“Suspicious” [Black] Person Moving In? Or Maybe They Treat Everyone That Way?

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Moved out of our house yesterday, into a friend of a friend’s house a few blocks away. I moved quite a few boxes and other things from our car last night into the house. I was jokingly wondering to myself if I’d look “suspicious” carrying several boxes of things into our temporary home since Albany is 4% Black.

This morning, we get a knock on the door and two police officers say they are responding to ‘suspicious’ activity that some neighbors reported From yesterday. They asked for my husband’s license. He is a white man. As they asked, I was wondering what could have happened if he had gone into work today and I had answered the door. I don’t think I’m paranoid but will ask the question…

Are you a Brown or Black person who has ever moved into a new and mostly white neighborhood, only to have the police come because neighbors thought something was ‘suspicious’?

This is complex, of course, because my husband also carried things to the house EARLY that morning. I stayed at the other place moving and cleaning things. After we moved out of our permanent house that morning, we went straight to a July 4 family event at the park, and then went back to our new temporary housing after 4pm. I had not been to the place since I checked it out 4 weeks ago to see if we wanted to stay there. Anyway, my husband asked that I take all the stuff out of the van because his back was shot, so I went back and forth for about 20 minutes and am wondering if that was the ‘suspicious’ activity they were talking about.

Or, maybe they just have a neighborhood policy in which the neighbors agree to call the police when they see people going in and out of a house that aren’t the family members that usually reside there. As long as they report ‘suspicious’ behavior to police when it involves any person they see, I’m okay with that, but still, this is the place where, last year, when a Muslim woman and her daughters came to pick up some free cycle things from us, a white woman yelled at the Muslim elder, “Go back to your own country” when she didn’t like that the elder had double parked temporarily to pick up some rugs from us.

My husband joked, after the police left, “Who would bring an entire moving truck to a house they wanted to illegally occupy?” Yea, they’d be incognito about it, right?

I write about these situations all the time because yea, it’s emotionally painful to know that there is a strong possibility that people make their ‘sincere’ decisions based on racism… And homophobia….and elitism… Etc. It’s the repetitive things like this that happen– particularly in an increasingly hostile American US climate in which  there is documentation of racial and xenophobic profiling (or whatever you want to call it) happening all the time. When I mention it, of course, almost all the time it is white people who need to comment and then me that I’m making  big deal about nothing (but how can you have the audacity to say that when there is extensive documentation that shows how racism/white supremacy/xenophobia are weaved into the consciousnesses of most of the mainstream population in the USA?)  Yes, I may never know why the police were called, but the mere fact that I have to always be on edge and ‘wonder’ if it’s because I don’t look like Taylor Swift, that that is why. 

Ask yourself this: Who looks ‘suspicious’ to you and why? Is it informed by racial bias? Or heterosexist bias? Or elitist bias? (I could go on and on about the list of biases, but you get the ideas)…..

Anyway, other than that, at least we finally moved into a temporary situation for 4 weeks. I am sitting here at the park down the street with my Nina Simone earrings on and lovely Afro, glistening with Shea butter and castor oil. I look haggard and tired. At nearly 6 months pregnant, moving and hauling sh*t for a week straight with minimal sleep was tough… But I survived.

As I sit here at the park, I’m tempted to start a ‘polite’ public dialogue, as the only visibly Black person here, and ask folk under what situations would they call the police if they think someone is ‘suspicious’…. Seems like the USA, in general, lacks these general spontaneous conversations in mostly white spaces like the Albany Memorial playground (or other mostly white spaces in the East Bay area). In general Albany has a diversity and inclusivity problem on many levels. The lack of affordable housing, the ‘No Section 8’ for rentals ads, the horrible rent control, the fact that the Albany Unified School District didn’t have a Black History Celebration event for students until 2016, the Albany movie theater having shown nearly all white movies during the past year (with the exception of a few Asian movies)– really point to a particular type of person that they do want as part of their overall community (whether it is conscious or not). It’s this backdrop that has had me really questioning why the police were called in this morning.


(Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)
(Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)

About Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix) which explored how key Black vegan men us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies.Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014)interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. Her current lecture circuit focus on excerpts from her latest book in progress, Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical FoodscapeIn tandem with this book project, she is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism Activism.”


