The Root's Clapback Mailbag: What Is We Doing?

Illustration for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: What Is We Doing?
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante (The Root/G-O)
Clapback MailbagEach Friday, we select the best (or worst) emails, tweets, DMs and comments from our readers and respond to them in the The Root's Clapback Mailbag.

Today’s mailbag is dedicated to the people who are laughed at, made fun of and dismissed as a joke. Every day, the entire staff at The Root engages in a brutal act of bullying against certain members of our team. It’s becoming institutional and I’m tired of it.


Whenever any person suggests that we cover a story, the writers and editors here will belittle the suggested news topic and point out that we have already covered the story. They will smugly accuse the person of not reading The Root, as if they expect that person to read every story that we publish.

This has to stop.

To point out the ridiculousness of their bullying, today’s mailbag will point out that there are a lot of people who may have missed something that we wrote. There is no reason to make fun of certain people just because they may have overlooked a news item that someone here wrote.

I am “certain people.”

Today’s mailbag is dedicated to me.

This content of this first series of tweets was also DMed to me concerning an article written by staff writer Joe Jurado:


Dear Max and 1onenine9,

I share your concern about the abolition movement getting “no respect from” this publication. I agree.


Even though the prison abolitionist movement has gained a lot of recent support, The Root has repeatedly ignored the newfound love for the movement. Sure, Joe Jurado wrote that article. Sure, we covered Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary about this very subject, which prompted many to take a look at the injustice of prison slavery.

It’s not that we don’t respect the work of abolitionists like Max Parthas. If we knew who he was, or even listened to his podcast, we probably still wouldn’t care. But to be fair, there is a very good reason why we have overlooked those who have gotten on board the prison abolition moment.


We’ve been talking about this shit since we existed.

Before people even knew what the phrase “prison abolition” even meant, The Root has been the leading vocal advocate for this issue. Before podcasts. Before you could tweet about it. Before you could DM me on Facebook.


Before Teen Vogue got “woke” and started writing about how icky prisons were, The Root was paying prison abolitionist scholars like Robert Perkinson to write about the issue a decade ago. Way back in 2011, we hired a law professor to write about mass incarceration’s destructive toll on America. That law professor was Sherrilyn Ifill, who became the president of the Legal Defense Fund—the organization that took the lead in pushing the Obama administration to reduce the use of private prisons and end the use of mandatory minimums.

Five years before our co-founder Henry Louis Gates Jr. was the featured historian in 13th, Nsenga Burton wrote this in The Root:

The only thing sadder than having more men in prison now than in slavery during 1850 is that many don’t understand that slavery is still legal within the prison system. Indeed, it is the only place where slavery is still legal in the United States. It is clear that our community is in trouble. What are we going to do about it?


I’d challenge anyone to find any media outlet—black or white—who has covered mass incarceration, prison reform and the evil of America’s criminal justice system more extensively than this one. And we’re still writing about it every day.

Joe Jurado knows this.

Now, I haven’t specifically asked him about his motivation for writing the article that offended you. But I imagine, after seeing our stories on the use of prison labor to fight wildfires, after writing about people dying in prison, juveniles receiving life without parole, men who wrongfully spent decades in prison, others being executed for not killing someone, ex-felons losing their constitutional right to vote and the cruel and unusual conditions of prisons across America...


I imagine how Joe felt when one of our editors told him to write about the joyous occasion of Minnesota officially ending slavery. I imagine that he thought about the importance of this bill that will not have a single impact on Minnesota’s use of prison labor. I imagine he wondered if he’d be challenged to an open debate by a guy he’s never met who just started doing a weekly podcast on the thing that he does every day and his company has been diligently working toward for years.

I don’t know how Joe felt, but since you wondered how Michael Harriot felt, here’s an exact transcript of my reaction after reading your tweet and your challenge to my coworker:

I mean, this is cool but it seems like one of those instances where folks are going to pat themselves on the back for “doing the right thing.”


Someone took offense to our article about Spades:

From: Pat
To: Michael Harriot

Dear Michael,

I regard you as one of the best and most unapologetically fearless writers of our time. But sometimes I see stuff like this and wonder what you’re doing. The country is going through one of the biggest events in history and your writing about Spades.

I know The Roots is not the NY Times but our people still look to you for information and in a lot of ways you drive the conversation. It would be nice to see y’all care about black lives and not take everything as a joke.


Dear Pat,

Gregory Prince died.

Also, last week, the police got away with shooting and killing a black man. There was also a racist teacher at a school. Someone used the n-word against someone. Another person was discriminated against by their company. If I had the time or inclination to look, I’m sure I could find the link to our stories about these incidents.


I’d rather think about Fruity Pebbles.

When I was 12, my best friend, Gregory Prince, died during a sickle cell anemia crisis. He was really my first friend when I started going to school. He, and another one of my friends, Troy, were both nerds, as was I. Every day, Troy, Gregory and I would meet at our school’s canteen, buy a snack (Gregory always bought the Rice Krispies Treats) and gather on this patch of grass and do nerd shit. We would read MAD Magazine, talk about whether we’d go back in time or into the future if we had a time machine (the correct answer is backward) or argue about stupid shit.


One time, we tried to come up with the perfect snack. Troy said the perfect dessert would be a sweet potato cake. I argued that Krispy Kreme has already invented the perfect dessert but Gregory argued that making a Rice Krispies Treat out of Fruity Pebbles would be epic. While we all agreed that Fruity Pebbles is a top-five cereal (Cap’n Crunch Berries is No. 1, don’t debate me on this), I insisted that Fruity Pebble treat would be too sweet. We never got to the bottom of it because the bell rang.

Also, Gregory Prince died.

Troy and I were both devastated when we heard about Gregory. We were both pallbearers at his funeral. But the scariest part about it was that I knew that Troy and I would have to eventually talk about it when we went back to school because Troy was one of those people who liked to talk about things.


On the first day back to school, I went to the canteen to buy my snack. It wasn’t too weird that Gregory wasn’t there because he often missed school when he was sick. Troy came up to me when I was in line and told me that I didn’t have to buy a snack because he brought one from home that his mom had made for both of us.

She made the Fruity Pebbles treat!

After we sat there and ate them, I knew it was time for that conversation. Troy liked to talk about things.


“You know what?” Troy said. “I think Gregory was right. This is the best one.”

Then we started talking about whether we’d rather have Knight Rider or James Bond’s car. (Knight Rider is the correct answer. Don’t debate me on this.)


And that is black life.

When we talk about blackness or say “Black Lives Matter,” we aren’t only talking about police brutality, racism or America’s 400-year inhumane treatment of black bodies. Blackness is not a death sentence. Black people are more than a sack of bones and flesh meant for whipping and shooting.


Blackness is also your aunt doing the Electric Slide at a family reunion. It’s the soul-grabbing joy when the choir sings the a capella part. It’s laughing on the porch eating sipping red Kool-Aid with an alive first cousin. It’s running a dime on your neighbor at a cookout.

I love being black.

And if I am gonna have to talk about the pain, I have a responsibility to talk about the joy. It’s quite literally why black lives matter. The failure to do both is why people get the impression that the whole of “blackness” can be summed up in conversations about poverty, violence and discrimination.


We are more than that.

And Fruity Pebbles treats are better than Rice Krispies Treats.

Don’t debate me on this. I know it’s true.

Because Gregory Prince died.

And Black Lives Matter.

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


The second clapback made me tear up a bit. It’s so sad that we have to keep explaining that we’re regular ass human beings who experience all of the good and all of the bad things that life have to offer, just like everyone else.