The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

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Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)

A wise man (I think it was Rakim...or maybe my cousin Geet) once said: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”


Whoever said this was obviously not a regular reader of the Friday mailbag. If they were, they’d know that scoundrels have a variety of refuges, including:

  • “Yo’ Mama”: The last refuge of child scoundrels
  • “The Bible says...”: The last refuge of fake Christian scoundrels
  • “When we were in Africa...”: The last refuge of Hotep scoundrels
  • “Nigger”: The last refuge of Mailbag scoundrels
  • “Not all...”: The last refuge of white people.

Our first email is a holdover from last week concerning an article about Chuck Todd:

To: Michael Harriot
From: A.S.
Subject: What does Chuck Todd have to do with racism?


I read your article about Chuck Todd and was totally with you until you had to make it about race. I can’t understand why Chuck Todd being bad at his job has to do with his race. Are you saying that him being white makes him dumb? If I said that about Lester Holt you would call me racist so how is what you said not reverse racism?

Dear A.S.,

Instead of giving you my opinion, I think we should look for our answer in mathematics.

  1. We both agree that Chuck Todd (C) is a white man (W). Therefore C=W
  2. I think we can also agree that racism (R) is stupid (S), therefore R=S
  3. Furthermore, everyone knows that a black man (B) has to work twice as hard as a white man (W) to get half as far. So, if one black man is equal to two white men, then, B=2W
  4. We know that racism separates blacks from whites and divides them using stupidity. Therefore, (B-W)÷S=R
  5. When we replace Blacks (B) with their mathematical equivalent (2W), and stupidity (S) with racism (R), here’s what we get: (2W-W)÷R=R
  6. After we simplify our equation by subtracting inside the parenthesis and multiplying both sides by R, we get W=R2.
  7. But we can’t forget that Chuck Todd (C) is a white man (W) and racism (R) is also stupid (S). Therefore, W=R2 can also be expressed as C=S2, informing us that Chuck Todd is stupid, squared.
  8. If we simplified W=R2 even more, we discover that √W=R.

There you have it. Not only have we successfully proven that Chuck Todd is really stupid, but we have also discovered that racism is the root of whiteness.


It’s just math.

Here’s an exchange I had with a woman about an article about Elizabeth Warren:

From: Kimberly
To: Michael Harriot

White MALE USA gets a head start :/

The four women senators between them (who were original candidates) have never lost a race.

The Old White Men have all lost WAAAAAY more than they’ve won.

Yet here we are with a bunch of white men, no POC, and only two women left— one of whom only seems to be visible every OTHER poll.


I responded to Kimberly as such:

Nah, white women voters outnumber every other electoral demographic. The only reason white women don’t win more races is because white women don’t vote for them.

Hillary lost the white female vote. White women typically vote for white male Republican candidates. Polls show that white women are split between sanders and Biden.

From: Kimberly

To: Michael Harriot

Again, Kimberly responded.

“White women typically vote for white male Republican candidates.

Polls show that white women are split between sanders and Biden”

Evidence please.

Again, that is utterly irrelevant to my comment.

It’s called a Red Herring

Again, I linked Kimberly to articles and explained:

You said “White male USA gets a head start.”

  1. In the Iowa caucuses, 52 percent of the voters were white women, 40 percent were white men. Two out of every three white women voted for a white man.
  2. No Democratic presidential candidate has won the white female vote in the last 40 years.

53 percent voted for Trump in 2016
56 percent voted for Romney in 2012
55 percent voted for Bush in 2004
62 percent voted for Reagan

But Kim wouldn’t stop white womaning. She responded:

From: Kimberly

To Michael Harriot

But also white women (growing up in a toxic patriarchal environment and often marrying into another) are tied intrinsically to our oppressors in ways that POC are not usually.

Dworkin wrote well about this, and she’s right (and I’m sure that WOC could take this, expand upon it, and reveal even more):

“Right-wing women have surveyed the world: they find it a dangerous place. They see that work subjects them to more danger from more men; it increases the risk of sexual exploitation. They see that creativity and originality in their kind are ridiculed; they see women thrown out of the circle of male civilization for having ideas, plans, visions, ambitions. They see that traditional marriage means selling to one man, not hundreds: the better deal. They see that the streets are cold, and that the women on them are tired, sick, and bruised. They see that the money they can earn will not make them independent of men and that they will still have to play the sex games of their kind: at home and at work too. They see no way to make their bodies authentically their own and to survive in the world of men.

