The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Longest Clapback Ever

Illustration for article titled The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: The Longest Clapback Ever
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (FMG)

Pssst! Deputy Managing Editor Yesha Callahan is off today flying to the BET Awards, so I get to break all the usual protocol! If it were not for this necessary explanation, I wouldn’t even write this lede. But today’s mailbag will focus on one specific topic, namely the opinion piece titled, “White people Are Cowards.”


The idea for the piece had been rolling around in my head for almost a week before I sat down and wrote it. I figured it would be a couple-hundred words, but before I knew it, it had ballooned to more than 2,000.

Because I actually wanted people to read it, I tried to come up with anything other than “White People Are Cowards” because I knew that the title sounded clickbait-y and would immediately repel some readers. Ultimately, I decided that the alternate choice—“A Country of Cowards”—didn’t do the piece any justice.

After the article went live, I received an avalanche of emails, tweets and direct messages that fell into four categories:

  1. white people who wanted to fight me or kill me
  2. people who disagreed with the article
  3. the “not all white people” people
  4. the people who appreciated the article

So in Yesha’s absence, I will separate the mailbag into these four distinct categories and try to respond to some of the criticisms, questions and vitriol.

[Editor’s note: I’m never really absent. Currently sitting on a flight and fighting for armrest privileges. The wypipo really had enough of you. —Yesha]

As I said, some of the messages were from people who wanted to fight or kill me.

From: Alex
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Black people are greasy and all have diabetes

You’re a real piece of shit. I’d love to find you in the streets. It’s all white people fault, everything is someone else’s fault. Your ‘journalism’ is the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest articles to write, enjoy pulling that race card every day for the rest of your pathetic, racist, hateful life. Pandering to dumbass people from lol wtf is Is that like FUBU website? Anyways go fuck yourself you race baiting cunt nugget.

From: Glen B.
To: Michael Harriot

You got got a lot of nerve you are a racist asshole.if you were in front of me and called me a coward I’d make quick work of beatin your ugly ass. You are what is called a hypocrite.

From: James T.
To: Michael Harriot

mike, people like you are sowing the wind. and the harvest that you are sure to reap will be a reaction so severe that it is going to lead to not to a red revolution, takng down “white supremacy” (which by the way has brought more good into the world than all the works niggers have done in 10,000 years) but a “Reaction” that is actually going to lead to the death of many many niggers and the actual expulsion of all the rest. As for me, I don’t want to be here for the bloodshed, but am leaving as soon as i am able. Soon. As for you, the whites are going to hunt you down, or you will get massacred fighting back. I wish i could wish you good luck, asshole, but you do not deserve it, eloquent agitator that you are.

oh, p.s., i am about to marrysomeone who is probably the most beautiful, blond, white woman in the world. and am going to happily make beautiful mixed, light skinned babies who will know nothing of your imaginary “black” history, only the great things white, European civilization has brought into the world, like the computer that you abuse so well.

[James inserted a picture of an average white girl riding a bike. She was a’ight, except for the fact that her jawline was nonexistent and she was unironically wearing tube socks. She kinda looked like Ivanka Trump—if Ivanka knew how to ride a bike and ate more than her daily recommended allowance of carbs.]

here. eat your black heart out.

white supremacy: the invention or discovery of: electricity; chemistry and the uncovering of all the elements; flush toilets; steam power; clocks; distilled alcohol; the telescope; refrigeration; the Haber process; antibiotics; the internal combustion engine; the printing press; transistors; geometry; trigonometry; calculus; space travel; ect,ect. notice, fool, that of all the significant advancements that have benefited humanity, niggers have brought forward literally not one useful thing, not one. ever think there is some truth to the “Bell Curve”? Facts are hard things to avoid.

Fuck, even the ancient Egyptians have been shown by DNA analysis to be a Turkic people, like the Iranians. the whole world knows this. Niggers are despised everywhere.

“Racism” will always exist. As long as there are blacks.

Why do you think everyone migrated out of Africa? No sane person wants to live in an all back neighborhood.

niggers are lazy, impulsive, mostly stupid, prone to violence, unruly, unimaginative. hell, Africans lived for tens of thousand of years across the water from Madagascar, and never thought to build a boat to colonize it. but people from India , for God’s sake, sailed thousands of mile across the ocean to do it. Why is that?

i bet you’re a faggot too.

Here is what is going to happen, Michael: you people are going to push and push and there is going to be a bloody Reaction. When it is all over, and the Left has lost, a charismatic someone, not Trump, will take power, and will , under the rubric of a “final solution” to the race problem in America, begin the “voluntary” expulsion of all 13 million niggers, moslems and illegal south americans from the U.S. ( white native communists, and homos will be disposed of without recourse) . All those who refuse to leave voluntarily will be humanely disposed of. it has happened before; it will certainly happen again, here. and idiots like you will be responsible.

