The Root’s Clapback Mailbag: Errors and Ommissions

Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: Errors and Ommissions

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

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.

“There ain’t been a perfect person on earth since Jesus took to the sky; and there won’t be none until he comes back” — Aunt Earlene

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To be fair, my Aunt Earlene has been married to a Pentecostal preacher, my Uncle Otis, since the mid-196os, so she knows very little about Black Thought—who has never spat even a mediocre bar. She might not also be aware of Michaela Coel’s cheekbones, which were obviously constructed by God’s own hands.

But I get my aunt’s point. Everyone makes mistakes. And sometimes, instead of vehemently defending one’s missteps, a person can buttress their credibility by admitting that they, too, are not infallible.

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So today’s Mailbag is dedicated to correcting a few of the errors that we have made.


Our first correction concerns our article about the new political group, Our Black Party.

From: Machete Once Again
To: The Root

Black people are 13% of the population and cannot elect officials in non-black-majority areas without allies. Officials elected from such areas would be unable to leverage political capital beyond Black voting power in at most regional elections. All of this is assuming 100% Black alignment with this third party and 100% agreement on candidates, which I am in enough black-only spaces of specific intersections to assure you is not going to be the case. In this situations, Black becomes the virtue metric that people display performatively while questioning the authenticity of it in others (e.g. if you support trans rights, you’re anti Black family and anti Black male. If you oppose trans rights, you are anti Black and ashy and don’t represent Black people. and so on.)

There is no equation of Black power that doesn’t involve our participation in the political scrum, and cooperation with those that don’t look like us. I would rather continue to wrestle with the imperfect allies (and expose faux allies) in the machinery of the Democratic party than establish a new machinery with the same attendant infighting but with only a percentage of the power for what is still at best regional power.

From: Wall of Omas
To: The Root

This election is unlike any before. We are 100 days away from a banana republic and 99 days away from an autocracy. News Flash: Biden does not have to earn any votes. He could sit in his basement and watch Blacks tell him that they will hold their vote, listen to Progressives saying that he has to earn their vote or else they will write in Jill Stein and your communities will suffer not his. Joe Biden is a white man in America. Even if Blacks hold their votes hostage, the progressives vote for Mickey Mouse and Donald Trump win re-election, Biden and his entire family will be absolutely fine. It’s those black and brown communities that will suffer more drastically than they are suffering right now. Being left to die of COVID because this administration doesn’t give a damn. Four more years of Trump and the black vote will mean absolutely nothing because Trump and the GOP will find a way to make him president for life and he will burn what’s left of the country down to the absolute ground and the Senate (if the Senate is not taken back by the Democrats) will let him. What do you plan to hold hostage then? Your country is 98 days away from no longer being a democracy. I implore you, please wake up and realize that this election is a binary choice whether we like it or not. We’ve got former Republicans and Vets putting more advertising out there than the entire DNC because they know what’s at stake. Most of then are responsible for this Frankenstein and they know the gravity of the situation. If we do not have a unified vote in November, more than just an election will be lost especially with Ruth Bader Ginsberg sick again. She passes away and the Supreme Court will have a 6-3 conservative advantage and the United States will not be a country that you will want your children to have to be raised in.

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Dear Wall and Omas,

When I tell people that I grew up poor, they sometimes assume that I didn’t have designer shoes or cable television, which is true. But there were times that my family didn’t have water or lights. But my mother, who was a proud woman, also didn’t like to ask people for anything, which is something I inherited.

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But my mother had one friend from church, Sister Wilma, who was also poor. Because our telephone was frequently disconnected, whenever my mother had a financial emergency, she would write a note asking Sister Wilma for a few dollars. I would walk the three blocks to Sister Wilma’s house and deliver the note, after which, the entire family would scrounge around the house and find the money.

Sister Wilma’s husband, Uncle Charles, was almost an exact replica of Redd Foxx’s character Fred Sanford. He was a self-taught repairman who would fix old appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, etc.) and resell them. Sometimes business was good. Sometimes business was bad. But if business was good, he would send a few dollars to my mom without her even asking.

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But times weren’t always hard. Between January and April every year, we were OK, because my mom did the taxes for damn near every Black person in town. So, during “tax time” was when my sisters and I went clothes shopping, shoe shopping, etc. During those times, whenever my went to the grocery store, we would also buy food and clothes for Sister Wilma, Uncle Charles and their kids.

I always thought that we could get more clothes, shoes and food if my mother didn’t split her tax-time bounty between two families. But, whenever I suggested that, my mother always had the same response:

“We’d still be broke,” she’d say. “We’d just be broke all by ourselves.”

I made a mistake.

In the article, I should have explained that the idea of Our Black Party is not to form an independent third party. The idea is to form a coalition of people with shared values that gain power through unity and holding candidates accountable. For instance, instead of just following the Democratic template, a candidate for Congress would have to ask for the support of Our Black Party members in their district.

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There are a number of examples of small minority groups who have an outsized effect on politics by coalescing their united power, including:

  • The Tea Party
  • The evangelical christian movement
  • AIPAC
  • Pro-life movement
  • The NRA
  • The AARP
  • The labor movement
  • The environmental movement
  • The LGBT movement

These coalitions exercise their power by forming a united front that politicians have to cater to in order to be elected. A Republican can’t dream of getting elected without acknowledging the pro-life movement or evangelical Christians. Democrats seek the endorsements of labor unions every election cycle.

