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

Many of the emails, comments, tweets and direct messages that make it into the weekly Clapback Mailbag are from well-meaning people who genuinely have questions or need advice. In fact, those emails, tweets, direct messages and comments have prompted some of the best clapbacks.

Here are the Top 4 moments in the history of the Clapback Mailbag.


4. That one time we did a Clapback Mailbag video.

When video producer P.J. Rickards pitched the idea of a video version of the Clapback Mailbag, I was a little reluctant because my on-camera in-studio experience is limited to the talented photographers at Olan Mills Family Portrait studios. But thanks to the patience of The Root’s video production team, it turned out well.


3. The power of the Clapback has been stripped away!

In 2018, we published a piece of satire about white people who were upset about the movie Black Panther.

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The responses flooded the mailbag on Feb. 23, 2018.

From: utterback7125
To: The Root
Subject: Fuck You

You’re the fucking problem with America today. You cause nothing but more racial division. You all make many Americans fucking sick to their stomachs, and we wish you’d crash and burn. You’re the fucking racist fascists.

Name Zachary A.
To: Michael Harriot
Subject Black Panther post

Message I’m not sure why you wrote this, but the reluctancy should have kept, because you sound like a racist idiot. I’m not sure that your rant was much better than Ben Shapiro’s, because you both spew shit from your cloudy and skewed perspectives. Also Gal Gadot is not “Brazilian or something”, that’s a derogatory thing to say and shows your true ignorance. So fuck you, and I hope your writing career ends soon. (not that you have any real articles anyway)

From: Jason
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Plea

I came across your “open letter” via my Google feed. I’m extremely disappointed that you feel the need to perpetuate the racial divide in this country.

Admittedly, I’m a white man. Not a white man of privilege, but a whit man nonetheless. I am a descendant of immigrants who came to this country with nothing and managed to build a lineage if success. It wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t easy. It took generations.

I grew up on the east coast in some of the most diverse neighborhoods our nation had at the time. I shared classrooms and meals with people of color. As an adult, my home has always been open to people’s of any origin, race, faith and sexual orientation. My son is gay.

I admit that we all have our biases and some in this country have faced prejudices that I never will.

That said, I have now read much of your work and can come to only one conclusion.. shame on you.

Your work will do NOTHING to bring us together as a people. You clearly embrace the division because it gives you a platform. You are obviously an educated and articulate man. Unfortunately, you have chosen to use those abilities to perpetuate the division you claim to abhor.

It is my hope that you see that your writings are not unifying or constructive. You have a platform to drive change.. instead you choose to perpetuate stereotypes.

From: Tina
To: Michael

Don’t lump. me in with white people. I have common sense. I don’t lump all people of color based on lack of common Sense of the few. Famous or vocal does not equal common sense.

And the coup de grace:

From: Starlene
To: Michael
Subject: I’m NOT THE RACIST. SEEMS YOU ARE

Slept w& fell in love w/an African American and had a child. Did I give up on that child cause at that particular time, 30,some ought years ago that was not so very much liked? I lived &STILL live in that same neighborhood. Yes, it’s a weathly neighborhood, buy I could care less about that. Thankfully, most of those people who said that to ME about MY child, have now passed on. R.I.P TO THEM CAUSE THEY’LL NEED IT WHEN THEY ENCOUNTER JESUS CHRIST. U HAVE TO GO THROUGH JESUS CHRIST TO GET TO HIS FATHER, GOD. BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT, DID YOU? I know for a fact that I and my now HANDSOME WEALTHY WHITE HUSBAND are NOT RACIST. VERY FAR FROM IT. FROM WHAT I read in that 1 article,that just popped up on my phone, I simply found YOU JUST HATING WHITE PEOPLE. The white people I & My husband know are SO FAR AWAY FROM BEING RACIST, IT’S NOT EVEN LAUGHABLE. But for YOU to call ME a RACIST IS SO BEYOND FUNNY, IT’S NOT EVEN FUNNY. Unfortunately, by YOU CALLING ME A RACIST, MAKES YOU ONE. If you really want to GO FOR it, DO YOU GET TO HANG OUT WITH THE ROLLING STONES? BET YOU DON’T. AND YES,MY HUSBAND &I HAVE BEEN ON THEIR PRIVATE JET. I HAVE LITERAL PICTURES. Darryl Jones is one of the most kind gentlemen I’ve ever met. I care 4u cause I feel so sad for you. I’ll bet money that you do not believe in JESUS CHRIST? Right? Yes,and my husband and I are the HOLLOWAYS. AND YES WE DO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, CAUSE IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO GET TO HIS FATHER, GOD. WHAT’S GOING TO COME OUT YOUR RACIST MOUTH NOW? I can only wonder? THE HOLLOWAYS.....And YES I’ll bet I have MORE money than you do. NOT that it matters, but I’ll bet IT does to YOU? Right?Again.....The HOLLOWAYS

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After I didn’t answer, she wrote back:

From: Starlene
To: Michael harriot
Subject: I just reported you for calling me A RACIST. NO ONE CALLS ME A RACIST!

