Richard Brookshire talks to The Root about living while black, how the situation started and how he’s dealing with being internet-famous.
On Thursday, a Harlem-based resident, Richard Brookshire, 29, became an internet hero when he delivered the clapback to a pair of neighbors who complained that he was too loud in his own apartment.
This letter serves a formal response to a note left by you expressing, in no uncertain terms, your intent to notify building management and the authorities of what you perceived to be the inconsiderate volume of my speaking voice in the evening hours of October 5, 2016. First, let me be clear in addressing my lack of bother for your grievance and resolve to not be coerced to remedial action by your idle threats or seemingly pervasive white tears. I, the tenant in apartment 6-J, having secured this rental property through earnings / made and credit / earned, have no inherent or expressly stated obligation to accommodate your hyper-sensitivities, or those of your spouse when occupying my home. Though I empathized with the emotional distress brought on by sleep deprivation, citing my voice as the root-cause for your incapacity to attain restful slumber is both improbable and juvenile.
It was the read of the millennium.
And the reactions confirmed as much. Exhibit A:
Brookshire spoke to The Root Friday about how this started. On Thursday, Brookshire says he received a phone call from a friend around 1 a.m. seeking help with his resignation letter. He moved from his bedroom to his living room so as not to disturb his partner and chatted for about 20 minutes.
“I wasn’t screaming. I wasn’t stomping or hollering. I wasn’t blasting music,” Brookshire explains in an interview with The Root. “No other neighbors had anything to say.”
Later that same morning, as he was leaving for his job at the Council of Urban Professionals, a nonprofit that “seeks racial, ethnic, and gender parity in the highest business and civic leadership positions,” Brookshire says he found a note from his neighbors complaining about volume.
“I didn’t realize I had been loud,” says Brookshire, who has lived in the building for a year and describes himself as having a great relationship with his other neighbors. (They even exchange Christmas presents.) “I wanted to apologize to that person.”
Then he got to the part in the letter about filing a complaint and calling the police, and became livid.
“This guy likes to exaggerate and he’s putting me in danger, given the sociopolitical times,” says Brookshire, who says he is one of the few people of color in the building. “There was a clear intention to make me afraid. It was a racialized message.”
Brookshire says he hadn’t had previous run-ins with this particular set of neighbors, but he did hear that they had complained about his barking dog before. He quickly deduced that the same neighbors must be the authors of the anonymous and now infamous letter that escalated a pretty common clash between neighbors into a hostile war of words.
Brookshire’s letter has been covered on major news sites, including this one. But just what is it about Brookshire’s letter—aside from the hilarious “read”—that resonates with so many black readers? I’d argue that it’s because in one form or another, we’ve all been there. And not just the “there” with the annoying neighbors, but there with people, particularly white people, overreacting to perceived slights from black folks.
Brookshire agrees. “Black people have been dealing with the hypersensitivities of others since forever,” he points out. “At work, in college, across New York City all the time. They get what I was going through.”
There’s also something to be said for his beautiful blend of professional tone and private vernacular, a code-switching to which every black professional can relate. Without knowing Brookshire, black people can read that letter and know his whole story from the tired frustration to his deep roots in blackness to the way he straddles the line of keeping it corporate—I mean, the letter is written like a memo—and keeping it 100.
Brookshire says he is very flattered by the positive response thus far, even if a little surprised by some of the reactions. He describes himself as an “open book” on social media and says he generally shares a lot about his life. He shared the letter, expecting to be supported by his friends, never thinking it would go viral. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the responses, especially from the women in his inbox “offering themselves” and asking if he’s single. (He’s not, and cohabitates with his boyfriend.)
And while the attention is all well and good—and a nice promotion for his upcoming podcast,Reparations, on iTunes—Brookshire has bigger concerns than internet fame. “The only intention I had with sharing the letter is that I did not end up shot because my white neighbor had sensitive eardrums,” he says. “The viral thing is cool, but I still have to go home at night.”