“If a white person said that...”
“The Bible says...”
Those three introductory phrases are staples in the language used by trolls. But, while some people immediately tune out everything that follows, we at The Root have an obligation to respond to these false equivalencies.
We even built a system for it.
All during the week, I receive forwarded emails, tweets, DMs from our staff. Most of the time, I don’t even have to read them. I just put them in a folder labeled “Clapback Mailbag” and open them on Friday.
And I know you’re wondering how I know if it is hate mail or a co-worker forwarding valuable info. That’s easy. The forwarded content from our staff always start out the same way:
There were quite a few responses to last week’s Mailbag.
I saved this one before I blocked the guy:
I know I have written extensively about black-on-black crime, so there’s no reason to rehash it and explain to this Bubba why...
You know what? I ain’t gonna lie. I did rehash and explain to this Bubbatroll
But what I didn’t say is this:
I don’t care about black-on-black crime.
See, I know that most violent crime is a product of poverty, socioeconomic conditions, education, lack of opportunity, domestic violence or downright evil.
I blame white people for most of that, too.
This is not my opinion. Everyone knows it, whether they have done the research or not. It’s not like no one knows that the most murders occur in the poorest zip codes but if you didn’t, here’s an article. If you didn’t know that unequal education leads to crime, read this. We know that white people and black people use drugs at the same rate but black people are three times more likely to be arrested. But we never mention how police patrol are more likely to patrol black neighborhoods for drug sales.
Now, I will admit that there are some black people who are just bad. There are also white people who are just bad. And most people—black or white—would love to know how to fix those people. Knowing all of this, I have one question to ask white people:
How did you get white-on-white crime so low?
With all of your criticism, can you show me your blueprint? Because, if you think I or other black people can fix the black crime rate, or any other racial disparity, then you must have contributed to the high rate of excellence among your kind.
I must admit that was a rhetorical question. If I’m being honest, black people have already formed a secret committee to reduce black-on-black crime. Here’s our plan:
- Criminalize white people: You guys don’t bear enough of the responsibility for shit like white terrorism, making the most money off the drug trade, criminalizing black people, using illegal drugs at a higher rate or Post Malone.
- Oppress you: We have a lot to learn, but we’re going to start by asking you to work for free for a few generations, then not giving access to America’s political, social or economic mechanisms.
- Steal your shit: I’m not talking about the free work. I’m talking about the tax money black people paid while being excluded from the New Deal, the G.I. Bill, K-12 schools, state colleges, work programs and Post Malone afterparties. We’re also going to co-opt your art, music, fashion, movement, slang and overall aura. But we’re gonna act as if we created it.
- Demonize you: We’re going to discriminate against your names, stereotype you by foisting the sins of individual white people upon the entire race, make our physical features the standard for beauty, make white kids feel ugly and make everyone think Post Malone is the average white man.
- Build a system that discriminates against you: We won’t actually say it out loud, we will just arrest you more, sentence you longer, underfund your schools, pay you less and offer you less credit. We’ll remove all the healthcare facilities and grocery stores from your neighborhoods and replace them with and “convenience” stores and low-income clinics.
- Act stupid: If you protest any of these injustices, we’re going to ask you why don’t you just go back to Caucasia. We’re going to point at your crumbling schools and unemployment and tell you that the answer is hard work and education. We’re going to act like the criminal justice system is doing its job. We’re going to say the health disparities exist because you eat cheap food.
- Giggle: Softly, of course. It’s an inside joke.
When all of this is done, I bet those underprivileged white kids would be so angry. The number of white kids who shoot up schools while occupying the top rung on the ladder would dramatically increase once they slide a few notches. And when they are at their angriest about the injustice and inequality, if one of them ever speaks out, you know what I’m gonna say?
Even though I was complicit, I still wouldn’t be that fucking evil.
This was not about anything specific.
From: Michael S.
To: Danielle Belton
As a middle-aged, well-off white man, I have few outlets through which to express my outrage with our country and many of its citizens, where my concerns don’t just get added to the pile of anti-Trumpian hate. I went from being disappointed in our electorate, to utter outrage when elected officials openly demonstrate hypocrisy and distain for fellow humans. And yet, that’s not the reason I’m writing.
I’m writing this email, to the only “primarily black outlet” that I frequent, in an effort to achieve some catharsis in my own soul. There’s no ulterior motive here. I’m a white guy, with a white family, and I’m ashamed of what I’m seeing on the news. At any other time in history, the behavior being witnessed would be the lead story for weeks if not months, and yet Ahmaud Arbery, Dameon Shepard and his family in North Carolina, and other recent horrific events are barely blips on the radar.