I Will bet you money that you do not believe in JESUS CHRIST. I can practically guarantee you know nothing about JESUS CHRIST/GOD.Do u know how to get into HEAVEN?I guarantee you do not. I will pray for you,cause I already feel & know YOU need help extremely badly. I already know that you will not send me back a comment. Right? Mrs.HOLLOWAY. AND how DARE you call the HOLLOWAYS -BITCH? We ARE a

Famous family that you will NEVER hear of. We are quite people. PERIOD.


OK, guys, as one of the world’s foremost reverse racists, I would never diminish your pain. Although I would chop off my left pinky toe for the privilege of scanning the landscape of everything that offends me and black people and deciding that the biggest act of racism is an article about a movie about a fictional character in a fictional country.

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It must be nice.

But I’ll be honest with you guys: I’m not tired of you. Your words affect me in no way, and there is a very good reason why:

Even though I think the fragility of Caucasians and their unwillingness to dismantle or accept their part in creating and upholding a worldwide system of evil, oppression and hate is hilarious, it is not overwhelming. The Root receives far more positive correspondences from people—both black and white—who appreciate the work we do.

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I’m sorry to inform you that I will not be clapping back this week. Instead, I have outsourced this week’s clapback to these three individuals:

From: Susie
To: Michael Harriot
Subject: Thank You

Michael,

I just want to send my thanks to you because I have learned so much by reading your articles. I am a white woman who does anti-racism work with adults and children (on a multi-racial team). I thought because I did this type of work for a living I was anti-racist and doing my part. Your writing has made me realize that I have so much further to go on my journey to be anti-racist. I have been reading your column for a year now and it has made me a better person. I think of your writing and you when I make that quick decision-Should I say something? Should I show up for that? Now, I always do. Sometimes I fumble through my words and get nervous and don’t always make the point I meant to-but with your words ringing in my ears I never stay silent.

As a way of saying thanks, I made a donation to the #BlackPantherChallenge in your honor. I wish I could do more.

With gratitude

Susie

But most of all, this, from Twitter:

From: Nikki
To: Michael

Hi Michael - my name is Nikki (redacted). I read A story you wrote about a month ago about the Storm Lake Iowa High School basketball team and the racism they experienced during their game against neighboring Spencer, Iowa. It made me so mad. I decided to give these guys a happy memory, as well. I made a few calls, sent a few emails and raised some money. Today the team went to see “Black Panther” together, complete with snack combos. I don’t know if i would have learned about this if it weren’t for your story. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Thank you for all your work.

Sincerely, Nikki

Photo: Nikki T

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2. When?

This letter that appeared in the Feb. 26, 2018 Mailbag answers two questions:

  1. When will The Root stop doing the Clapback Mailbag?
  2. When will black people stop talking about racism?

From: Dude at a Computer

Honest question. At what point will the black population let go of the past? I’m not asking for everyone to forget the past but stop using it as a crutch for societal and economic woes. I understand your points you made in the article but when will it actually end? I think it would help if we (everybody) were able to put a finger on it and say “when we get here as a society, we can stop talking about the past (but never forget)“? It does not have to end tomorrow, or next year or next decade. I’m just wondering at what point can/should/will it stop?

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Dear Dude,

Unlike the previous morons, you actually pose a salient question. While I cannot give an exact date, I can give you a list of markers that will indicate when black people will ultimately let go of the past and stop using it as a crutch:

  • when black children are afforded the opportunity to attend schools in black neighborhoods that are funded as well as white schools;
  • when the black unemployment rate is equal to the white unemployment rate;
  • when black people with the same education and experience aren’t paid less than their white counterparts;
  • when police don’t shoot black men disproportionately regardless of the crime rate;
  • when employers stop throwing résumés with black-sounding names in the garbage;
  • when white women in parking lots don’t clutch their purses when I walk by;
  • when people like you stop coming to black websites to read about racism and end up butt-hurt;
  • when white people stop telling black people how to react to their oppression;
  • when the history of what white people have done to blacks for 500 years is no longer regarded by whites as inconsequential as they explain away white supremacy by using the Constitution, laws and the legacy of “Western civilization”;
  • when I, as a black man, can finally believe that my work, my children’s existence and my entire life are totally and completely unaffected by the color of my skin.

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Until then ...

I’ll see you next week.


1. The Back Door Clapback.

This letter appeared in the Jan. 25, 2019 Mailbag in response to an article about the Covington Catholic High School boys.

