Managing Editor Genetta Adams is off today, so I do not have to adhere to the usual format.
Every week, I try to explain to Genetta that the Mailbag doesn’t require a lede but, instead of listening to my argument, she insists that I follow the rules of journalism and inform the audience of the overall theme of the week’s collection of rants, insults, queries and retorts from our readers.
But, since News Editor Monique Judge is editing today and I know she’s probably still giddy because Cardi B released a song last night (which, at The Root, is the equivalent of Jesus dropping some new sermons), I’m doing what the hell I wanna do.*
Read the headline, nigga.
Ain’t no lede.
*Please don’t tell Genetta.
Today’s first letter is not about anything we wrote this week.
To: Michael Harriot
Hello, Mr. Harriot!
First, let me say I’m a fan of your work.
I follow you on twitter ( I’m redacted )and read the Root as well. I’m a teacher in Michigan but I taught in Florida for seven years, and it’s why I wanted to email you. I’m about as white as they come. There’s just no getting around it. I understand privilege. I’m an ally. I wouldn’t say that I’m, “woke,” because there’s always more work to do, so, that’s it. I hope you get my sincerity.
Anyway, I had a student during my first year in Florida, and after his time in my class, we have become friends. He’s six years younger than I am. We both have kids the same age, and he and his wife are friends with my wife and I. He’s also African-American, in Florida, in Polk County, which is awful.
The last year or so, he’s really gotten into conspiracy theories and is a QAnon member, he doesn’t believe the world is a sphere, and thinks Bill Gates is out to track him with the virus. My question for you is how do I talk to him about being so far down the rabbit hole without sounding like an asshole? I figured you would be the best person to ask because you’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever read.
Earlier this week, a few of my very educated friends were in our group chat talking about a version of this very thing, namely the conspiracy theory about how Bill Gates and the government are using the vaccine as an excuse to inject us with Windows-based tracking chips so they can restart us every time we don’t adhere to the New World Order celebrity child pedophile ring that was hidden in Hillary’s emails (I’m paraphrasing and joking...kinda). In the discussion, someone asked why Black people are so susceptible to conspiracy theories.
One of my friends, who has a Ph.D. in counseling and clinical psychology, suggested that a lot of people don’t actually know how clinical trials work. Another, who is a tenured professor, said people don’t read anymore. Another doctor said that people actually read but for the past 1000 years, disseminating information involved so much work that people naturally assumed that what they read was true. But now, because the internet is relatively new, he believes a lot of people still have that mindset and believe random Facebook posts with the same veracity as a story in the New York Times.
When this conversation was taking place, I was not in the group chat to give my thoughts. Later, after the conversation died down, I was reading it and offered my opinion on the subject, which is also something you should be aware of. There is a good reason black people are attracted to conspiracy theories:
White people be lying.
For instance, Pete Buttigieg, a Harvard-educated history major and Rhodes Scholar, explained to a roomful of children that the “the people who wrote the Constitution did not understand that slavery was a bad thing and did not respect civil rights.” Although that lie is provably false, in many schools, it is taught as a fact. Most medical students believe Black people have thicker skin and are more tolerant of pain. This is also why the vast majority of Americans believe that the Civil War was about “states’ rights.”
White people be lying...all the time.
As someone who was homeschooled, I am often astounded at how much information we accept as fact when a reasonably intelligent critical thinker could dismantle the story with basic logic or a little research. But because of the way America’s education system is set up, the acceptance and regurgitation of flawed information passes for education and knowledge and questioning widely-accepted facts is actually frowned upon. You are supposed to accept the things that white people tell you.
When white people push the lie that government handouts will doom Black people to generations of laziness, they don’t mention how the white middle class was built by government handouts that specifically excluded Black Americans. When they talk about high crime rates in Black communities, they don’t mention how crime is linked to poverty more than any other social or economic factor. No one ever explains that poor white people actually commit more crimes than poor Black people. And when Black people discover all of the lies they have been taught, the only thing any reasonably intelligent Black person can conclude is that all the shit they have been told might be a lie and that it is a conspiracy.
I know a little boy who was smart as fuck and still believed all that bullshit about criminality and America and the Constitution. Civil War. He thought Lincoln freed the slaves.
Then he discovered that white people be lying.
As he learned more, he realized it was all bullshit, even capitalism. He realized that when he told people to stop committing crimes and to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, that he was wrong. He started talking shit and running with gangs.
When Martin Luther King Jr. protested, they thought he was crazy conspiracy theorists. Sen. Strom Thurmond said that the Voting Rights Act shows that “King must always have an agitation objective lest he end up in the street one day without a drum to beat or a headline to make.”
When King’s white liberal friends told him that he was“creating hostility and hatred” against white people with his conspiracy theory, he told them:
“What insane logic it is to condemn the robbed man because his possession of money precipitates the evil act of robbery. Society must condemn the robber and never the robbed...We must condemn those who are perpetuating the violence, and not those individuals who engage in the pursuit of their constitutional rights.”
He tried to tell them that white people were the ones who were getting all of the free government help, explaining:
In 1863 the negro was freed from the bondage of physical slavery by through the emancipation proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln...