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Black people outnumber the number of people who are members of labor unions. We are probably 10 times the size of the NRA and six times the total number of Jewish Americans. But there is a good reason that Black voters don’t employ the same proven strategy that these groups use to influence the national political narrative:

They’re scared.

One time, my cousin and I rode our bikes to a local hood store to buy some candy. When we went to the store, the neighborhood bully, Cooter, was outside with his crew. We knew Cooter’s crew was gonna steal our bikes if we went inside, which would make my mom and my aunt kick our asses. We also knew that if we didn’t go inside, they’d assume we thought they were gonna steal our bikes and kick our asses. So Tyran and I went inside.

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Cooter nem stole our bikes.

Man, that was the slowest, most agonizing walk home ever. When we arrived back home, as we walked into the yard, we noticed our bikes were in the yard. It was a Christmas miracle!

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We walked into the house and sitting at our dining room table was Michael, Terrance, George, Dean and Calvin—Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charles’ kids—sipping glasses of Kool-Aid. We didn’t have any reward for them, so we shared our haul from the candy store. As we sat outside, they explained that Dean, the oldest one, had seen our bikes, so they just took them back from Cooter’s crew, who didn’t even put up a fight.

The reason politicians won’t accede to our demands is that there are too many fearful black people who believe holding politicians accountable amounts to “holding our votes hostage.” There’s not a single serious person who has threatened to do that. But you know who’s being held hostage?

Black people.

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They steal our votes because they know we are afraid. And the reason we are afraid to pool our resources and fight our way out of this system is because we have been led to believe that there aren’t enough of us to cause change. We keep trying to run from the possibility of how bad thing could be instead of trying to change the way things already are. Instead of asking them to acknowledge our existence, a united black front would show them that the proverbial black vote is stronger than the assortment of gun-toting, bible-thumping semi-racist vagina controllers. 

And that’s how politics works.

Black might be poor…

But we’re not all by ourselves.


And then there was this response on Instagram about Tom Cotton and Black Lives Matter:

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Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: Errors and Ommissions

Screenshot: Instagram

Dear Shaunking_debunked:

I could write a lengthy response about Black-on-Black crime or Black Lives Matter, but I’ve done that so many times that I wondered why you would write this without looking up a response.

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Then, I realized that you were just trolling.

Perhaps you are an actual reader. I’ve heard that the comment section of The Root is filled with dumb white people who are sure they know what they are talking about. The reason I don’t read the comments from unapproved commenters is that I know that stupid white trolls predate the internet.

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Before I consider replying to someone bellyaching about Black people being racist and getting handouts, I always remind myself of the history of dumb white people by reading an excerpt from a New York Times article from September 21, 1964. Two months after the Civil Rights Act was passed and a year before the Voting Rights Act became law, the Times went to Times Square to survey progressive white New Yorkers.

Here’s how they felt:

A majority of white New Yorkers questioned here in the last month in a survey by The New York Times said they believed the Negro civil rights movement bad gone too far.

While denying any deep-seated prejudice against Negroes, a large number of those questioned used the same terms to express their feelings. They spoke of Negroes’ receiving “everything on a silver platter” and of “reverse discrimination” against whites.

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So, you see, there is nothing that a white person can ever tell me about equality, justice or protest. In fact, if I discover a widely held belief among the white community, then I immediately know that it is either a misconception or an outright lie. White people are the ones who lie about police brutality. White people are the ones who lie about receiving government benefits. White people lie about racism. White people lie about reverse racism.

But nice try, though.


And finally a comment on this:

From: Sandy
To: Michael
Subject: Good white people

Hi, I read your article on whether good white people exist and wanted you to know that being a good person doesn’t equate to being a social justice warrior or a democrat. There are people who want black people to learn how to survive on their own without help from the government. If they educated themselves and kept their families together, they would get more equality than marching in the streets.

I didn’t vote for Trump bit I think that saying only Democrats and libs are good people is dumb.

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Dear Sandy,

You’re right. I think you have the perfect strategy.

We should test it out.

First, all of the companies, families and institutions that profited off slavery should give back the money they earned (plus interest) from free Black labor. Then the money every white person made who went to whites-only schools built with the government money paid by Black taxpayers should give us a percentage of their savings. Then all of the people whose families got Social Security, guaranteed mortgages, business loans and other government money that Black people were barred from receiving should give it back and let us redistribute it. Then, the veterans who received the GI bill should give back their money so it can be distributed equally.

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I’m not blaming white people, Sandy.

I’m not even asking for a handout.

I just want white people to learn how to survive on their own without white supremacy. I don’t want them to be dependent on racism and government handouts. I want them to learn how to provide for their families and educate them without stealing from Black people.

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If you don’t rob a bank but help launder the money, you are still complicit in the crime. Ultimately, if you are willing to silently receive the benefits of white supremacy without acknowledging how you got it, you are no better than a person who knowingly receives stolen property.

Give me your money, Sandy.

I don’t want you to suffer…

I just want you to be a good person.

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