The Root's Clapback Mailbag: The Right to Be Hostile

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

I love the Clapback Mailbag.

Contrary to popular belief, responding to the emails, tweets, comments and direct messages from random people who want to explain why I’m wrong does not depress me. It doesn’t upset me in the least. This isn’t a labor of love because I don’t even consider this labor.


One of the questions I am asked most frequently (besides “why won’t you kill yourself, nigger?”) is why am I so angry? At first, I didn’t understand why people thought I was filled with anger. Then I realized that it might be because I speak and write in such a hostile tone.

I blame my environment.

When I am on the phone with one of my sisters and say something funny, they will respond by telling me “You’re so stupid.” On the rare occasion that I write something that makes someone on our staff laugh, I will get a message from social media editor Corey Townsend or contributing editor Angela Helm that simply says: “I hate you.” I don’t believe my sisters think I’m stupid and I’m 51 percent positive that Corey and Angela don’t actually despise me.

Senior editor Stephen Crockett, however, will just laugh when I make a joke.

He hates me.

I want our readers to know that I am not angry at anyone except George Zimmerman, people who can really sing and come to karaoke bars and whoever let this white kid sing OutKast.

This email is in reference to the D.C. Subway snitch who tweeted at black woman’s employer to inform them that she was eating on the train.


From: C.W.
To: The Root

I just read on USA Today about the Natasha Tynes / Metro incident, and I think it’s gone out of control.

I live in the DC area, and I’ve been known to ride the Metro. I know about the rule that says you can’t eat or drink or even chew gum on a train or in any station; and although I personally resent that a little bit, because I personally wouldn’t drop my trash on the floor or the ground on Metro property, I think I get why they have that rule. Not everybody would care about keeping Metro clean, or even think about it. I think Metro has that rule to avoid having to clean up behind the ridership, which would increase the cost of maintenance, and therefore the cost of a ticket to ride the trains.

But whatever. There’s that rule. Fine.

But now there’s a Metro employee breaking the rule, right out in front of God and everybody; somebody tweeted about it, and a large part of the outraged reaction seems to center around the fact that the employee is Black. And because somebody tweeted about it, and the employee is Black, this commotion is all over the ‘net and on the national news. What?

Somebody please explain this to me slowly, like I was born yesterday? ‘Cause I don’t ‘get’ how this is a racial issue, or worthy of national attention and outrage. To my mind, race doesn’t even enter into it; and the fact that it’s become a racial and a national issue just blows my mind.

What matters to me is that here’s Metro, which forbids eating on their trains, and here’s a Metro employee, a person who in some degree represents Metro, breaking their own rule and flaunting it for all the world (or at least all the people in the car) to see.

It’s the hypocrisy of the whole thing, see? I don’t care who the employee is, lowest rank or CEO, their gender, race, age, nationality, religion, or anything else. Any employee of a company that lays down the rules for the rest of us should be the very last person to break a rule, instead of acting like it doesn’t apply to them, and pissing off the customers. Or am I just wrong? Seriously; if you think I’m missing something, explain it to me. Politely, please.

Now, would I have gone on Twitter to pitch a bitch about it? No. That’s out of proportion, to me. Would I have complained privately to Metro? Maybe. On a bad day. Should the employee lose her job behind this? Hell, no. But now that this thing’s exploded like a shook-up 2-liter bottle of soda in a hot car, management would not be out of line to impress on this employee the idea that she should not embarrass the company by drawing this kind of attention to herself and the company. Metro’s got bigger stuff to worry about.

And don’t we, too?

My personal bottom line, one man’s opinion:

Metro employees should obey their own rules, but this employee should not lose her job. She just made a mistake.

Not every problem between two people of different races is about race. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Natasha Tynes took her indignation too far, and didn’t think it through (that the Metro employee might lose her job).

But Tynes should not lose her book deal, either. She just had a moment of bad judgement, like the employee.

This should not be a national issue. I mean, please.

Everybody should just take a breath and look for something more worthy of their energies than this. Maybe lobbying Metro to let the employee keep her job. Maybe working in positive ways to improve human relations, social skills and harmony, and dropping habits and practices that don’t move us forward.

But that’s just me.


Dear C.W.,

I genuinely want to explain this to you in a non-hostile way.

While I admit that I haven’t read all of the articles on this incident, I believe The Root was the first news outlet to do a story on this. In our article, we did not say that the Metro employee had a right to eat on the train. In fact, we pointed out that it was definitely against the rules.


The salient question is: Why?

I don’t want to derail the point by speculating that Tynes did this because the woman reportedly told Tynes to “worry about yourself.” But what was Tyne’s ultimate goal? For the woman to clean up after herself? To ensure she rode to work in a spotless train? Aside from the fact that Natasha reportedly only cares when some people eat on the train and not others, Natasha never gave a reason.


Let’s say that Natasha has a pet peeve against people eating on the train. Maybe she once sat in a coffee spill on the way to an important meeting. Maybe her loving grandmother was killed in a subway by a discarded bagel crumb. Even so, surreptitiously tweeting at the woman’s superiors wouldn’t have—in that moment—stopped the woman from eating or cleaned up the train. The only logical explanation that one can logically surmise from Tynes’ act is that it was an act of malice. She obviously wanted the woman to be disciplined—if not fired.


For eating.

C.W., you asked why this is about race. And here is the important point I want to make:

Just because you do not see racism doesn’t mean that it does not exist. Oftentimes, people like yourself either naively believe—or intentionally perpetrate a bald-faced lie—that we live in a vacuum-sealed world unsullied by discrimination and racism.


We don’t.

Study after study shows that black women are perceived as more hostile, less innocent and angrier when they show emotion. They are less likely to be promoted, less likely to be supported by their employers and more likely to be scrutinized and disciplined at work. And when they lose their jobs, their unemployment rate is double the unemployment rate for white women.


