The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Five Kinds of Clapbacks

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Photo: Oscar (The Root/FMG )

When separating the comments, emails, tweets and messages for the mailbag each week, the correspondences usually fall into one of five categories. Today, we shall explore each classification with examples of mail from each distinct class.


And if Deputy Managing Editor Yesha Callahan says this intro is too short, tell her to write her own damn lede.

No, seriously, you tell her. She’ll curse me out.

[Editor’s note: I will curse them out too. -Yesha]

1. Crazies: This includes people who just want to say “nigger,” people who say God spoke to them and told them to write an email, and people who just send in nonsensical items. Here are a few examples:

From: None of Your Business
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: No, White people do not care that Alexa thenks that black lives matter

You are an ignorant ass devisive ass nigger that’s all you are trying to stir the pot to cause more problems with your shitty ass psuedo wanna be reporter you are a piece of shit straight up.

From: Sean
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: All living entities are crafted from metaphysical light

How ironic that ultimately all living beings are ‘White’ or ‘Light’ beings. In Indian metaphysics one learns of ‘Akash’ (Space), the subtlest form of matter, from which all material aggregates derive and to which they all ultimately return. It literally means a ‘shining forth’ and permeates all grosser elements (‘mahabhutas’). It is sometimes used synonymously with the subtle ‘astral’ light on which it is said that all actions on the physical and subtle planes are recorded; and every sentient soul has its own individual chronicle. Therefore, so-called empty space is filled with the cosmic light, making darkness a perceptual illusion or mirage. Indeed, Indian metaphysics refers to this lower realm of alternating light and shadow as ‘maya’, or mirage. In every major religious/metaphysical/mystical tradition ‘Whiteness’ or ‘Light’ is associated with Divinity and the celestial realms. One even speaks of spiritual ‘illumination’ or ‘enlightenment’; no one speaks of spiritual ‘endarkenment’. The ‘ascension body’ is always referred to as a ‘body of light’, never as a ‘body of dark’. For those with deeper spiritual perception the ‘subtle body’ (soul body) of a human being is translucent white in its pure and stable state, which befits the ethereous radiant environment of the superphysical realms. Even physical matter is, again, merely a variegated affectation of underlying subtle light-substance. All living entities are ‘White’ or ‘Light’ beings; and darkness is a sensorial illusion confined to the lower spheres of manifestation.

From: Michael Harriot
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Michael Harriot

I read your article white people are cowards and thought it was ridiculous but Jesus laid it on my heart to write this to you.

I have done nothing to you and even if my ancestors did, if we are all christians who are following the light of Christ then we must find it in our hearts to forgive. The scripoture tells us to forgive our trespassers as he has forgiven our debt. Jesus even forgave he men who crucified him. He is our example. Let him be your light.

Dear Michael, Sean and None;

I have no idea what any of this means. However, I do know that I trust Alexa more than I trust the white Jesus who tells us to forgive our debtors. But I get it, we’re supposed to get over it. White people deserve forgiveness and reconciliation but black people don’t deserve reparations even though it is the foundation of the justice system in America.

It’s easy for Jesus to tell us to let shit go when he is literally unkillable. His father is supposedly God, which is the ultimate privilege. He gets to have 3 days of good, deep sleep, wake up like nothing happened and ascend to heaven and join his father while we suffer the iniquities of other people’s past generations.

Plus, I always wonder why God is so shy. Why does God always send messages through preachers, ministers and faceless morons with bad grammar? I know Jesus has a main line. Why doesn’t God ever text me, leave a voicemail or call me on her own? I know God is old, but my grandmother knows how to FaceTime, and she’s 86 and knows God really well, so I’m sure he could learn how to send me an emoji every now and then.


If there truly is an invisible omnipotent being in the sky, he forewarned us of that bullshit. The first slave ship was named Jesus. His story is the story of an immigrant who was eventually killed by the police. He died with his hands up. I don’t need any more clues.

Listen, guys, you can call me a nigger. You can discuss new-wave Eastern philosophy. But you would never be able to convince me of anything using the tenets of a religion on which the foundation of my oppression is based. I don’t believe you, you need more disciples.


In fact, the only way to describe it is a “sensorial illusion confined to the lower spheres of manifestation,” which is to say...

It is utter bullshit.

2. Dummies: The second kind of letter comes from white people who are big mad and want to tell you how wrong you are. Some of them are racist. Some of them are people who just have a lot of anger inside their souls. Some just have low IQs. Some are just ... white.

From: Noe Mann
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: White People are Cowards

“Concentration Camp: a guarded compound...established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II...”

NOTHING about Trump or anyone else. NOTHING about how these people are BREAKING THE LAW TOO!