From: Mr. Smith
To: Michael Harriot

You racist fuck ,you better keep locking that door in the morning or you will be next


Hey, guys:

Thanks for proving me wrong.

Emailing me to tell me how you’d kick my ass and to call me a nigger definitely proves that white people are not cowards.


The number of hate messages I received from obviously fake Twitter accounts like James T. or White Buffalo (who called me “hate-breeding scum”) shows that white people aren’t racist. They are brave.

My bad.

The next four messages are indicative of people who vehemently disagreed with the piece. The majority of emails in this category came from people who made the same three points. Most were too long, so here are some excerpts:

From: Ben W.
To: Michael Harriot

I’m writing to you in response to an article of yours I read after a friend shared it on Facebook. I almost left a ranty comment beneath the article but managed to stop myself, as I didn’t fancy coming across as a gun-toting confederate sitting at home sweating in a clan suit, which is how I imagine most angry commenters on FB.

I’m writing because I found your article so incendiary and racist. Before you become defensive, try replacing the word “white” in your article with another adjective, for example “black”. Does it feel uncomfortable to read? In fact, articles very similar to yours exist on every racist website, but with inverse colours and with some different criticisms...

Do some groups suffer or persecute disproportionately? Undoubtedly. Is skin colour often a factor? Absolutely, although not always. The key is dealing in specifics and not extrapolating or generalising to the point of inciting hatred towards a broad, inaccurate, and subsequently, undeserving “group” of people. That is racism.

From: Jason B.
To: Michael Harriot

Mr. Harriot, I have been doing some writing and I want to thank you for sharing your pure, unadulterated hate of white people. I have been looking for someone similar to a white Nazi or hate group member yet is black and is published and promoted by those on the Left. People like you got Trump elected and your ignorance and hate will only drive society (all races) away from your tired victimization-unfair world routine. That is why people like you fail to help your community...


I can’t explain why, but I actually like this next guy, Richard:

From: Richard
To: Michael

Hey dude who the hell do you think you are calling all white people cowards fuck you you don’t Know shit I busted my ass to carve out a good place for my little family...

you are talking about the young people of today are the ones that are making us look bad you know it I know it we all know it I’ve worked myself into two heart attacks a stroke two failed back surgeries congestive heart faliar and bad knees all because I worked very very hard for my family and now my grandbabies you Know nothing about my generation we worked together side by side we went to war together I felt like everyone I caught wit blacks whites doesn’t matter we we’re brothers we never saw color still to this day we stay in touch and still don’t see color it’s people like you who bitch and whine and cry about things that are responsible for today’s bullshit work hard care for your family and mind your own fuckin business you don’t lump all white people into your rederick like my dad says think before you speak I’m no rasist by any means but if I was so what blacks can be rasist to so can anybody I NEVER say shit like this but you are an offensive idiot what if I said all black people are scum you’d be all pissed off people are people dude think about it...

after the army I spent 27 years as a trucker and I met many people out there by best friends were black and we drove our asses off to make a living nobody cared about people’s skin color didn’t have time for that shit ok so I’m rambling sorry about that anyway you need to retract and say SOME white people are cowards some back down not me or my family or my friends...

From: Kitt Dugan
To: Michael Harriot

You think it’s funny, but the alt-right is actually emboldened by articles like yours, believe it or not. They use stuff like this to lampoon your cause & discredit liberalism. You think it’s a joke, but it’s not. In your own small way (250,000+ clicks) you are helping to create Trump voters while spreading racist sentiment

You don’t gotta believe me — it’s true. Go ahead, make another joke about it. I’m giving you some important insight as a regular reader.

If I see you keep repeating this pattern of publishing racist clickbait headlines, I will stop reading. A drop in the bucket, I know. As I said, just my two cents, all respect to you.


Instead of arguing with all of you, I will begin by accepting your two main premises:

  1. If a white person wrote what I wrote about whites, they’d be considered racist.
  2. The article will push some people away and make racism worse.

Let’s all agree that I’m a racist. In fact, for the sake of your argument, let’s assume that I’m the most vehemently anti-white racist who ever existed. Now let’s examine what I did.


I asked white people to speak out against racism.

I didn’t call for a national ethnic cleansing. I didn’t ask for retribution or reparations. I took white people to task for their silence. That’s it.


To be fair, I used the word “wypipo.” I made jokes. I disparaged racists and white people who don’t speak out. If you are offended by that, then I am truly sorry. I’m sorry that you overlooked the reductive, brutal shit that white people actually do and focused on the offensive, so-called anti-white shit that I said and felt more attacked by the offensive shit that I said.

I’m sorry that my rhetoric is more important to you than black people’s reality. But most of all, I’m sorry that you are proving that everything I have said is true.