He didn’t have any family life because it was a crime for the negro during slavery to get married they destroyed the negro family. He didn’t have any money because he didn’t get paid anything; he didn’t have any education because it was a crime for a negro to learn to read and write actually during the days of slavery... Yes we were given emancipation but no land to make it meaningful. And you know what?
At that same time, America was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the midwest. It was said the nation was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. Yet it would not do it for those who had been in the land, brought here in chains for 244 years so emancipation for the negro was freedom to hunger.
And you know what happened?
They killed that man.
Now, I’m not equating Martin Luther King Jr. with your friend. But no conspiracy theory is stupider than the next.
So how do you talk your friend down without being an asshole?
There is no reason any logical Black man should believe that a white person is telling him the truth. The belief that the coronavirus vaccine is a plot to bring back Mapquest is no different from thinking Black people are lazy criminals who hate hard work after their labor built the most powerful economy in the world
Assuming that Black people are prone to criminality but have also collectively decided to not to commit violence against the group who oppressed, killed and stole their ancestors’ wealth is the same as believing that the solar system ain’t shit but flat, round objects in God’s 9-disk CD changer.
You wanna hear about someone who believed a batshit insane conspiracy theory?
On December 5, 1939, Gone With the Wind premiered in Atlanta, Ga. Now, some Black people tried to say the movie’s celebration of the “lost cause” of the Confederacy was racist but white people insisted it wasn’t. The theater hired white men to dress in Confederate uniforms but wouldn’t allow one of the stars, Hattie McDaniel (who won an Oscar for her role as “Mammy”) to sit in the audience because of segregation laws. But a few Black people were allowed in the building because the event organizers dressed a boys choir up as slaves so they could sing negro spirituals to honor the racist film.
If you adjust for the value of today’s dollars, Gone WIth The Wind is still the highest-grossing movie of all time even though a Chicago Defender review called it “a weapon of terror against Black America” and Black people were pissed off at the time.
In my opinion, any Black parent who would allow their child to parade around as a slave in front of white people is either brainwashed or insane. But those Black kids’ parents dismissed the protest as a conspiracy to derail the movie.
Your friend’s belief that the earth is flat might sound as stupid to you as Black kids singing slave carols to honor white supremacy sounds to me but it doesn’t mean your friend is going off the deep end.
In fact, one of those choir members went crazy and became more famous than Hattie McDaniel. The six-year-old slave-cosplayer got so famous that he went crazy and started to believe in crazy conspiracies.
Speaking of conspiracy theorists and Hoowhyte people, they went crazy on the article about white privilege and Oprah.
If white privilege is real, who do you think has more power to stop it. Don’t you think what you call privilege can be overcome by just following the rules and being the best human being you can be?
Well, this should be fun.
First of all, let’s start out with a poem:
I hope that didn’t hurt.
In fact, I am against all forms of violence and pain. I am this way because this is how my mother raised me and my sisters. All my life, she explicitly stated that we could not hit each other for any reason, and we complied...
Until one of us found a loophole.
I don’t know who discovered the “doing this first” loophole (probably Comelita), but one of my siblings discovered a way we could inflict pain upon each other without technically engaging in an act of violence.
The best time to do it was when someone had to pee.
When I or one of my sisters had wronged another one of us, we would grab the broom, block the door to the room they were entering (or exiting) and wave the broom up and down and side to side. Therefore, if anyone wanted to leave or enter the room, they’d have to endure the punishment of the broom.
And, as we waved the broom so that our captor couldn’t escape without getting clocked by those cornstraw bristles, we would yell, “I was doing this first!”
I can’t tell you how many times my sisters and I have beaten each other to death with a broomstick. I’m also not sure if my mother even knew this loophole existed because, if you got hit with the broom when someone was “doing this first,” you simply didn’t tell. In our minds, “doing this first” this was not a breach of the rules because, technically, the victim was choosing to suffer the consequences by interfering in an activity that was clearly in progress. Also, we figured we weren’t technically “hitting” the victim of the broom gauntlet—the broom was doing the hitting.
I know it sounds stupid.
But this is how white people sound when they deny white privilege.
It is white people who created this gauntlet that favors them. It is white people who created these arbitrary rules that favor them. They are the ones who weaponize white supremacy and use it to block the entrance to the American Dream. And white people who see us getting knocked upside our heads and don’t say shit.
I get all that.
I’m not even complaining about it because wypipo are always gonna white and I don’t expect them to do anything less.
But, whenever someone asks Black people why they can’t seem to escape the confines of poverty and waltz into the luxurious land of opportunity or why we always have a knot on our heads, don’t act like you don’t even know what a broom is.
White privilege is being allowed to inflict pain upon Black people while continually painting us as “violent.” White privilege is getting to wield whiteness like a billy club while pretending racism has nothing to do with our bruises. White privilege is telling us to follow the rules of our society after you had the benefit of creating the rules.
And I know it hurts to hear Black people say “white people” did all that, especially if you worked hard and don’t have a “racist bone in your body.” But you gotta admit...
You were doing this first.