The Voices Blog

Stop the bass

While the world is protesting Black Lives Matter, I have had my own Amy Cooper experience on my block. A neighbor threatened to call the police on my family because of the music we play.  The experience has underscored the lack of awareness around what racism is, and specifically what constitutes anti-blackness. My neighbor decries that she is not racist and writes to me that Black Lives Matter, while remaining consistent that she will call the police if we keep playing “bass music.”

I suppose I should tell the story.

After my daughter was playing music while washing our cars, we received an anonymous letter in our mailbox. It indicated that

“if you continue to play bass in the car every day, many in the neighborhood will call the police every day! We are taking videos, taking the time of all occurrences.  STOP!”

Keep in mind, there are literally nightly protests in our city’s urban core following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. In response to the note we received, my wife went to each house on the street to discuss it and I researched noise ordinances to make sure no violations had occurred. Each neighbor was disgusted. In response, we commissioned a beautiful Black Lives Matter mural for the front of the house. My direct neighbors celebrated it with us. Then the second letter arrived.

While first letter was addressed “To Our Neighbors”, this one was “Greetings Neighbors”.  They tried to set a different tone, but the letter was equally disturbing and is emblematic of differences between racism as a concept and anti-blackness that is a reality.

“It has come full circle back to me in the neighborhood that the letter that was sent anonymously to your house because of a ‘noise complaint’ was taken out of context into something that was not intended and for that we apologize. This noise complaint has been occurring long before our movement. So, I apologize if you or your house felt threatened by ‘police being called’, the intent was to stop playing loud bass and wasn’t a racial comment, I would like to believe that we and all our neighbors see eye to eye and are all standing for Black Lives.  Please, stop the bass (signed names).”

There is a lot to break down here.  This is textbook anti-black racism that happens every day to our brothers and sisters.

First, white supremacy as an ideology that creates a threat to black bodies will always want to be judged by its intent, not the impact of its actions.  This neighbor’s conditional apology was about if we felt threatened and, in her view, was easily excused by her intent. This is evident in so many public apologies.

Second, most of this is about having power over my family. “Many will call the police” is a flat lie.  After the second letter our neighbors have literally come together for a conversation around supporting our family. “We are taking video” is an outward threat. Both letters made a demand to “stop” in big letters, thus threatening an action if we didn’t comply.

Third, there is little accountability for white supremacy ideology when it impacts black bodies.  This neighbor uses the passive phrase “It has come back to me.”  Never in this process has she initiated a face to face conversation.  She said on the neighborhood networking site Next Door that she sent notes because she was scared to talk to our family. There have been no interactions with her that would objectively lead her to be scared of our family. White supremacy enculturates people to be scared of black bodies. This is a significant frontline impact of anti-blackness. In addition, she was not accountable for the fact that her words were threatening.  She left the letter still believing the onus was on us to change our behavior.

Fourth, she is anti-black and also supporting Black Lives Matter. While the nation is enjoying a boon of support for the protests, let’s not be fooled. The current moment will hopefully result in police reform. However, this type of racism is not leaving our neighborhoods anytime soon.  White supremacy can still threaten and attempt to have power over black bodies without consequence.

Her final plea is to “stop the bass.”

We cannot do the one thing she really wants because we know that “stop the bass” is really saying “stop the black.”

“This is America… don’t catch you slippin’ now…”
– Childish Gambino



7 Responses to “Stop the bass”
  1. Nancy says:

    I live next to a laundromat in a private community. Some people plays a load bass then go inside. People in their homes can only hear the bass. I can take it only so long before asking to turn down the bass and they always do. The music is fine but the bass permeates right to your core. After and hour it can make you very cranky. Since this is not black customers I have never thought I was being racist to turn it down. I dont think this has anything to do with race its about mental health!

  2. Marie says:

    To reply to Nancy above, the issue that’s racist isn’t necessarily the request to turn down the bass; it’s how it was requested. It sounds like you personally asked about turning down the music. This neighbor threatened to call the cops and tried to act like the whole neighborhood was against them and watching their every move (video camera), but never approached the family in person.

  3. Eli Bishop says:

    This is terrible! Thank you for speaking out about it, and the mural is amazing. If the letter was anonymous, why do you use the pronoun “she”?

  4. Eli Bishop says:

    Sorry, I see the names were signed, which may have indicated gender.

  5. GW Bill Warren says:

    I am in no way a white supremesist, in fact I have championed non-racist culture for over 65 years. I am however a semi-professional vocalist and perform classical, modern, some jazz, and love to spend a night at a karaoke venue performing music from the golden recording days of the 20th Century 1940 to 1961.
    Pop music has denigrated to a couple chords at best, instruments overpowering the message by eschewing balance, disregarding proper English grammar, diction, and pronunciation that is easy to understand. Then came the popular beat of deep bass wump, wump, wump that identifies most with rap, that is semi-poetical rhythmic monotone. When speakers are in car doors, it shakes the nearby cars. Very irritating, and where I live is very seldom in cars holding non-whites. There is a problem trying to sell recordings, because od a lack of innovative melody creation and copywrite demands. So a monotone chant only needs new poetry to beat the law.

  6. What a complex issue. Looking back over my history, we had an adjourning apartment where music was played at full blast most of the night. But it was not racial, it was generational and a wee bit of lifestyle. We became convinced that our neighbors were drug dealers.

    Then jump forward several decades and we had a neighbor where a young teenager ran a motor bike at full volume to the point where the police were called and it was toned down. Again, not racial, but generational. When the working father learned about it, it stopped…most of the time.

    Does one generation have the right of being noisy if it merely disturbs another generation? When does culture prevail over personal comfort?

  7. Most people are missing the issue here. This situation is not about a noise complaint. Complaining about loud music is a neighborhood norm – nobody likes to be told to turn their music down – nobody likes to tell someone to turn their music down – but it happens (between all races and all generations). The issue here is that before seeking any other recourse, she allowed her unfounded (and frankly racist) fear of this very upstanding and kind Black family, to justify making threats of potentially lethal retaliation (what? This woman isn’t aware that police are an extreme threat to Black people? Really?!?). She choose to exert power rather than using relationship and reason. She feels justified, because she believes her fear is justified. Just like the police feel justified in using lethal force against black children because they have the same fear.

    This situation embodies racism and white supremacy in action. It’s happening a million times over everyday in this country… even while people protest and believe they care, the deep heart change necessary to end this evil will not be possible until people stop defending themselves and start listening to stories like this one and repenting.

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