Which brings us to your second point:

Again, in this little example, I’m the racist one. According to your narrative, my vitriolic racism, limited to words typed on the internet, will make white people more racist. It will rile up the “alt-right” and cause white people to stop caring about black people.


Could you point out a few examples of this phenomenon?

All my life, black people have heard the same argument—that syrupy, inoffensive pleas will motivate more white people to take a stand against racism. That harsh rhetoric will push white people away.


But I have never seen a single example of this.

Ask the man who picked up the tiny little pieces of Martin Luther King Jr.’s jawbone on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel if King was less dead than Malcolm X or Fred Hampton. Ask the four little girls bombed at the 16th Street Baptist Church to compare their deaths with those of the five children who died in the bombing of the Operation Move headquarters.


My tone and inflection mean nothing. Whether I say, “Please stop being racist” or “Stop being racist, motherfucker”—it is all the same.

If I were predisposed to pearl clutching, I would ask how dare you tell me how to react to my own oppression? I would ask how black people’s polite acquiescence has worked out so far. But I know what you mean when you self-righteously advise me to make my pleas against bigotry as palatable as possible ...


You’re telling me to shut the fuck up.


There were also a lot of variations on “not all white people.”

From: Kitt Dugan
To: Michael Harriot

Michael, I really like your writing. But i wanted to respond briefly to your latest article. I understand you’re in the clickbait business and I totally respect that. I understand you are capitalizing off the anti-white sentiment and this theme underlies much of your writing. From a content standpoint, that’s dope. Awesome. But from a race relations standpoint...I think you’re making the problem worse. You are taking the actions of a few white people (Trump, Nielsen, Kelly) and attributing their cowardly and evil qualities to all white people. That’s what your headline says. It’s purposefully provocative and’s racist. And I get that you’re trying to shine a light on these despicable people. I am onboard with that. But I do think it’s a little ironic that you seem to be becoming what you hate. I assume you despise the practice of judging a person solely based on the color of their skin. Why is it ok to do that to people with white skin? You are taking advantage of the contentious racial environment to slander all white people for clicks. That’s wrong. You are a great writer and I always enjoy reading your perspective on the Root. I am not some alt-right white nationalist. But I HATE racism, and in my book you are perpetuating racism with an article and headline like this. Just my two cents, all respect to you.

I am not a coward, Michael. In 2016 -2017 I served in AmeriCorps as a tutor at a youth center that provided services for immigrant students, both undocumented and documented.

When you paint with broad strokes like that, saying all white people are cowards, that is racist. you’re right that most white people need to do more. I personally feel that I have taken action to address the problem in what capacity I have, in my own community. And because of that the tone of your article struck me as unfair.

Obviously you got hella clicks on the article — job well done on that. But in my view you’re actually making the problem worse when you paint in broad strokes in this manner...


And these two excerpts from the comments section:

From: J.T.

I’m no saint, but based on my actions you can’t lump me in with the white people Harriot’s talking about here.

But I disagree because it has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with power. By making it about skin color, you give the racists and the cowards the opportunity to defend themselves by claiming they’re not racist, rather than having to defend their actual position...

From: Smoke&Water

That line between I’m only talking about wypipo and just flat out saying all white people are bad is getting thinner and thinner Michael. Which is definitely your prerogative. Regardless of which way you mean it. It’s not like you’re trying to make friends out here. You’re trying to open eyes. But you may want to drop the facade that you don’t really mean #allwhitepeople when at the end of the day you really do mean that. I enjoy your articles. You’re a good writer. But a little honesty would go a long way.


I’m sorry, guys.

There are three people, unseen employees of The Root, who are beloved and respected. Teresa Ridley, Dara Sharif and Natalie Degraffinried, our copyedit team, are the ones behind the scenes who fix all of our mistakes. They often challenge me and others here, and have made me a better writer. But it is obvious that they are not infallible.


Apparently, after I finished this article, they went behind me and inserted “all” in front of every mention of “white people.” I assume that they mistakenly deleted the part that specifically mentioned that there were white people who will speak out, including the sentence I wrote stating: “Some white people will speak out sometimes, just like some fish can fly and some bears can ride bicycles.”

I haven’t gone back to check, but from your comments, either they erased that part of the article or you chose to ignore it. It must be the former, not the latter, because ignoring that part would render your entire argument invalid. You’re writing to proclaim that “not all white people” pick and choose when to ignore racism, and you’re doing it by choosing to ignore part of an article about racism.