Neither you nor Natasha’s snitching ass may not have known this, but even in your ignorance, it was a racial issue. I can’t help but wonder why it was the black woman who Natasha felt the need to snitch on. Was it Natasha’s subconscious bias? It is impossible for me to believe that, until last week, Tynes had never seen a person eating on the train. I cannot fathom that she has confronted every person she saw break the Metro’s rules. You and I both know that is not true.

It can only be that Natasha, subconsciously or explicitly, did not give a fuck about the woman. And Natasha did not know a goddamn thing about that woman except that she was black. She might not hate that woman, but what she did was filled with racial implications. I understand why you don’t see this as a racial issue. Sadly, C.W., it is because you are like Natasha Tynes.


Your entire point is that the public has gone overboard with condemning Natasha Tynes and that she should not lose her book deal even though the people on the internet literally did the same thing as Natasha did—they used social media to contact Tynes’ employer to let her know what kind of employee or book partner they had.

You don’t see the hypocrisy in that?

Now that this is a national story, Tynes’ publishers would not be out of line to impress upon her that she should not embarrass the company by drawing this kind of attention to herself and the company. They’ve got bigger stuff to worry about.


Finally, C.W. your point about looking for “something more worthy of their energies” is invalid. I believe public shaming is a good tool for justice. If not for Black Twitter, absolutely nothing would have happened to Natasha Tynes. She is receiving her comeuppance. This is literally social justice.

Nice try, though.

Finally, I received a lot of backlash regarding an article about a sandwich. They weren’t mad because I said the sandwich was trash, they were mad because I called it “white.”


But they all really needed one question answered:

From: Yabba
To: Michael Harriot

What the fuck is a white sandwich?

Is hot cheetos and bread a white sandwich?

From: Sophia
To: Michael Harriot

I hope you’re happy with your racism. Sandwiches aren’t white or black. Even if you don’t think it’s good just say that.

What if I called a sandwich a black?

From: Sonny
To: Michael Harriot

Food isn’t racist. Is there a black sandwich?

OK, guys

For equity’s sake, here is a description of the blackest sandwich ever:

The left thigh of a free-range chicken raised in a backyard of someone whose nieces and nephews were kinda scared of it, deep-fried on the front right eye of the stove (everyone knows that’s the best eye for frying) in three-day-old grease (not cooking oil; you have to call it grease) topped with macaroni and cheese baked in the oven of a woman named Luethell who is wearing pink rollers in her hair and her housecoat smells a little bit like cornbread (from scratch, not that Jiffy shit), drizzled in bacon grease from a Folger’s coffee can that sits on the eye of the stove that doesn’t work unless you light it with a paper towel, smothered in Texas Pete hot sauce between two pieces of repurposed pound cake served at the repast of the head deacon at Harvest Grove Church of God in Christ in Mudclamp, Miss., where the Reverend Cephus Washington is the pastor.


Even I would call that sandwich “nigger.”

I have no idea what this is about.

From: Julie
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Your capacity to see humanity without color distinctions

Michael, Sir, I have introduced to you through a coworker. You are a wordsmith. I enjoy your sportsmanship with our language, but I question the attitude behind some of your opinions. I understand talking shit, do it myself and I vent plenty, but at the end of the day, I know that we are all one. All of humanity, and I mean ALL, were created by the same God and have equal value. Do you ever set your anger aside and acknowledge this? I was just wondering? Thank you for being a revolutionary, we need people who call out the brokenness and refuse to submit to foolish leadership.



Dear Julie,

First, thank you for your pre-insult compliment. I think you are a great person, too. Now, let me tell you what’s wrong with you.


At the end of the day, which is usually around 12:30 a.m., which is technically the beginning of the day, I don’t acknowledge that we are all one, not because I am an atheist, but because I am a polytheist and it is obvious that we don’t believe in the same God.

You believe in a God who created everyone at equal value but treats one group more valuable than the other. I believe in a God who created both good and evil and wants me to understand that some people are evil.


You believe in a God that created a world where people are supposed to live in harmony but he doesn’t want you to hate disharmony. You believe in a God who created racism and hate and wants me to fight it with love. I believe in a God that instructed me to kick disharmony’s ass and punch racism in the throat.

Your God left bruised and bloated African bodies at the bottom of oceans. Your God left shards of Martin Luther King’s jawbone on the balcony of a Memphis hotel. Your God gave his people a bucket and told them to mop up Malcolm’s blood in the Audobon Ballroom. Your benevolent God blessed George Zimmerman with a get-out-of-jail-free card. Your God is a goddamned joke.


I don’t know what you call your God. Maybe you call him Jesus. Perhaps his name is white supremacy. Maybe you call him the Deliverer of Stupid Email. Or The Great Nigger Silencer. Or the Stay-In-Your-Place Savior. Or Donald. Or Satan.

My God’s name is Dorothy Harriot.

And she so hated your God that she gave her only begotten son. And she taught him to hate the white man’s God of oppression because anyone who believes in him will surely die.


My God gave me life. My God told me that my prayers would never be answered by your God. My God told me that I was created to kill your God. My God taught me how to fight. Then, my God gave me a sword and told me to stab your God in the chest. My God told me that I would never be free until your God is dead.

So, to answer your question, Julie, I am not angry at you, at white people or America...


I’m just doing Dorothy’s will.



The left thigh of a free-range chicken raised in a backyard of someone whose nieces and nephews were kinda scared of it, deep-fried on the front right eye of the stove

Great, now I want this sandwich and will never be able order it unless I am in a situation to be seated with someone who CAN order it and say “I’ll have what they’re having...”