Illustration for article titled The Roots Clapback Mailbag: Dont @ Me

Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

I’ve been waiting for this.

Four years ago, I stumbled across a story about Judge Ralph D. Gants. Gants was known as a “fearless advocate for racial justice” and used his position to challenge every part of the criminal justice system.


Shortly after Gants was appointed as Massachusetts’ chief justice, an attorney insisted that the state’s racial disparities were not caused by racism but were, instead, due to the fact that Black people committed more crime.

Instead of arguing his position, Gants decided to see if it was true. He ordered Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program to produce one of the most expansive studies of the criminal justice system ever created.


Contrary to the comment section’s belief that the study, “Racial Disparities in the Massachusetts Criminal System” (pdf) was nothing new, it was actually groundbreaking. There have been countless studies that conclude that there were racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but the Harvard study endeavored to answer Gants’ question about why these disparities exist.

For four years, I waited patiently. When the study finally came out, I thought it was amazing because it didn’t just show where the disparities exist, it zeroed in on a cause for the disparities.

It concluded that Black people are targeted by police, but that wasn’t why we are overrepresented in prison. We are charged with more serious offenses, but that’s not why. Prosecutors are more likely to offer white people deals, but that was not the root of the problem. Judges sentenced African-American defendants to longer sentences, but that was not the answer. The Harvard study found that the answer was “all of the above.”

But the real revelation in the study was smack dab in the middle of the criminal justice process.


Black people are arrested more. They are overcharged. They are incarcerated at higher rates because they don’t get plea deals. They get longer sentences but are convicted less than white people.

“Black and Latinx people are less likely to be convicted than their White counterparts if anything,” the study notes. “If we take seriously the implications of the discrimination that Black, and particularly dark-complected, defendants face in jury trials as documented in past research, it is possible that Black and Latinx people actually engage in less serious conduct than their White counterparts.” (Emphasis added.)



This study upends all of the arguments about Black-on-Black crime. It shows that systemic discrimination is the only reason for criminal justice disparities. This is why Gants’ study was so important. Now, I don’t believe there is an invisible man in the sky who oversees every action on Earth like an existential orchestra conductor, but I also believe that this study may have been the reason Gants was put on Earth.


Five days after Harvard released this revelatory report, Ralph D. Gants died.

And, in the face of all this data, statistics and empirical research, white people kept on wypipoing.


Welcome to the Clapback Mailbag.

According to our readers, it’s my fault that Gants commissioned this study because…Black-on-Black crime. See?


From: Richard
To: Michael Harriot

I suppose this is the reason that black males are responsible for more than 52% of the murders in the US even though blacks make up less than 13% of the population. That equates to 5 to 8 thousand people every year. Is this the reason a black male executed a five year old white boy? I can go for hours with stories like this. Totally disgusted with the black community!

From: Florian
To: Michael Harriot


You and Harvard willfully dismiss the fact that Black men commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime, like Arab men do terrorism, and White men do pedophilia.

Why do you willfully, knowingly dismiss this fact? Why would Jesse Jackson say he gets nervous when he’s approached by 2 Black men at night, but not when it’s 2 White men?

Why don’t poor Whites, Asians, and Latinos exhibit the same homicide rate as poor blacks?

Why is pop culture completely, utterly, and totally dominated by Blacks? Why did America elect and reelect Barrack Obama? Why is Oprah the richest woman in human history? Why is Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court? Why is Tim Scott a US Senator in a Confederate state?

Why don’t African Americans abandon this terrible country and move to Africa en masse?

Why do Liberals always threaten to move to Canada over an election, but never to Mexico? What’s wrong with brown people?

I’m not being flippant here? There are real answers to these questions, none of which support critical race theory or systemic racism claims.

From: We Din Do Nuffin
To: Michael Harriot

When you consider rates of crime, black people are shot at lesser rate than white people. There is a systemic problem in black communities, but it isn’t racism. You got your 15-minutes of Twitter fame by blindly believing a flawed study, but everyone will have forgotten you in a month.