Before 2016, I would have suggested that racism was diminishing in the US, and that hate groups were on life support. Pockets of hatred would still exist, but over time, equality was inevitable. Obviously, I was aware that this rose-colored interpretation of our citizenry might be a little naïve, but I never would have expected what has appeared over the past 4 years. It is now apparent that I, like many others, was oblivious to what was already there, and the behavior of the President and his fellow Conservatives gave them permission to say what they’d always been thinking.
I do not feel it necessary for white people to be “apologists” for the race, but I feel that there is a responsibility for citizens of the world to recognize the disparity in circumstances and surroundings that influence people of other cultures. I cannot possibly understand how it feels to be frightened when pulled over by the police, or to be chased and assaulted because I was “running while black”, or to have a mob storm my house because I’m the “local black guy” in a white neighborhood. And yet, I find it important to recognize that fear exists, and to empathize with individuals in that circumstance.
I cannot fathom that this exists in America…and yet it’s not like this is really news. Black executives, artists, celebrities, and others have been saying this for years, but it’s easily dismissed as an “exception to the rule”. My wife and I readily acknowledge that we were willfully misled into thinking that things were better for blacks and other minorities in America…but holy shit…
I don’t have an answer, or a cure, or a solution. I can’t consider myself “woke” or privy to some higher level of understanding. I’m a white man that has come to realize that our country was nowhere near the finish line, and we had simply gotten really good at faking it. Someone like Trump is elected into office, and an incredible number of our fellow citizens felt empowered to suddenly say what they’d always been thinking. Trump has made it acceptable for white people to feel oppressed.
My wife and I were discussing the concept of white privilege. It exists. I benefitted from it. And yet, only recently do I really understand what it is. White privilege does not mean that a white person cannot struggle in life; it means that we do not struggle explicitly because of the color of our skin. There is no perk card that you can swipe at the store. It’s the benefit of the doubt that I receive in the interview, that is unevenly applied to other applicants.
My only hope is that the scope of this display of intolerance is met with an equally overwhelming response from the silent majority in the country, and we overwhelmingly vote to remove many of these people from office. Trump losing is not sufficient…we need a mandate from our citizens to even think about how we might begin to heal. Even then, we have decades of work ahead.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of this disaster will be a reinvigoration of efforts focused on cultural understanding that may have otherwise been deemed “obsolete”. Perhaps this all was necessary to shake some of us out of our delusion. As odd as it may be, I feel closer to my minority neighbors because of all of this. I’m on the lookout for bright red hats. I have to tread lightly when talking to my white acquaintances, in an effort to avoid ruining our relationship by discussing politics. As my wife would say, many people who appeared to be kind and generous on the surface, have had something ugly hidden underneath. This brought out that “ugly”.
I could go on forever, but I won’t. I needed to write my frustration down and share it with someone who might actually care. I’m a white guy, ashamed of the behavior I’m seeing on TV, and empathizing with folks from other cultures that are being negatively impacted by this bullshit. These people don’t represent the majority of US citizens, or the majority of white citizens, but there are far more that are saying and doing far more, than I could have ever imagined.
Please share this email to folks at theroot.com that might benefit from hearing a random white guy developing the slightest understanding of what lurks beneath the surface in our country. I’m a technologist that visits Gizmodo regularly, but I’ve found excellent articles on The Root. Perhaps I’m writing to you because of the recent story about the white gentleman that dyed his skin black and wandered the segregated south to speak to the black experience firsthand…I don’t know…but please keep up the good work.
Michael S. a white guy trying to figure out what the hell happened to the country he loves.
P.S. I’m talking historically “White American”. My ancestors came over on the Mayflower, founded Hartford, Connecticut, my wife and I both have direct ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War and registered DAR/SAR, my side of the family is full of Marines, and my wife is retired Air Force.
You’re preaching to the choir.
Seriously, I was on my church choir growing up and boy could we blow. Not anyone could be on the choir. There wasn’t a purity test or a religious requirement but they could kick you off for overtly sinning. Plus, if you were a woman, you had to wear stockings and a hat once you turned 13, which is also when you want from the Sunshine Workers (the children’s choir) to the Juniorettes (the teen choir). And no woman could preach, evangelize or even minister. That was men’s work.
If any teenage girl or unmarried woman was pregnant, she was automatically off the choir. They might let her back on, once she apologized in front of the entire church. Also, if you exhibited any homosexuality, you would be eventually kicked off the choir (after they laid hands of prayer on you a few times to cure you of the gay)
My church was very fundamental and we went to church four nights a week. My church family was basically my family. Most of my childhood friends went to my church. All of my mother’s friends did. My cousins did, too.
Now, almost every girl at that church was sexually abused. Some of it was by the men at the church. Some have told me about it. Others have hinted at it. Two of my closest cousins have intimated it but have never told anyone who the culprit was because that church was our family.
