.”
“Of course, you’re gonna say that, Mikey,” said Macie. “You’re a man. And you’re a misogynist pig.”
By this time, I had looked up the definition of the word misogynist, and we began arguing. As the argument progressed, everyone told stories about their experiences. One of my cousins said that grown men had been molesting her since age nine. Another said she went on a date and the guy wouldn’t bring her home unless she had sex. Every single one of them had stories that changed everything I ever thought about how women exist in a world of men.
It turns out, Macie was right. I was a misogynist pig.
I think about that night all the time. It shaped how I treated women for the rest of my life. It shaped how I respond when people call me homophobic or transphobic. I try not to get defensive because I don’t want to be right...
I want to be better.
And the first part of being better is admitting you are fucked up. There’s nothing wrong with being fucked up. Even if you’ve been a misogynist or a homophobe or a transphobe, the first step to doing better is admitting that you fucked up.
America is fucked up.
You can blame it on the Democrats, rap music or black-on-black crime all you want, but you can’t lay out those excuses without mentioning white supremacy unless you think that black people are genetically stupider, more violent and predisposed to killing each other, in which case, we can’t have a logical conversation.
Here’s the other option.
Black people are perceived as more violent because, more than any other group, America has inflicted more violence upon them. Our justice system sees them as immoral criminals because, for 400 years, they have been victims of a criminal injustice.
And here is the important part.
From our perspective, the criminals have thrived.
The enslavers, the rapists, the pillagers, the lynchers, the abusers, the brutalizers and the overseers of all this brutality have escaped punishment and refuse to take responsibility. And when we lay across the bed and tell the truth about this quadruple century of evil that all white people have benefitted from, what does this country say?
“Come on,” America insists. “Not all.”
America will not get better.
And my mom keeps calling me.
Some people also didn’t like this article:
To: Michael Harriot
Maybe just say “thanks for showing up” without sarcasm. Otherwise you’re gatekeeping someone’s personal revelation because they didn’t realize another persons reality “when they should have”. Peoples journeys are unique to them, it’s not their fault they’ve been blind to your reality.
To: Michael Harriot
My father worked all his life for his business and it was burned down by people spreading your ideology. Instead of condemning white people, you should be condemning black people for burning down property and looting. Maybe this is why ppl think you are full of shit.
When I went to jail, I was not broken. My mother was not concerned. The people at The Root assumed I would write about it the next day. It’s not that they didn’t care about me. It is that we are used to this shit. We ingest this trauma every day and keep going because that is what it means to be black. To be clear, trauma is not a part of blackness. But, when you are black, trauma is a part of being.
This is our fucking lives.
This time, mom remembers.
She tells me how Macie is doing.
I’ve told this story in the Mailbag before.
After high school, Macie worked hard every day. She never had so much as a traffic ticket. And, stuck in that little town, Macie met a guy from out of town who was flashy, exotic, and smart. One day, that guy sweet-talked Macie into coming to visit him on the train. Macie hopped on the train to go see her boo with a package he had asked for. When she arrived at the train station, the police were there. They found Macie’s package.
It was nine ounces of cocaine.
Everyone in my hometown knew Macie wasn’t a drug dealer. Most people knew who the drugs belonged to, but no one snitched. To be fair, most people thought Macie would probably get probation or a slap on the wrist because it was her first offense.
No one considered that Macie was black. This was in the ‘90s, so one could google the statistics about black people receiving harsher prison sentences. No one was talking about the disparities in the criminal justice system. This was only a few months after Hillary Clinton warned the world about “superpredators,” so no one was discussing the Bill Clinton mandatory minimums that fed black bodies into the mass incarceration system.
In September 1997, a Florence County, S.C., circuit court judge sentenced 22-year-old Mecenia Dials to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
A few friends and I have been trying to get people to know about Macie’s story for years. I wrote letters. I sent money. I begged her attorney to send me her file (he wouldn’t). No one cared. I still wrote her. I signed every letter “a mysoginist pig.”
Macie was released from prison in November 2018 after spending half of her life in jail for nine ounces of cocaine. It is true that she may have committed a crime. But anyone who tells you she got what she deserved is a liar. Anyone who tells you that Macie’s being black didn’t have anything to do with it is an idiot. Anyone who calls that “justice” is evil.
My mom calls again.
I miss the call again, so I call back. She tells me that she was on the prayer line again praying for Macie. Macie has pancreatic cancer...
And brain cancer.
Macie is in hospice. She is not going to make it. She knows she is going to die.
My mom still prays every day. She says “faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.”
I wish I had as much faith in God as my mother or Uncle Nero. Or black people. Or white people.
But no one “shares my ideology” because I don’t believe that protests will fix white supremacy. I don’t think riots work either. Neither does the Bible. Neither does the Constitution. None of it is for us. There is not a smidgen of evidence that white people will ever reconcile with the evil that this country has sown upon us. We will never be justice so you will never have peace
There is only one thing I am sure of.
Most white people do not care. Most of them will never be allies. Because if they did, black people would never have to lift a finger to light a match or carry a protest sign. If they did, Macie’s life wouldn’t have been stolen. They will not concede that they are the ones who broke this shit so they are the ones who must pay for it.
If they did, they couldn’t fathom how anyone could watch a man kneel on a human being’s neck for a full 10 minutes, listen to that man plead for his life, kill that man, and then go home.
They do not love us.
If they had a shred of love for us, this nation would be a barren wasteland of smoldering rubble by now. If there was the slightest possibility that they did, I would probably give a small scintilla of a half of a fuck if they set this whole goddamned country on fire.
I do not.
How did one straw break a camel’s back?
Here’s the secret:
The million other straws underneath it.
— Mos Def