As he rode the subway to work, Richard Brookshire couldn’t stop seething over the letter he found taped to his door.
A friend had called at 1 a.m. Thursday, looking for advice on quitting his job. Brookshire, a manager at a leadership institute who writes on the side, paced around his Manhattan apartment for a half-hour, giving the friend advice on the right tone to strike in the resignation letter, then crawled into bed.
As the 29-year-old rushed to work hours later, he found the letter, scrawled in cursive and stuck to his door:
“It is extremely rude and inconsiderate to scream and stomp around your apartment until almost 2 a.m.,” the letter said. “A complaint has been submitted to the management. Next time this will go straight to the police. Please learn your manners.”
— Son of Baldwin (@SonofBaldwin) October 7, 2016
Ultimately, Brookshire figured out what irked him most about the letter — the threat of involving the New York Police Department for something that could have been solved with a neighborly knock on the door.
“White people will sometimes speak without thinking of the bigger implications of their actions,” Brookshire told The Washington Post. “They’re just kind of reacting. That kind of speaks to their own privilege.”
The letter, with its casual threat, represented the difference in perspective between the black man living in apartment 6J and the white man living a floor below, Brookshire said.
He was livid that, with all the talk of police brutality against minorities escalating from benign situations, someone would think calling the cops was the best response to a loud conversation.
“With cops you just never know, especially when it’s late at night,” Brookshire said. “Maybe they’re tired. Maybe they’ll catch an attitude with me. I personally haven’t had the negative reactions with police. But I’m literate. I see how they interact with other people of color.”
Brookshire, who has a Master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, delves into issues like that on The Reparations Podcast, which explores “the intersectionalities of blackness, politics and popular culture through humor and frank dialogue … tackling the s**t you don’t talk about with your white friends.”
Unable to focus at his day job on Thursday, Brookshire, still angry, typed a response to “The Passive Aggressive Neighbor & His Wife.”
“Re: I’m Finna Tell You What you Not Gon’ Do,” he started:
I, the tenant of apartment 6J, having secured this rental property through earnings I made and credit I earned, have no inherent or expressly stated obligation to accommodate your hypersensitivities or those of your spouse, when occupying my home.
As one of the only tenants of color occupying this building at full market rate, I find it personally abhorrent that you’d levy the threat of involving the authorities for an insignificant infraction such as the one you noted in your poorly written and ill-thought-out correspondence.
As a Black man, I take these overt actions as a direct threat to my physical and psychological well-being and as an act of violence upon me.
He signed the note “Your #VeryBlack Neighbor” and tucked it away, hoping to stick it on his neighbor’s door when he got home.
Here is Brookshire’s full response:
But first, he snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook. It apparently resonated.
Before he could deliver it to his neighbor, it had been shared thousands of times.
In sharing it, Jasz Edward wrote: “This is a perfect example of how to keep your cool when you confronted ignorance. Don’t stoop to their level… To quote the FLOTUS “When they go low we go high!” Rock on Richard with your bad self!”
Towanna Williams Thompson called it #CLAPBACKOFTHESEASON
The interaction between the neighbors in a gentrifying community is “emblematic of what people see as this oil and water relationship between people who are gentrifying into neighborhoods of color,” said Josmar Trujillo, a New York writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.
“You’re basically asking me to adhere to your norms. You’re coming in with what you feel is the right volume and the right temperature for the community and you’re trying to hang that over my head,” said Trujillo, who is Hispanic. “The police are the tool that can be used to bash people over the head with those new norms.”
Too often, Trujillo said, the police side with the gentrifiers, who are more affluent and make a bigger contribution to the tax base.
“They, politically, are much more powerful and their concerns are much more higher up on the priority ladder for police,” he said.
The neighbor who wrote the letter, David O., told The Washington Post that the note had nothing to do with race. He asked that The Post not use his full last name because he fears backlash.
David O. said he and his wife just wanted to sleep. They didn’t know Brookshire was black until the post went viral. He said his upstairs neighbor was cursing and yelling, and it sounded like he was arguing.
Still, David O. said, he understood how the note he penned while sleepy and angry could come across as aggressive.
“I know this was probably dictated by the tone of my note, but please do not perceive me as just another narrow-minded white p—- scared of anything outside of his little white world,” he wrote back to Brookshire. “I have nothing in common with such people, and I would like to emphasize it once (again) that my note yesterday, rude as it was, was nothing more than a response to a late-night disturbance.”
On the note, he left his name, his number and his email address and encouraged his neighbor to knock on his door and chat: “You know where we live.”