“They know too that the Left has nothing better to offer: leftist men also want wives and whores; leftist men value whores too much and wives too little. Right-wing women are not wrong. They fear that the Left, in stressing impersonal sex and promiscuity as values, will make them more vulnerable to male sexual aggression, and that they will be despised for not liking it. They are not wrong.

“Right-wing women see that within the system in which they live they cannot make their bodies their own, but they can agree to privatized male ownership: keep it one-on-one, as it were. They know that they are valued for their sex— their sex organs and their reproductive capacity—and so they try to up their value: through cooperation, manipulation, conformity; through displays of affection or attempts at friendship; through submission and obedience; and especially through the use of euphemism—“femininity, ” “total woman, ” “good, ” “maternal instinct, ” “motherly love. ”

“Their desperation is quiet; they hide their bruises of body and heart; they dress carefully and have good manners; they suffer, they love God, they follow the rules. They see that intelligence displayed in a woman is a flaw, that intelligence realized in a woman is a crime. They see the world they live in and they are not wrong. They use sex and babies to stay valuable because they need a home, food, clothing. They use the traditional intelligence of the female—animal, not human: they do what they have to to survive.”

― Andrea Dworkin, Right Wing Women

Dear Kim,

I would never argue that white women are oppressed. In fact, you started this argument over a whole damn article I wrote about Elizabeth Warren, a white woman who isn’t getting a fair shot. But here’s the thing:

White women are complicit in upholding this system as much as white men.

I care about the reasons why white women are complicit as much as Eric Garner’s daughter cared about why her father was choked to death on a New York sidewalk. Maybe Daniel Pantaleo had an argument with his wife that morning. Maybe his father died from loosie cigarette cancer. None of us give a damn. We just want y’all to stop.


If white women voted for Hillary Clinton as much as black women did, they wouldn’t have had to knit pink hats and march in protest of Donald Trump. If white women were as concerned about equal rights as black women, they wouldn’t have to fight for their right to choose. If they hadn’t ousted black women from the suffrage movement, they might have gotten their right to vote sooner.

I’m sure I’ve used this quote a million times but I’ll say it again:

“They have convinced white people that they aren’t losers. They are winners who just haven’t won yet.”


Just as poor whites fight against their own interests by supporting Republicans, white women have historically supported the system of white male patriarchy by continuing to purchase tickets in the white supremacist lottery that they will never, ever win.

We definitely could use your privilege in the race for equal opportunity. But, instead of vying for a silver medal in the oppression Olympics by inserting the plight of white women into every argument concerning blackness, I would suggest you start by focusing your attention on your teammates who keep sabotaging everyone’s efforts for equality.


We want you to run with us.

But we also need you to stay in your lane.

Finally, this:

From: Steve
To: Michael Harriot

Hey Michael, white guy here who reads theRoot because I need (and the nation needs) the perspective. I want some perspective on white people wearing clothing like theRoot highlighted from (I think) Target. Is it cool or is it offensive if I wear something like that shirt with Malcolm, Harriet, Martin, Maya & Frederick? Or is that offensive?

I want to find more ways to be supportive, but I’m not looking to piss people off. What are your thoughts? Also, thank you for all you do. You give me more to think about every day and I’m a better person because of it.

Appreciate you!

Dear Steve,

If you wear that shirt, you will piss people off.

So, buy that shit.

Malcolm X isn’t a black hero, nor was Martin, Maya, Harriet or Frederick. They were American heroes. Even if it’s performative, I wish more white people did shit like this. It’s how you make America better. Most of the people you mentioned spent their lives trying to make white people understand the injustice of inequality because they are the ones who can end racism.


One of my heroes of all time is Fred Hampton, a Black Panther who was killed by Chicago cops a little over 50 years ago, on Dec. 4, 1969. Because of government propaganda, a lot of white people believe that the Black Panthers were anti-white.

When Hampton joined the Black Panthers, the federal government was worried. It had nothing to do with violence. It didn’t really have anything to do with the civil rights movement. They just knew Fred Hampton was different. By the time he was a teenager, he was organizing his own youth chapter of the NAACP in his small Illinois suburb.