But instead of semantics, allow me to explain what I mean when I write “white people”:

When I say “white people,” I mean it in the same way people in Syria say “American.” I mean it in the same way wildebeests say “lion.” I mean it in the same way Google News means it when I type “black man.” When I say “white people,” I’m talking about verifiable facts, like:

  • 18 percent of whites say they talk about racial inequality with friends and family.
  • 75 percent of white people believe that police treat blacks and whites equally.
  • 52 percent of white people (pdf) think that efforts to increase diversity almost always come at the expense of whites.
  • 56 percent of whites (pdf) believe “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

And just in case you think I’m cherry-picking numbers, I challenge you to find me a single national poll where a majority of white people see institutional racism as a problem. Show me a single protest about a racial issue where more white people—despite outnumbering blacks 4-to-1—showed up than black people.

But here is the problem: Even though I specifically said “some,” you felt that I needed to specifically address you individually. Any intelligent person understands that nothing in the entire universe is “all.” If I say “cars need gas,” I recognize that electric cars exist. Only white people expect this privilege of individuality.


When I write about how black people are unfairly treated by the criminal-justice system, I am not deluged with mail from black people telling me they have never gone to jail. When political candidates talk about income inequality, black people don’t object and offer their pay stubs. Only white people.

Not all ...

Just you.

And finally:

From: Jessie
To: Michael Harriot

I am white woman, born Canadian but grew up in white America, where they taught us in school back in 80’s that racism was a thing of the past...

It wasn’t until the election of Donald Trump before I realized the true and horrific nature of white America; the hypocrisy, the propaganda, the marginalization – and unabashed loathing - of anyone who wasn’t a wealthy, white, Christian (not Catholic) republican. It was devastating to understand the extent of my naiveté. Since the election, I’ve read The Root every single day, not just because you are all incredible writers and journalists, but because I want to be uncomfortable, I want to remind myself every day that if I make certain choices, then I am part of the problem.

And today I read this; White People Are Cowards. You said nothing but the truth. I am that white person who denies being racist, but I don’t always speak up when family or friends say racist things or wax poetic about racist policies. I am that white person who inwardly frets about American evil, but in the end I do nothing about it. I have allowed myself to be comfortable and non-confrontational at the expense of those who are oppressed. I saved and printed this article to be a reminder of my own complicity. That voting for the opposition is not enough. That feeling bad about American policies and brutality is not enough. That voicing my opinion to the people who already agree with me is not enough. I will speak up.

I know I will alienate parts of my family, some of my acquaintances, some of my clients, and that doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Because of you and the truth you speak, I will not stay silent anymore.

To: Michael
From: Bobby

I read your article.

I want to apologize.

I won’t promise to do better. I will try to do better.

I offer a short story that (perhaps) will inspire some hope that “better” is possible. Six weeks ago I went on a golfing trip with my college buddies to Ocean City, MD. It was typical of what you might expect from a group of fourteen college educated men in their mid-30's- bad golf, good food, great beer, casual racism, misogyny and homophobia...

On Saturday night, after a full day of golf and beer the discussion inevitably turned to the incident at the Philadelphia Starbucks that occurred right before our trip ... I’m not sure how many terrible things were said or awful opinions offered, but after staying silent too long I finally had enough. I spoke up, pointed out the evilness of their words and, after a heated debate I eventually said “I don’t care” to the detective’s proclamation that he had “seen his buddies die” in the streets, ending any sort of rational interaction. Long story short, I won’t be getting invited on the trips anymore and I am officially kicked out of the group’s fantasy football league (it seems so silly that this would be important, I know).

I know you are smart enough to know I am not writing this because I want a pat on the back or an “attaboy” ... I do feel most of them are good people who know that this stuff is wrong, but as you wrote they are too afraid to speak up. But now I lose any ability to influence them. They are insulated that much more, and their capacity for change, let alone the courage to change others, diminished to potentially irreparable levels.


Here’s the thing:

Bobby, you know how the incident with your buddies is stuck in your head? It’s stuck in the heads of your friends, too. They might not obsess over it, but they remember what you said. You made them think. I know it.


And Jessie, that fear you have of alienating your family or clients is scary, but it is also contagious. I can guarantee that anyone who hears you speak out against racism will be more hesitant the next time they do or say something that could be perceived as racist. They will second-guess themselves. They will wonder if their actions or words might alienate or offend someone.

And despite what I said about white people, I can also guarantee that when you speak up or stand against prejudice, there will be another person in that room who quietly feels the same as you. And your courage will embolden that person to speak out and make another bigot more reluctant. And the person you emboldened might inspire another person to use their voice and make another person more hesitant.


And that’s how it works.

That’s it.

Nothing more.

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


The Kinja Assassin

You’re a real piece of shit. I’d love to find you in the streets.

if you were in front of me and called me a coward I’d make quick work of beatin your ugly ass.

Here is what is going to happen, Michael: you people are going to push and push and there is going to be a bloody Reaction.

You racist fuck ,you better keep locking that door in the morning or you will be next