From: Angry Saxon
To: Michael Hariot

I read your article on Roots .com and it is a load of crap. First you can’t control who does crime and who doesn’t. If you say RACISM prove it. You say more blacks are stopped and frisked its because more blacks do the crime. I bet this stop and frisk where in high area and I bet you left that out of your “research”. The real answer to your “research” is black do more crime cause the think its cool or funny or think that’s anyway to get by. Black support and hide other blacks that do crime. Black’s are the only race to do this. White don’t support other who break the law they turn in other whites. The answer to the mystery is that black will have to stop other blacks from doing wrong.. Set positive roll models not NBA player and rappers. Self police your friends and family into doing the right thing. Jail time or prison is result of a action by a person. Racism does not make you break the law. To prove it we have more blacks in jail now then is day of Jim Crow and segregation. So stop throwing the word RACISM around.

From: ddfd
To: Michael Harriot

Black people committing crime: 27% Black people committing violent crime: 37% Black people committing murder: 53% It’s actually worse than that because most violent crime committed by black folk are committed by males, which make up less than 6% of the population. And it’s even worse because not all black males commit violent crimes. So, about 1-2% of the population commits 27% of crime, 37% of violent crime, and 53% of murders. Awww, your pwecious, bias, ignorant Harvard study. White people don’t want to live with your ilk, are you going to cwy? You’re a minority, that will never change.


Dear all,

I can tell that you’re not a fan of facts and science, so maybe I will tell you a story about the criminal justice system.


In 1441, the Portuguese landed in Cameroon. They were looking for oil and seal skins, but they found something more valuable—human beings. Although other Europeans eventually joined in after Portugal created the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Portugal did not buy prisoners of war. Instead, they were known for raiding Cameroonian villages and kidnapping Africans. The Portuguese were the most brutal brand of white people, so many Cameroonians fled the coast.

But Cameroonian tradition says that one day, the spirits of the enslaved Cameroonians would return to their homeland, rise out of the water and kill the people who adopted the religion of the white man and didn’t try to stop the enslavers. Most eventually accepted Christianity and Islam but Cameroonians still prayed that the spirit of the enslavers would never return…Just in case it was real.


Now some historians argue that the Africans who arrived in 1619 were not slaves, but indentured servants. But In 1640, a Cameroonian indentured servant named John Punch, along with two other white indentured servants, ran away from their master Hugh Gwynn in Virginia. When they were found and brought back to their master, a judge ordered the three absconders to be whipped 30 times apiece. The Dutchman and the Englishmen were sentenced to a one-year extension on their indentured servitude contract. But John Punch received a different sentence:

…and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.


Yes, slavery was a product of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Two hundred and forty-six years later, on August 21, 1986, the spirit of the enslaved ancestors crawled out of Cameroon’s Lake Nyos and started killing people. There were no bullets. A bomb didn’t explode. On a bright and sunny morning, as villagers walked to work, the lake turned the color of blood, the spirits emerged with a bang and in minutes 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock suddenly dropped dead.


It had to be the ancestors.

A few years later, researchers concluded that volcanic gasses were trapped beneath the surface of the lake for years, until 1.6 tons of carbon dioxide finally exploded in the air. The iron had turned the plant matter red and because CO2 is heavier than air, an invisible cloud, 12 stories high, essentially suffocated the entire village. Scientists eventually installed a pipe that released the gases before they built up and solved the day.


See? Science answered the question.

But if you ask the Christians, they will tell you that the disaster was an act of God. The Muslim Cameroonians insisted that Allah did it. Even with the facts and data, some still believe the Lake Nyos Disaster was the ancestors’ revenge. Many even argued that calling it an act of nature was blasphemy against the ancestors, Jesus or whomever…Just in case it was real


Now, some people will call those science deniers “backwards” and “uneducated” for believing in the superstitions they have been indoctrinated with.