In a SINGLE YEAR, he had 500 members.

When Hampton attended his first Black Panther meeting in November ’68, the FBI had already opened up a file on him a year earlier. His phone had already been tapped for nine months and he had been designated as a “key leader” on the FBI’s “agitator index” for five months.


Six months after he joined the BPP, Hampton had brokered a nonaggression pact with every gang in Chicago. He was teaching gang members the law. He upset the city hospitals when he convinced doctors to volunteer and give free medical care. He also got the gangs to shut down construction sites and other white-owned businesses unless they hired black workers. He helped organize the free breakfast program that nearly every school district in the country uses today.

But this isn’t why he was dangerous.

In 1968, Fred had an idea. He convinced the Chicago gangs to pool their money and start supporting black candidates. He managed to build a political organization that funneled millions in grants and community programs into black communities in Chicago.


But this isn’t why he was dangerous.

Six months before his death, the charismatic Hampton organized the Conference for the United Front Against Fascism. Calling the conglomerate the “Rainbow Coalition,” the group included black gangs, Puerto Rican gangs and others. From July 18-21, 1969, people from across the U.S. attended the conference, including lawyers, politicians and civil rights activists from all walks of life. They agreed that all the organizations would fight for black freedom.


A few hundred people showed up.


Five thousand people attended the conference and they all reached the conclusion that black liberation could only be achieved through armed self-defense and community control of police.


But that wasn’t why Hampton was dangerous.

(I know you’re thinking: Just say it, nigga!”)

There was a group at the conference called the Young Patriots who adopted the Panthers’ 11-point plan. The Puerto Rican Young Lords promised solidarity, as did The Red Guard, a Chinese-American group.


But here is why this was a problem:

Of the 5,000 people who were in attendance, most were white. Fred was creating a national coalition for armed resistance against racism. It would be the next phase in the civil rights movement.


FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover saw this and told his agents that they had to bring down the Panthers. One FBI agent wondered why Hoover was so adamant about this. He complained that Hampton’s crew was just feeding kids. In response, Hoover threatened every FBI officer’s job if they didn’t stop Hampton.

Remember when I said Fred joined the Panthers in ’68?

Well as soon as he joined, the FBI hired an informant named William O’Neal who was facing time for a car theft ring. O’Neal agreed to infiltrate the Panthers and he eventually became Hampton’s bodyguard.


He displayed loyalty fighting valiantly in a gunfight against the Rangers. The Panthers would later discover that O’Neal had instigated the fight at the FBI’s behest. Aside from trying to instigate rifts, O’Neal also rented an apartment for the Panthers.

In November 1969, Fred went to California to a speaking engagement. While he was there, the BPP leaders asked him to be the national spokesperson. Meanwhile, back in Chicago, someone (*cough* O’Neal) instigated an attack on the police. Even though Fred was literally halfway across the country cops blamed him.


On the night of Dec. 3, 1969, Fred had just finished teaching a class on politics and law at a local church. He went back to the headquarters and O’Neal fixed dinner. Fred laid down with his wife, who was nine months pregnant. He was on the phone with his mother and went to sleep mid-sentence.

Around 4 a.m., police officers burst in and opened fire on Fred and the Panthers. They said it was a “raid” but an investigation showed that the police fired between 90-99 bullets and the Panthers only fired 1.


Fred Hampton was dead at 21.

No one was ever charged with his death.


Lemme tell you about this white dude named John and his ride-or-die wife.

They were like a not-racist Bonnie & Clyde.* (I don’t know if Bonnie and Clyde were bigots but I assume every white person in the 1930s was racist. Plus, his name was “Clyde.” It’s a known fact that 72 percent of all Clydes are racist. Look it up.)


On the night of March 8, 1971, during the legendary Ali/Frazier fight, John, his wife and their friends did something only white people would ever do:

They broke into an FBI building

They stole thousands of pages of FBI documents and forwarded the papers to newspapers around the country. No one would publish them until the Washington Post did a story.


The papers revealed the existence of the FBI’s counterintelligence program. This is how we know that Hoover’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) had been spying on black activists for years. This is how we know that the FBI tried to blackmail MLK into commit suicide.

This is also how we know about Mark O’Neal.