What about the 1997 law that permitted this? Or Obama doing the SAME THING? Where you is outrage on Obama doing it?

And black folk are just as cowardly as white folk. Why are they allowing all these MURDERS in their cities? Why do they allow so many men to get women pregnant and then the men ‘run away’? THAT is a PROPER definition of being a COWARD. RUNNING FROM YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES!

Then this LIE of yours “...They will explain how most white people didn’t own slaves...”, yet, your OWN MAGAZINE wrote of the following:

“... In 1860, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 75 percent of white families in the United States owned not a single slave, while 1 percent of families owned 40 or more...” See: EVERY group has it good and bad elements. EVERY GROUP. Quit being a LIAR. If you tell a PART of the truth, it is a LIE. See:

See, Noe has facts Jack!

It doesn’t matter that Noe probably gleaned this entire narrative from Breitbart, Fox News or whatever is the white equivalent of a barbershop. (Do white people have barbershops? I know they get their hair cut, but I always assume they don’t talk to each other in their barbershops like black people do. I picture a lot of whistling and quartet singing.)


Noe, first you should know that said it was “misleading” when Kirstjen Neilsen’s said Obama separated families. NBC called it “false,” as did Politifact.

I really didn’t understand Noe’s point about the slave thing because it seems that he was trying to disprove my assertion that white people love to mention how few white people owned slaves by mentioning how few white people owned slaves.


But this next Twitter direct message exchange took the cake. It was from the same guy who warned me last week how I was making white people more racist and that he was going to stop reading the Root if I continued to do so:

From: James
To: Michael Harriot

What’s going on here? so cut it with the bullshit that “chattel slavery” only existed in the US south. even the ancient Egyptians knew about the Bell curve.

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Five Kinds of Clapbacks

oh, you are clearly one of the few negros who are in the 2nd quartile of the population, which is why we must always support equality of opportunity, so the cream can rise to the top. 100 years of intelligence testing, using myriad methods, verbal, visual, graphical, numerical, clearly has shown this distribution to be a real phenomenon. and , you and i both know from our own experience , that it is true. fact: most black people (average IQ 80) are only suited for menial work, at best.


I responded by informing James: “I bow to your historical knowledge. Especially since that “4000-year old” evidence is a print that was painted by a white man in 1832. And considering the fact that almost every mainstream scientist and the APA consider the “Bell Curve” a crock of scientific shit… it’s a great display of your intelligence. It’s obvious you are on the lower end of the iq spectrum. Great work.”

He responded:

ok, so perhaps(?) that one is fake, but the other bas-reliefs are from real 4000 year old monuments. And as for the “Bell Curve” controversy, the issue is clearly in dispute. Some academics say it is bogus, and others, equally credentialed, say the opposite. So then it is incumbent on one to look into for yourself and make up your own mind and not accept a particular orthodoxy. So i did. and what i found was that, over the past 100 years, since World War I, may versions of IQ tests have been applied to this issue, and whatever the testing methodology, the results have always shown the same distribution. Hence my opinion (as well as my extensive personal experience with black people). So i guess that make me stupid for not accepting one current opinion, not a free thinking person who looks into matters for themselves. I guess i am also so stupid that i can’t find a proper bookcase for my library. And the IQ test i took in grade school , which gave me a 140, was totally in error. and i also suppose that makes me, a person who has equal proportions of tribal american, european, and african blood, a racist.


Oh, James you poor thing, let me explain numbers and intelligence to you:

I have actually read the book, and, from your quote “the ancient Egyptians knew about the bell curve,” it is obvious that you didn’t know that “The Bell Curve” was a book. You thought it was proof that black people were not as smart as the intellectually superior whites. You poor, dumb thing.


I know about the alt-right theory that black people, on average, have lower IQs. The funniest thing about that entire concept is that it is never bought up by someone with a high IQ. In fact, I have never met a smart person who bragged about how smart they were. No one with a 140 IQ is arguing on Twitter about a discredited book by a political science teacher. I don’t believe you.

But it is ok, James. The good thing about being average or slightly below average is that most people fall into that category. You are not alone. Who knows? You could be president one day.


Be best.

3. White people: While most of the mail is from white people, there is a special kind of white person who writes and expects a reply. They want to teach me a thing or two. They want to start a dialogue. Basically, like all white people, they want to speak to the manager:

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Five Kinds of Clapbacks
Screenshot: Michael Harriot (Twitter)

From: Glen V.
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Sir,

I read your opinion piece on the Root today and would like to start a dialogue with you. I am white, straight and 42 years old.

