The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Gray Area

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Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/FMG)
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.

For too long, The Root has ignored an important segment of our readership. In our eagerness to answer the emails, tweets and messages, we have failed to address our biggest fans:

The grays.

If you are new to The Root or Kinja in general, you should know that comments are approved by other readers or our staff. If a comment isn’t “starred” by one of these two parties, it is kept in the “pending approval” section, commonly called “the grays.”


The comments which are not pulled out of the grays are sometimes obnoxious, racist or defamatory. I have often been accused of sending people to the grays. I have never pulled anyone out or put anyone in the grays because, I can assure you, the number of fucks I give about harsh criticism is an imaginary number that is less than the square root of negative zero.

But the grays shouldn’t be ignored. So, to rectify this, today’s mailbag will address some of the comments that have not been sanctioned by our governing body.

This first comment references this week’s article in our “Why They Kneel” series. In the article, I wrote that 58 percent of the police killings since 2013 were committed by whites, which begs the question: “Why don’t police kill more white people?”

From: Mike Johnson
To: Michael Harriot

You didn’t highlight the fact that 42% of police killed were killed by blacks. If Asians and others were part of that break it out for us. Regardless, at 12.6% of the population blacks are disproportionately killing cops by a massive percentage delta, which is why the opposite is true. See everyone can find what they want in the data.


You are correct. As someone who uses data to explain racial disparities, I neglected to delineate the 42 percent of other people who also killed cops are:

  • 28 percent black
  • 12 percent Hispanic
  • The final two percent is represented by 2 Asians, a Pacific Islander and 2 native Americans.

So maybe you’re right, Mike. Maybe that widely-quoted Washington Post statistic that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police is wrong, considering that black people disproportionately kill police officers.

To clear this up, let’s take a look at Police Violence Report’s statistics for people who were killed by cops last year. In fact, since you are adamant about it, let’s be a little more intentional and look more deeply.


In 2017, 149 unarmed people were killed by cops. We don’t know the race of 11 of those people, so let’s just look at the 138 people whose race we do know.

  • Most of them (63 percent) were people of color
  • 37 percent were white
  • 35 percent were black

Since we know that white people are 62 percent of the population and blacks are 12.6 percent, it is evident that cops kill blacks at nearly three times their population percentage but whites are killed at a rate that is less than two-thirds of their population percentage. Using a little thing I like to call “math” to adjust for those population numbers, here’s what these figures mean:

Last year, an unarmed black person was actually four-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by a cop than an unarmed white person.


Now someone like you might say: “Well just because they were unarmed doesn’t mean they weren’t a threat.”

Fair point.

So let’s look at the numbers for the people who were unarmed and not attacking when they were killed by cops. 35 percent were black and 32 percent were white. Again, using my magic math powers, this means that a black person who is unarmed and not attacking an officer is still four-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by a police officer.


Cops don’t kill black people at two-and-a-half times the rate of white people. When you look at the people who weren’t threatening the lives of cops, the rate of police killing black people is actually much higher. It is only when you factor in people who used weapons that the rate lowers to the widely-reported number.

You know what this means, Mike?

Well, even though we know crime is a socio-economic phenomenon, it is true that black people are disproportionately arrested for crimes according to the FBI data. Using that pesky math thing to compare police shootings to arrests rates, we finally found out why the rate of police killings are disproportionately high for black citizens.


You might want to sit down for this one, Mike, because this may be the most startling statistic of all.

The reason for the difference between the two-and-a-half rate reported by the Post and the four-and-a-half-rate that we reported is suddenly explainable. It’s the same reason why black people commit 26 percent of crime, 28 percent of police murders but are disproportionately represented in police killings. When one looks at crime statistics, cops shoot armed black and white people at about the same rate. One thing explains the disparities between how many white people police shoot and kill versus how many black people:

Police shoot more unarmed black people.

You are correct, Mike. Using actual math and science everyone can find what they want in the data...



This next email is from my response to Ross Douthat’s article “Why We Miss the Wasps.”


From: Gunner
To: Michael Harriot

If you don’t believe in white supremacy, move to black supremacy Africa

OK, this email isn’t really from the grays, but it could be:

Name: Your mother’s black shitty face
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Dumb niggerrrrr

Hello you dumb black faced racist piece of shit NIGGERRR... where would the black race be right now if it weren’t for the white man? How’s Africa doing right now? Why don’t you stop being such a pussy and admit the best thing that has ever happened to black people was America slavery.... if it were not for American slavery can you stupid niggars would be back in Africa a slave today enslaved by your own kind. The best thing that has ever happened to you pieces of s*** is white man coming to Africa and purchasing niggers... you know everything is going to come back around your way until we forcibly remove you scumbag pieces of s*** from our country.... OUR FUCKING COUNTRY.... you free loading dirt bag piece of shit


Dear Gunner and Your mother:

While you make a compelling argument, I’d like, instead, to ask why “Go back to Africa” is always offered as a response to anything criticizing white people? When white people say they want to make America great again, they are never asked to go back to Whitemanistan.