In those thousands of pages, were revelations that Mark O’Neal had slipped a powerful sedative into Fred Hampton’s food that night.


In those files was a map of the apartment where Fred Hampton was killed drawn by O’Neal.

For years, everyone had blamed Fred Hampton’s death on Cook County and the city of Chicago. When Hampton’s family tried to say it was a conspiracy, a judge threw out the case. But after those files were released, the FBI essentially admitted that they coordinated Hampton’s murder.


The family won what was thought, at that time, to be the biggest civil rights judgment ever, and the world now had proof that the federal government had instituted a secret program to stop every black movement for freedom and equality.

But here’s the coolest fucking thing of all:

The people who committed that burglary were never caught.


They literally disappeared into the ether.

They called themselves the “Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI,” which is the second whitest name for an organization ever (the first is “the Spice Girls”). On the night of the burglary, they called and made this statement:

On the night of March 8, 1971, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI removed files from the Media, Pennsylvania, office of the FBI. These files will now be studied to determine: one, the nature and extent of surveillance and intimidation carried on by this office of the FBI, particularly against groups and individuals working for a more just, humane and peaceful society. Two, to determine how much of the FBI’s efforts are spent on relatively minor crimes by the poor and the powerless against whom they can get a more glamorous conviction rate. Instead of investigating truly serious crimes by those with money and influence which cause great damage to the lives of many people—crimes such as war profiteering, monopolistic practices, institutional racism, organized crime, and the mass distribution of lethal drugs. Finally, three, the extent of illegal practices by the FBI, such as eavesdropping, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers.

As this study proceeds, the results obtained along with the FBI documents pertaining to them will be sent to people in public life who have demonstrated the integrity, courage and commitment to democratic values which are necessary to effectively challenge the repressive policies of the FBI.


If not for these files, it would be easy to counter white people’s arguments about black movements. We KNOW they are despised. We see this exact same history repeated with Black Lives Matter and “Black Identity Extremists.” But now it is history and not a conspiracy theory.

But how the fuck is Fred Hampton responsible for uncovering this history?

Hold on, goddammit! You know I’m long-winded.

The reason those seven people got away with the break-in is that they were relatively unknown. We still don’t know the identities of three of the people involved.


One was a physics professor. He was the mastermind. Another was John’s wife. Another disappeared for 43 years. If they had never come forward in 2017, after the statute of limitations had expired, you wouldn’t know who they were.

But you would know John C.. Raines.

John was a pastor and a professor at Temple. John was the one who called the press and gave that statement. He has a Wikipedia page. That’s because John spent his time fighting racism. John was actually a Freedom Rider and went to jail for trying to integrate a bus station in Little Rock, Ark. He was a member of CORE and SNCC.


John was a motherfucking G.

John eventually met a girl and had to settle down, but they never stopped believing they had to fight for equality. John’s wife was an activist, too. They even took “protest trips” to the South to fight racism. But now he and his wife had kids, it was too dangerous and violent.


But sometimes, John would tell people about this nagging feeling he had. Since his days as a Freedom Rider, he always believed that the people instigating anti-black violence were part of the government. But people thought he was a crazy conspiracy theorist.

And when Fred Hampton died, John was devastated. He had met Martin Luther King Jr. He knew Stokely Carmichael. He really felt like the government had killed “the one.”


He knew it sounded crazy. There was no way for him to prove it.

There was only one other person who felt this way, another professor named William Davidon.


Davidon was a motherfucking genius who also believed the government was spying on activist. Davidon was from Chicago and he didn’t work at Temple. He worked at a nearby college. They bumped into each other one day and recognized each other. Eventually, Davidon planned the break-in and John helped carry it out.

So how did Davidon know John?

Well, John and Bonnie vowed to “risk their freedom to oppose injustice,” while Davidon was an anti-war protester but all the known conspirators had one thing in common. But he had seen John wearing an old T-shirt one day, approached him and asked John to join his hair-brained scheme, simply because Davidon had a similar shirt.


It just happened to be a shirt he purchased at the Conference for the United Front Against Fascism.

Buy the shirt.


kidelo (all of Fox News is vaccinated)

That Fred Hampton story should be a gotdamn movie. Thank you for that.

As for Kimberly: girl, you lost the whole she-bang at Andrea Dworkin. Sit down and shut up.