‘Learn Your Manners’: Was A Note Left To A Black Neighbor By A White Neighbor Racist Or A Legitimate Complaint?

A black New York man says that a mean note left by his white neighbor was racist, but looking at the note, some may argue that the tone of the note is probably kind of rude but not necessarily racist. Nevertheless, it raises important issues about race, policing, and the tendency of some people to be offended too easily and to take things too seriously.

Here are the facts.

As the Washington Post reports, Richard Brookshire, who is black, lives in apartment 6J in an unnamed apartment building in New York. Last Thursday, Brookshire says, he got a frantic call from a friend in the early hours of the morning. The friend needed advice about quitting his job, and Brookshire admits that he “paced around” for about half an hour while he and his friend hashed things out back and forth.

As anyone who has ever lived in a crowded apartment building — especially in Manhattan — can tell you, every last sound your neighbors make seems to be amplified. And this is especially true in the wee hours of the morning when you’re trying to sleep.

Brookshire’s neighbor, who lives a floor below and is white, expressed his frustration with Brookshire’s noise-making via a handwritten note.

“Hello, Regarding last night. It is extremely rude and inconsiderate to scream and stomp around your apartment until almost 2 a.m. My wife and I both have to get up early for work. A complaint has been submitted to the management. Next time this will go straight to the police. Please learn your manners.”

To Brookshire, who hosts The Reparations Podcast (which deals with “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”), the note is unambiguously racist.

First, you’ll notice his tweet with the picture of the note labels the note “white noise” and raises the issue of gentrification — that is, monied whites moving into traditionally minority neighborhoods and driving up prices, forcing original residents out in the process.

But what stands out most to Brookshire is the fact that the note invokes the police. He says considering the issues of late involving minority interactions with the police, it’s a bit of an overreaction to threaten to call the cops over a noise complaint.

“With cops you just never know, especially when it’s late at night. 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 left his own note for his neighbor, which he shared with the Post.

“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.”

By quickly jumping to the conclusion that the neighbors’ note is racist, and invoking race in his response, Brookshire overlooks a couple of important points.

First, while calling the cops over a noise complaint is probably a bit much — the problem could have likely been solved by a face-to-face chat and a friendly handshake — it’s how neighbors have been dealing with noisy neighbors for as long as anyone can remember.

Second, not everything is about race. Sometimes, one person can be in the right and the other person can be in the wrong, regardless of the color of either party.

However, in this case, both parties are wrong. Brookshire is wrong for jumping to the conclusion that the whole thing is about race, as well as publicly putting his neighbor on blast in the media without talking to him face-to-face first. The neighbor is also wrong for leaving an anonymous note and threatening to call the cops when he should have just knocked on the door.

Mean notes are like the Comments section of YouTube — the relative anonymity gives you the chance to say things that you would never say to another person face to face. But to conclude that your neighbor is racist simply because he’s white and you’re black and he handled his beef with you the wrong way is — if not itself an example of racism — certainly not going to do anything to move race relations forward.

[Feature Image by John T Takai/Shutterstock]