But not me.

I know white people.

I did not create this Harvard study any more than scientists created that underwater volcano. Yet, these white people are mad at me for reporting on a peer-reviewed study because white people are willing to deny the facts and statistics because the data dismantles their long-held beliefs.


So, why did the FBI arrest Black people for 5,025 murders and non-negligent homicides in 2017, while whites were arrested for only 4,188?

I have no idea. I am one of the 99.9992 percent of Black men who have never murdered anyone. Maybe you should wonder why you think 47.8 million non-murderous Black people should answer for the .ooo8 percent of Black murderers. Maybe you should read the study and find out that Black people are charged with murder and manslaughter while white people are charged with lesser charges like negligent homicide. Maybe you should realize that Black people are arrested for violent crimes at higher rates but white people are convicted at higher rates.


Maybe you should believe facts instead of the racist ideations that have been passed down to you for generations.

Ultimately, believing that Black people are just prone to violence is just a supernatural belief that white people have adopted to explain away the undeniable, scientifically proven disease called white supremacy.


But instead of trusting the actual truth, you’d rather believe in the spooky juice, nigger-hating fuckshit taught to you by the same racist ancestors who pillaged an entire continent and sentenced them to a life of servitude because of the color of their skin.

And I get why you would rather believe that because every day, I pray that the invisible god of suffocation with snuff out all you motherfuckers…


Just in case it’s real.

From Mrs. Y.V.C.

To: Danielle Belton

Hello –

I subscribe to The Root newsletter. The articles are interesting and very informative, and I appreciate being afforded the opportunity to read stories from “our” perspective.

I have a question…

Why is profanity used in the articles? When I am reading and agreeing I am suddenly slapped with curse words! I find they take away from the story or perspective by trivializing, for a moment, what is being said. Just imagine if this email was laced with curse words. It would divert your attention from my point and probably give you a negative opinion of me.

I realize my aforementioned statements probably won’t carry any weight. But if there is the slightest chance that you would consider the fact that there are people, such as myself, who find the profanity in your articles wince inducing, then the time it has taken me to compose and send this email has been well spent.


Mrs. Y.V. Coston

Dear Mrs. Coston,

My mama didn’t raise me like this.

When you said “Just imagine if this email was laced with curse words. It would divert your attention from my point and probably give you a negative opinion of me,” that hit me hard because, to be honest, I already have a negative opinion of you.


See, I realized from an early age that language is subjective. I actually learned that lesson when I represented myself in the Harriot Court case of Michael vs. Comelita’s Ass.

Whenever someone in our house broke a rule that didn’t warrant an immediate ass-whipping, we were allowed to present our case before a jury of our neighbors. Everyone loved Harriot Court. We chose our friends as jurors and my mother was the only judge.


Every week, after Sister Wilma Jackson sat on the altar and summoned the Holy Spirit of shouting with her anointed alto voice; after Deacon Stevenson managed to not spit out his false teeth (It only happened three or four times) during his unabridged, extended remix of a prayer to the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Bright and Morning Star; after Sister Cook read the announcements, the entire church would stand and recite the 10 Commandments from memory.

When we got to the part about not coveting thy neighbor’s house, his wife, his manservant, his maidservant, nor his ox, my youngest sister and I would giggle while emphatically shouting the phrase “nor his ass” because…we were kids. My oldest sister Sean, however, was already saved and sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost, so she wouldn’t even say the word. Plus, in my mother’s house, we were forbidden from using “cuss words.”


One day, my sister Comelita told me to kiss her ass. I wasn’t even offended but my snitching ass-sister Sean told my mom. Comelita asked for a trial, which immediately was put on the docket. Even though the slur was directed at me, Comelita chose me as her lawyer because, I don’t wanna brag, but I was one of the top legal minds in the Harriot household. My entire legal-ish defense rested on the premise that if God could use the word, then why couldn’t she?