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From: Kieran

To: Michael Harriot

Mr. Harriot,

I appreciate your articles on ‘The Root’ and I find them very informative. I know I risk being put on the ‘Clapback’ but I want to tell you about how I deal with MAGA wearers in light of the Covington Boys. If you need to know my personal politics, I think Cheeto Moussolini is a draft dodging candyass who isn’t fit to run a burgershack.

My last roommate was a die hard MAGA supporter complete with merchandise. This guy would show me videos on Facebook like “Did you see the Joe Biden clips admitting he likes lil girls?” or “Did you see this Clinton tape of Hilary liking Marxism?” These videos we’re obviously fake but he was a Midwestern kid who didn’t know better from a town where mayo was a spice. He was ignorant in the fact he couldn’t name any of his Representatives in Congress, the Senate, or even half the Supreme Court. This lack of knowledge is how I attacked his beliefs.

I would educate him by calling him a “commie” because he doesn’t know who represents him and it would drive him crazy. Believe me when I say calling MAGA wearers anti-American because they don’t know dick about the Constitution will make them very butt hurt. He would burst into my room at random times saying “so what if I don’t know my congressman, I ain’t a commie”. By calling him out on his ignorance it forced him to start paying attention to what was going on and it would make him upset over the things he learned. He was also a big John Wayne fan and would always get mad when I called the Duke “a pu$$y, 6’3 USC linebacker who got a medical deferment during WW2”.

It drives MAGA supporters up the wall when you come at their “heroes” from a further Right argument that they can’t deny. Like calling confederate sympathizers “traitors to the Union who only terrorists support because they are against America”. It truly really bugs them.

Just based on my personal experience, I can say a lot of these young folks from Covington are just straight ignorant douche canoes that never had to deal with experiences outside of their own.

Their ignorance is not an excuse or a free pass. But it should be recognized as a failing from their teachers and parents lack of ability to teach them to think beyond themselves. You can’t come at ignorant bullshit with logic and facts. You have to ease people in piece by piece and make them think about it to make them understand. Yes, I know that is a truly white folk failing but it can be applied to any issue such as LGBTQ rights.

Very Respectfully,

Kieran

Dear Kieran,

My grandfather, who died before I was born, built the home where I lived most of my life. He worked all his life at a local factory and also had a small cab company on the side. Outside the house, there was a huge back porch.

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As his family grew to six kids, my grandfather added a bedroom and turned the porch area into the space where he ran his cab company. We still refer to that entire part of the house as the back porch.

Separating it from the rest of the house was a hollow door made out of paper-thin pressed wood. Since the 1950s, everyone who came to the house, including strangers, family, and friends, signed that door. I’ve had friends over who saw their grandparents’ names on that door.

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Anyway, on the back porch door, right at eye level, are three square holes about the size of a postage stamp. I always assumed the door had been damaged by something, but I’ll tell it you the story of those holes how it was told to me by my late grandmother.

One day, some white men came to the house looking for my grandfather. They were angry because he had been picking up people in the white community who called him for a ride (he charged lower rates than the white cab company.) The men—she doesn’t know how many—somehow got on the back porch and started trashing things. They didn’t make it all the way into the house, only because they never tried. They could have kicked that lightweight door in.

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As this was happening, my grandfather got his pistol and shot three times through that door. They heard men leave. Then silence.

After the silence, she told me, my grandfather just stood there for hours. He couldn’t tell if all the men had gone or if some were on the back porch. He didn’t know if everything he had worked to build was gone or if they just turned over a table. She said they stared at that back door for hours not knowing what they’d find when they went out. Was his business trashed? Would there be a dead white man?

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My grandmother says my grandfather eventually opened the door and no one was there. His cab stand was trashed, but he recovered. No one ever came back and no one ever claimed responsibility.

“And what were you doing when he opened the door?” I asked my grandmama.

“I was praying, Mikey,” she said. “I was praying.”

Now, this could all be bullshit—my mom was born two years after they built that house and even remembers when that back porch was built, and she says she doesn’t remember any of it.

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But if you know where to look, there’s still a little blood stain on that door.

White people don’t care about logic or phrasing. They care about themselves. They wouldn’t stop slavery without a gunfight. It took the National Guard to desegregate schools. The worst people in the world to them are those who accuse cops of misdeeds, but they will tell you to go back to Africa if you dare mention how police shoot black kids in the face. They have never admitted to how they ransacked America.

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Look, Kieran. I’m not saying that anyone shouldn’t have faith that racism will cease to exist. But thinking that how one frames the argument will make America cop to racism or change takes a giant leap of faith. I’m not saying that being kind, reasonable and strategic won’t work. All I’m saying is, I’ve seen the bloodstains and the bullet holes. So while you’re praying, just in case...

I’ll keep shooting.