As I get older, I am sorry to see that a complete lack of critical thinking coupled with sound bite information has made people angry and tribal. I read the comment below and shook my head. There has been a 30 plus year airing of the grievances aimed at “whiteness” where stereotyping and name calling like the below is acceptable. “Whites” are only binary when compared to nonwhites, and many of us have our own cultural history and burdens and don’t necessarily see ourselves as white, but just as people. I am empathetic to long suffering minorities who think that “whites” just want to see them suffer, (I married such a woman), but the hateful discourse in this screenshot is in no way going to incentivize a Trump supporter to want more people of color in America to call them wypipo or white devils or chad and Stacey, especially from groups who will not tolerate name calling or implied stereotyping. If you would like to write back, this is a real email address and I am a real human.

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Five Kinds of Clapbacks
Screenshot: Kinja

Dear Glenn and Aloe:

Here is the thing:

I don’t know what a dialogue would accomplish. I try to express the thoughts on each subject in the articles I write. I am aware that they are my opinions, but they are presented in their totality. You are free to dissect, debate or completely ignore them. Having said that, there is one reason I wouldn’t want a dialogue with a white person on race.


A white person can’t teach me anything about race.

There isn’t a single example in the entire history of America of white people being correct about anything having to do with race. White people were dead wrong about slavery. White people were wrong about Jim Crow. White people were wrong about segregation, separate but equal, perceptions on police brutality, the criminal justice system, affirmative action, education, the black power movement, black lives matter, the NFL protests and how to season chicken.


So, my answer to your requests for a mutually beneficial conversation about race in America is:

Nah, I’m good.

4. The real racists: The fourth category is just people who like to say “nigger.”

From: None of your business
To: Michael Harriot

You are an ignorant ass devisive ass nigger that’s all you are trying to stir the pot to cause more problems with your shitty ass psuedo wanna be reporter you are a piece of shit straight up.


Not much to say here.

I bet you won’t say that shit to Yesha’s face.

5. Good People: Lastly, we have the people who just want to drop a line, share something positive, or ask for real advice:

From: Ben
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Writing on the Root this week

I hope this is the best way to reach you, as I could only find this contact to email. I often read your work on TheRoot and find it equal parts entertaining and informative. This week, I would like the thank you for it. This morning I read The Opression of White America, and the Clapback. Both of these articles are ones that caused me to truly reflect on my actions and will stick with me for a while.

I had the privilege to grow up in an extended family that is multi-racial, and thought (honestly) that everyone had black and Asian cousins until I was 11. But, as a straight white middle class dude in the suburbs, I didn’t often see the reality of even my own family’s situations. ( the danger of back talking cops the way I would, or the simple fact that I knew no harm would come even if I smoked a little on the front porch of a party) I didn’t understand the difference of how I was allowed to act like an ass teenager in a way that would be dangerous for them. My aunt set me straight right before college. Your work makes me hopeful that more people (even the ones that read it to get all upset and defensive) will understand a valid critique when they see it, and act on it when they can.

I guess this was just a long way to say, “keep up the good work” and I will keep reading.


And this:

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Five Kinds of Clapbacks
Screenshot: Michael Harriot (Twitter)

To: The Root
From: Edward

I read The Root semiregularly, and have enjoyed your writing in Very Smart Brothers and other contributions. You mentioned in a recent article about white people emailing you asking what they could do, and I wanted to pose my particular conundrum to you to see if you could provide some input:

I am a white US citizen living abroad, in Europe. I and my wife speak up against racism and for various social issues online (which is, I know, about as consequential as farting into the wind), we call our representatives regularly, we attend protests when they are held in my area, donate to democrats, ACLU, and other similar organizations. Here’s the thing: without our physical presence in the US, there’s only so much impact we can have, but I am bugged by the feeling we can do more.

We try to speak up against racism and other things in our country of residence, but there’s only so much we can do here, with our less-than-fluent language skills and being non-citizens. But is there anything you might suggest we can do to help the cause better back home, and be the kind of allies we want to be?

I appreciate your time. Thanks!

Dear Edward:

Nah, you’re good.


Nunna Yorz - American Justice Is A Joke

“Do white people have barbershops? I know they get their hair cut, but I always assume they don’t talk to each other in their barbershops like black people do. I picture a lot of whistling and quartet singing.

When I first moved out of the hood, I got curious about how the other half lives, so when I was in need of a cut one day, I wandered around and here’s what I can tell you: White people go to SuperCuts. These are unisex salons where they get their hair cut with flowbees and order their hairstyle off of a chart with numbers for the hairdos like a drive through combo menu. There’s definitely some whistling, but I never hung around long enough for the barbershop quartets. I still go back around my old way to get my hair cut to this day because of what I saw at SuperCuts.