During her opening arguments, mother rebutted with the fact that the “ass” in commandment was referring to a donkey, and the meaning of words can only be defined by the context they are used in. (Now that I think about it, why was my mother allowed to be the judge and the prosecutor? I’m thinking about filing a judicial complaint.) She really gave a flawless lesson in the English language, complete with etymology and Biblical references.


She called Comelita to the stand and asked if she knew the word was off-limits. While we didn’t swear on the Bible, we knew Jesus was watching, so no one ever lied on the witness stand (it was actually the barstool my sisters sat on while getting their hair straightened). That’s why Comelita conceded that she knew “ass” was a cuss word.

I was surely defeated. This would be the first time I lost a case. That’s when I pulled an unprecedented move never before seen in the history of Harriot Court:

I called my mother to the stand. The following is a transcript from the case:

Michael Harriot: Miss Harriot—May I call you Dorothy?

Dorothy Harriot: Don’t play, lil’ boy.

MH: Let the record show that the witness is hostile. Mama, where does Comelita sit during church?

DH: She sits beside me. All y’all sit beside me at church.

MH: And why is that?

DH: Because I need to keep an eye on y’all. Y’all don’t know how to act sometimes.

MH: And why does Comelita sit directly beside you?

DH: Because she always acts up.

MH: And what if the church is full?

DH: Then she has to bring the milk crate.

MH: Your honor, I present Exhibit A, B and C. These are milk crates we are forced to bring to church to place in the aisle near my mother and sit on in case there isn’t an available seat on the pew.

So, Dorothy…

DH: Mikey, don’t play with me.

MH: Objection your honor. Please instruct the witness to respect the counsel. So, mama, are you telling me that in all of these years, you have never heard us giggle during the part where we say “nor his ass?”

DH: Yes, but I’m sure I’ve taught y’all that word refers to a donkey.

MH: You taught us that?

DH: She knows.

MH: But are you sure? Why would she giggle about a donkey? And why won’t Sean say it if you taught us the context of the word? And why aren’t you offended when she uses it in church but you are offended at home?

DH: It’s context. Dumb people don’t consider context.

MH: So you’re calling Sean dumb?

DH: No. Of course not. I’m just saying…

MH: I call Seandra Harriot to the stand.

Seandra sits in the straightening comb chair:

MH: Sean, How do you feel about knowing Mama thinks you’re dumb?

SH: She didn’t say that.

MH: She says only dumb people don’t know the context of words. You don’t say “ass” and told on Comelita when she said it. I only have two questions for you.

Are you prepared for mama to rule that you are dumb?

DH: Mikey, don’t call your sister dumb,

MH: Objection, your honor. The prosecution/judge is interfering. Move to strike.

DH: Boy, don’t make me…

MH: Let the record show that the judge is threatening the witness.

MH: Sean, either “ass” should be allowed in the Harriot house because it’s perfectly fine, or you must admit that you are too dumb to understand context and you think God is cussing.

SH: I’m not dumb. It’s a bad word.

MH: I didn’t say it, mama said it.

DH: I did not say that…

MH: Court reporter, can you read back the transcript?

DH: We don’t even have a court reporter!

MH: Fair point. Ok, Sean, maybe words are all the same and you’re not dumb, which mama is about to rule.

One last question:

What does “covet” mean?

SH: To cover something.

And that’s how I won the right for my sisters and I to use the word “ass.”

Because if you’re too dumb to put words into context, you should also know that God wants you to stop showing your ass.


This past Sunday, I was on MSNBC when Jonathan Capehart posed a question to me, which irked some people.


From: Tayshon Washington

To: Michael Harriot

Subject: Sup Bruh

It’s so amusing how desperately black people want to live with white people, are so distressed that white people don’t want to live with them, so crushed when they realize it, and cry about it. You’re a racist.


Dear Tayshon and Patti,

I’ll let my Twitter thread do the talking:


In conclusion, don’t kill the messenger. Unless, of course, the messenger is a racist. Then…

Be my guest.