But instead of dismantling that idiotic marker for low-intelligence, I’ll agree to go back to Africa. However, we’ll first have to agree on how I got here. We were stolen and brought here as property.

Now, using the white man’s laws established by this great country, let’s imagine that we went to court to determine how much this stolen property was worth. Not all slaves, just me, this lone nigger who you’re sending back to Africa.


According to CNN’s Freedom Project, the average slave would have fetched $44,818 in today’s dollars. Any court in this great land you own and built would reimburse the plaintiff after you just snitched on the white race for “coming to Africa and purchasing niggers.”

That’s receiving stolen property, which is a crime.

Furthermore, the average slave worked at least 10 hours a day, six days a week, according to the University of Houston’s digital history archive. Considering that it was menial work, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and only charge this country minimum wage. Of course, because of your highly-intelligent white laws, I’ll have to charge you overtime for those extra hours. But relax, it’s only $31,200 per year in back wages.


Because you’re sending me “back” to Africa, it means you’ve implicitly agreed that I came from Africa. Since I don’t have my initial hiring paperwork, I’m gonna just use the widely-accepted slavery start date of 1619 even though we know slaves were brought to America in the 1500s. Of course, slavery technically ended in 1865, which comes up to a total of $7,675,200 in back wages.

I know I didn’t personally earn all that money but I have legal standing in this lawsuit because at least some of it would have been passed down to me had my ancestors been paid.


But wait... there’s more.

I think you’ll find that if I made a lost wages claim in the legal system in your “FUCKING COUNTRY,” I would be awarded my back pay in today’s dollars, which means, when I calculate for inflation from 1865 (when slavery ended), you owe me $118,677,426.85.


Adding the property value, that brings the total amount $118,722,244.85 for each person you want to send back to Africa. Please consider this an invoice. Also, since I didn’t come willingly, I’m gonna also need some gas money.

I’ll take mine in cash. I don’t trust white people’s checks. I’m sure you can afford it because, after all...


This is your fucking country.

And finally, these are comments from the piece comparing how George H.W. Bush was treated in death to how dead black men are treated.


From: Peanut
To: Michael Harriot

Oh seriously, you can kindly fuck right off now. Even Obama had nothing but nice and sincere things to say about Bush 41 and here you are pissing on this man’s bodybefore he has even been buried in the ground. Is this what passes for social and political commentary these days? WTF . Univision proves they are classless assholes by approving shitty hit pieces like this to be published in their blog mags.

From: Jeffrey D.
To: Michael Harriot

I hope you sleep well at night.

Dear Peanut and Jeffrey,

Thank you for your responses. I didn’t find them insightful or anything, I would just like to publicly admit to plagiarizing your comments. I sent out a few letters. I hope you don’t mind:

From: Michael Harriot
To: The Hoover Police Department

Oh seriously, you can kindly fuck right off now. Even the military had nothing but nice and sincere things to say about Emantic Bradford Jr. and here you are pissing on this man’s body before he has even been buried in the ground. Is this what passes for police information these days? WTF . Hoover proves they are classless assholes by approving shitty hit pieces like this to be given to the national media.

I hope you sleep well at night.

I also sent this to the Sanford, Fla. police department, who called George Zimmerman a “victim;” the NYPD, who spread the lie that Eric Garner was initially stopped for selling “loosie cigarettes” (that was never the case) and the Ferguson Police Department for spreading the story that Darren Wilson stopped Mike Brown because he suspected Brown of robbing a store (that was a lie).


And no, I won’t sleep well tonight. Haven’t you heard, I just won $118 million!

Plus, I’ll be up packing for Africa.

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


Not Enough Day Drinking


Worst vacation ever. 0/10. Do not recommend.

First of all, when we left customs we were immediately followed no less than half a dozen white women questioning why were there. I guess these people just hang out of at the airport waiting for people to be suspicious of. I don’t know if the government pays them to do it or it’s just a hobby.

We finally get outside and as soon as I pulled out my phone to use a ride hailing app, someone immediately yelled ‘OMG HE’S GOT A GUN!!’ People everywhere started screaming, little old ladies jumping behind benches, father’s trying to shield themselves with their was a whole big thing.

I just turned around and got on the next flight out.