All of us—every single saint of the Household of Faith—believed we were one of the few places in the world that really knew the truth. And the Bible clearly states that “the truth shall set you free.”
We thought we were free.
One day, a girl about 20 years old, was kicked off the choir. She stood in front of the church and apologized for being pregnant. The law of our church demanded it. The truth shall set you free.
By this time, our leader had passed on. As I stood there, I realized the head deacon’s wife had been kicked off the choir when she got pregnant before marriage. I realized the assistant head deacon’s wife had been kicked off the choir when she had a child out of “wedlock.” I realized that the pastor’s wife had been kicked off the choir once when she was unmarried and pregnant with her oldest child. I realized that his daughter had told me that she had been molested by a church member. I realized that she had told him.
And I stood there and listen to that girl weep for being human and making a human mistake.
That was my last day at that church.
Now, most of my family still attends that same church but only one of my sisters or cousins in my generation attend that church. I still love everyone in that congregation. My grandmother was a founding member and told me stories about when they would worship in a tent. The men in that church were my role models.
But I would never go back.
That church, for me, is how America is, for you. You have this wistful, idyllic view of a country that never existed. Sometimes, I talk to my mother and she fills me in on the things that are happening in the church, incredulous on how this could happen to her beloved church family. She sounds like how you sound talking about this country. But I would never tell her that her beloved church ain’t shit.
Mike, America ain’t shit.
It ain’t never been shit. It ain’t ever gonna be shit. And it’s not because I have a damning view of this country or think some other country is better. They’re all fucked up because all large groups of people have fucked up individuals. And a lot of fucked up individuals like power. Thankfully, I wasn’t the one who was being preyed upon in my congregation. But if you are like me, at least you can see that you have always been surrounded by predators and predators are better equipped at finding prey.
I would never go back to that church. I still have fond memories of being in the church choir and I miss my church family. But then again, I wasn’t the one being preyed upon. Like you, I just finally saw the truth that was supposed to set me free.
I’ve been prey for a long time, Mike.
But I ain’t never been free.
Last, but not least, someone wrote about this article on the New England Patriot’s draft pick:
From: Bill T
To: Michael Harriot
Good day. I enjoyed reading your article on the Patriots’ recent controversial draft pick, Justin Rohrwasser, and I generally like The Root overall. However, I saw in the subtext that you describe yourself as a “wypipologist.” I am compelled to ask you, did researching Rohrwasser and subsequently writing about him help you understand white people—as a whole—more clearly, particularly on an academic level that merits using the suffix, “-ologist?”
I hope you can enlighten me with a reply that is as detailed as possible (time permitting, of course), because I am a liberal progressive who was raised to hate racism in all its forms; thus, lying bigots like Rohrwasser make my stomach roil, and I am casting an even more suspicious eye toward Kraft, Belichick, and the entire New England front office for what is at best a gross oversight and at worst a race-based minimization of a genuine domestic threat.
Nevertheless, I become deeply discouraged when I see an effective and persuasive writer paint any type of people with a broad brush such as wypipology. Thank you in advance for your time and attention to my concern.
Sincerely, Bill T
Truthfully, the wypipologist started as a joke.
Then I realized it was true.
See, I was raised in a religious home. I was homeschooled. And I recently found out that my mother intentionally kept me and my sisters away from white people because, as she recently told me, she didn’t’ think “a black person’s humanity can be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.”
As harsh as that seems, I realized what she meant. Once I started going to public school, I realized I had to intentionally learn what most black people learn subconsciously. A black person cannot understand how they fit into this world until they recognize how they are viewed and treated by white people.
It’s not me.
It’s white people.
I would never rob anyone. But I couldn’t understand how to carry myself in an elevator or dark parking lot until I realized the fact that white people see black men as stronger, larger, older, less innocent and more threatening. The simple presence of black men makes white people believe there is likely to be a crime.
Extrapolating from FBI statistics and the U.S. Census, in any given year, 97 percent of the black people in America do not commit a crime. White people’s perception of me as a criminal is based on nothing but their imaginings. And there is only one way to find out why white people believe this.
I have to study white people.
Again, I have found out that most black people are employed. Most black people are raised by both parents. Most black people value education and hard work. Black want to be healthy and fit. Still these ideations remain.
It’s not us.
It’s white people.
I didn’t create white supremacy. I don’t perpetuate it. I don’t support the education gap, the criminal justice disparities, the employment divide, the housing crisis, the overt racism, the subliminal racism or Donald Trump’s election.
It’s not us.
It’s white people.
And until white people are finally willing to call a thing a thing...
A black person’s humanity can never be fully realized in the presence of whiteness.