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

Every Friday, The Root takes the best (or worst) emails, comments, tweets and messages from our readers and features them in our Clapback Mailbag.

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Because so many people have asked how they could create a homemade version of the mailbag, we decided to share the original recipe* that we stole from one of my childhood heroes, David Letterman.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of facts
  • 1 cup of truth
  • A pinch of jokes
  • A shitload of white people

Instructions:

  1. Preheat white people from 98.6 degrees to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit by saying the words: “white people.”
  2. Stir in truth and facts.
  3. Let potion simmer for 20 minutes until the wypipo begin secreting white tears.
  4. Gather white tears in a bowl. If truth and facts are particularly strong, you may need a bucket or two.
  5. Bring it to a boil. You will know it is boiling when the temperature reaches “not all white people” degrees Fahrenheit or “You’re the real racist” degrees Celsius.
  6. Garnish with jokes.
  7. Enjoy.

*Recipe serves 37 million black people.


This week I wrote about New Hampshire state legislator Werner Horn in an interview so bizarre I am still scratching my head. Horn claimed that slavery was a “business decision” and regurgitated an alternative version of American history where racism didn’t exist before 1800.

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To dismantle Horn’s assertions, I spoke to Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates (co-founder of The Root) and Howard University professor Dr. Greg Carr. Both scholars said they had never heard this unfounded theory and wondered where Horn learned this version of facts.

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So I found the recipe.

From: Audioweasel
To: Comment section

OK, so white dude here. With a probably bad take on this, but I’d like to see the discussion that takes place (if any does, I get ignored a lot). OK, here we go. Slavery was a business decision. True. Cheapest labor you can get. Businesses are not citizens, they are not people, they are amoral. They will do whatever they can to increase their bottom line. Their sole function is to make money. They have to be told, through laws and regulations, what is OK and what is not. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it’s true, and it’s how the problems with current businesses need to be dealt with.

From: Grant
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Your hypocrisy

I read your article and your attempt to take him down by using liberal black historians. The fact remains that slavery along with the cotton industry was one of the most lucrative industries in the world at the time. It is only natural that the people in charge wanted to use cheap labor. That is not racism, it’s economics.

Maybe you should do some more research in this area if you want to educate people about this subject.

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Dear Grant and Audioweasel:

I’d like to take you behind the hood on just how this article came together. After I interviewed Mr. Horn and Eboni Sears, I sent the completed article to the editors at The Root. They suggested that I talk to some history experts on the subject and I contacted Dr. Henry Gates and Dr. Greg Carr, two of the most noted black historians in America. Their knowledge and expertise were indispensable and gave me an entirely different perspective.

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This story came from a tip from Eboni Sears, the woman in the story who first contacted Werner Horn. I’ve known Eboni for more than 20 years. She thought I would be a good person to write about this story because she met me when I had just finished my Master’s degree in macroeconomics and was formulating a personal theory that would become part of my life’s work. I went on to teach this subject at two different universities and I don’t know if there is another person on the entire globe who has studied and worked to investigate this concept more than I have.

While I was happy to have Carr and Gates’ invaluable knowledge to dismantle Horn’s historical fiction, that was not my original intent. People often talk about race and racism from a sociological, anthropological and historical viewpoint. But for years, I have been arguing that we explore the subject from a perspective that is neither subjective nor theoretical. I even came up with a name for it:

“Race as an economic construct.”

In a sense, Werner Horn was absolutely correct. Slavery was about capitalism in the same way that the fascism and Naziism were about politics. But you couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about Hitler, World War II or the politics of 1930s Germany and simply leave out anti-Semitism, the concentration camps or the Jews. And you can’t have a conversation about the transatlantic slave trade, U.S. history or the enslavement of Africans without discussing racism.

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We know slavery was an economic decision. But that does not mean it wasn’t also racist.

Westward expansion resulted in the forced removal and relocation of Native Americans. Yet, no one would dare refer to the Trail of Tears as a “real estate transaction.” Fifteen of the 24 Nazi concentration camps were forced labor camps and six were “annihilation” camps. But only an idiot would call the Holocaust a “human resources decision.” Racism, as it exists in America, is inextricably intertwined with the economics of capitalism.

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Merriam-Webster defines capitalism as:

An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

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Merriam-Webster defines “own” as:

a. to have or hold as property

b. to have power or mastery over

Merriam-Webster defines racism as:

1. a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

b: a political or social system founded on racism

Chattel slavery was indeed an economic institution based on the capitalist concept of human ownership. The belief that one can own a human being, by definition, requires a belief in the superiority of the master and the inferiority of the slave. And because there were no white slaves, the primary determinant that produced that inherent superiority must be race. Two things can be true.

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Owning slaves was an economic decision.

Owning slaves was also racist.

Capitalism is at the very foundation of white supremacy. The political, social, and economic oppression of black people in this country is rooted in free-market slavery. The animus against Hispanics is reflected in conversations about Mexicans taking jobs, not paying taxes and “burdening the system.” The genocide of Native Americans can be traced back to the theft of land and resources. Italians, Irish and Jews were oppressed and discriminated against until they gained economic power. Only then were they allowed to become white.

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Race is an economic construct.

And the entire history of whiteness in America is a genteel attempt to camouflage white supremacy as something other than a mixture of greed and weakness. They will tell you that Confederates wanted Southern independence, that segregationists were concerned with states’ rights, that internment camps were about national security, that a Muslim travel ban is about terrorism, that child separation is about border control and, most of all, that their unabashed racism has nothing to do with race.

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They will never admit to racism. It’s never racism.

It’s “economic anxiety.” It’s “conservatism.” It “nationalism.” It’s “respect for western civilization.” It’s “patriotism.” Or “Christian values.” Or “America first.”

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In fact, after I wrote this piece, I emailed it to Horn. He responded, saying in part:

I read this through yesterday. This article has me thinking. I appreciate the thoughtful research that shows through in the article. It addresses some theories I hadn’t heard before and I will be taking a closer look at both the theories and their authors.

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That’s why I called Gates and Carr. Because white people are terrible historians.

But they are great at fiction.


I wrote these:

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And someone wrote a very inspiring response:

From Kathy
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Micheal,

Someone sent me your crap on What they mean when they send her back and Trump supporters are racist. I went down the rabbit hole reading your writing and it inspired me to reach out to you. You must know that your very racist. Even more racist then the people you write about.

I want say that there are some Trump supporters who aren’t racist, but they are very few and far in between. Most of us are people who want to see the country prosper and return to greatness. We don’t hate anyone we want people to come in legally and to stop criminals but instead of focusing on those people you and the rest of the press want to villify white people just for being white.’

And for your information, you should know that white people are not buying this crap because of the haterd you spew. You are just looking to make a name by being a Pro black and a Anti white. You aren’t making a difference, your just spreading negativity. You are a cancer upon this great nation

Faggot.

A proud but not racist Trump supporter

God Bless America.

Dear Kathy,

I was really gonna clap back at your letter. I was going to ask why you dropped out of school in the third grade and if you can write in cursive. I bet you move your lips when you read and have difficulty with addition problems that require you to “carry the one.”

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Kathy, I even planned to talk about your parents. I was going to bet your real dad wishes he had skeeted on your mom’s unwashed legs or into the chewing tobacco spit cup that she keeps beside her bed just in case your ex-stepdaddy stops by on his way home from his shift at the gas station, but on the night you were conceived, the banjo solo in his favorite love song by the Oakridge Boys made him prematurely ejaculate and he grunted the n-word as he kissed the reddest part of your mom’s neck.

It was going to be brutal.

But I won’t do that.

Instead, I will let your fellow Trump supporters’ responses illustrate your point about how smart, reasonable and non-racist they truly are:

From: Rick
To: Michael Harriot

Just wanted you to know your BS doesn’t work on Americans. We welcome and enjoy all people from all walks of life except total frauds and complete morons. I don’t care where you were born, just go back somewhere. It’s people like you that are separating Americans and supporting hatred.

Let’s see... Hilary had the State Dept, the media, still has FBI and CIA protecting her as well as countries like Russia filling her pockets. She’s still getting away with crimes against the people of our country...doesn’t sound like freedom to me. We got your number you fake!

From: Michael
To: Michael Harriot

Yo stupid you are nothing but another uncle Tom the N word is better than you are.keep to racist ass off my phone bitch

From: Robert
To: Michael Harriot

I found it amusing that you are an adult. The article read like a 8th grader wrote it. Obscenities, generalizations tweets. Being a journalist is more than commenting on tweets. Your a political hack and I’m surprised anyone would print your shitty article.

Try getting some attention without writing the name Trump.

From: Steven
To: Michael Harriot

What’s up you scumbag black racist piece of dogshit. You belong in Africa motherfuker as a slave under black slave owners. You’re getting what’s coming you I hope you know that. Keep on writing and keep on writing all that races shit that you love to write so much. Because when the day comes it’s your fucking ass dude. It’s pretty funny how American slavery is the best thing that has ever happened at blacks in the history of black people. Without American slavery you people would be slaves in Africa today. And it’s very clear what you want you don’t want a piece of the pie you want the entire thing. And you’re pissed off because you’re not smart or strong enough to take it so you’re going to bitching complain for us to give it to you forever. Guess what you faget we’re never given it to you it’s never happening so you and your family could get your black asses the fuck up out of our country and bounce.

And you can take your Newport cigarettes, chicken wings, watermelons, horse hair, welfare checks, hand me outs, and big fucking lips with your tiny little brains the fuck up out of MY country.

Scumbags piece of shit

From: Steven
To: Michael Harriot

Oh and one more thing. Trump 2020 you ugly black bald pussy... and many more years of a Republican in office to to come. Hahahah salty mother fucker. I’m sorry did I just steal your favorite word motherfuker. I’m sorry mother fucker. Have a nice day motherfuker. Yeah it sucks having things stolen from you doesn’t it motherfuker. You wouldn’t know because you and your family the fucking thieves. Well guess what faggot we are stealing our country back. Hahahaha

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And Kathy, to your point about white people never accepting my writing, you make a good point.

From: Ghost
To: Michael Harriot

Michael, I want to thank you for your writing. I know that you get a lot of unbridled hatred, ignorance and racism spouted towards you for your articles but you also have the engaging writing style that people take notice of and causes them to look at their own perceptions. I’ve read your articles for The Root for a couple years now and your articles have sent me through every phase of mayonnaisian reactions, but along the way I’ve looked at my own biases, bigotry and even racist thoughts and changed my mental processing overtime. Now I’m here for the creative terms of endearment for us white people

Please keep writing and changing the world

And this:

From: Jean
To: Michael Harriot

I have been reading you on The Root. You are possibly the funniest, most politically irreverent person on the news. I am a 70 year old white woman. My husband says “ you know he’s talking about you? “ Absolutely! I love the conversation. What are we without the conversation!

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God Bless America.