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15 thoughts on ““Suspicious” [Black] Person Moving In? Or Maybe They Treat Everyone That Way?

  1. I’m out of the loop! I didn’t know you were pregnant again! Congratulations! I hope you find permanent housing soon! Take it easy if you can!

  2. I’m sorry you are getting so much hassle Breeze. I hope you find something much more permanent soon. I’m sorry I couldn’t help out with your move more than I did. Don’t hesitate to e-mail again next time you need help!

  3. Okay, 2 stories, about 25 years apart.

    I was a new bride, visiting my family home. My husband is Puerto Rican, and was stopped by the police several times to be asked, “What do you think you’re doing in thus neighborhood?” Once we moved to the city I grew up in, it happened a lot for about a year, and then it stopped.

    Fast forward. Our kids were teenagers, and we were all living with my mother in the same family home. We took in a homeless man with some mental challenges, and a neighbor kept calling the police, because “this neighborhood isn’t designed for this.”

    I’ve followed your blog for a while now, and I really enjoy your writing!

  4. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I’m so disappointed in Albany — but not exactly surprised. We moved here about 10 years ago, we are white (and for lack of a better word a bit colorful?). One of our friends jokes that our neighbors must’ve been muttering about the “circus moving to town” when we arrived — because the police showed up as we were loading boxes into our new home. From inside I could see the cruiser pull up to my husband, who was wearing about ten hats simultaneously (what better way to carry them?) with an armload of stuff, and I sprinted outside to be the face of “normal” (or at least not another hat totem pole). To this day I don’t know if someone called the police on us, if they thought we looked “different” enough to warrant a look-see, or if they greet everybody on Moving In day. It was a little alarming and it made us feel “watched” (which we’d never felt in either NY or SF). I think that’s when my husband started calling this “Smallbany,” which is used half the time in affection and half the time in frustration. But here’s a heartfelt Welcome To The Neighborhood from us! (And unrelated side note: those earrings are everything!)

  5. I’m so sorry you have to be subjected to the unforgiving racism in Albany. I didn’t realize the city was so “white” and assumed it was more integrated being in the Easy Bay. I crrtainly hope Kensington is not like this, but I have my doubts. Being Jewish, I learned a long time ago never to live in an area w/o a fairly decent Jewish population. When you look for permanent housing, keep in mind that you will have a biracial child who will need to attend school unless he/she is home schooled. Move where there are black families living as well as other ethnicities. No child or person should be one of a kind in either a school or neighborhood, respectively.

    Enjoy your new digs if only for a month.

  6. Thanks for this post. I’m sorry this happened to you. We are a (white) family who moved from Brooklyn, NY to Albany last year and were pretty shocked by the homogeneity of the neighborhood. It really bugs us. I realized how much I took for granted n Brooklyn, where diversity is the norm (at least, in some neighborhoods).

  7. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    Albany is a complicated place for minorities. I am Mexican-American, and I’ve lived here for 12 years. After growing up in Compton, I lived in Oakland and San Francisco and moved to Albany for the schools when my child was 3 years old. My ex is African American, and I watched him be racially profiled in real time by Albany Police. At the same time, I once called the police on a group of 4 young African American men who were sitting in a car parked in front of my house as I pulled up. My expectation was that they were going to pull away since the car was full, or that they had just parked and were going to exit to go to someone’s house, but they just stayed in the car. I called the police to question them because the young men were sitting in the car and not moving to get out. I considered that they could have been waiting for a friend to come out of one of the houses, but I didn’t want to park trusting that they were ok; there had been several strong-arm robberies in broad daylight within the past several weeks, each with a gun, that had occurred within several blocks of our house and along the Ohlone greenway. The perpetrators had been described as young Black males who looked like college students, just like the young men parked in front of my house. The police called me back and told me that they were, in fact, just some nice guys waiting for a friend. Later, they went inside to their friends house, and I put a note on the car apologizing for the call and explaining why I called. They left a bunch of fast food and trash from the car in front of my house; I don’t blame them. I would have been angry, too. This episode brings so much guilt: they could have been killed! They were innocent, and, if something had happened to those young men it would have been my fault.

    As a young person living in the Compton, my friends and I were constantly profiled in places like Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, Signal Hill, hell, even in Compton. My typing teacher was a lady named Helen Settles whose son Ron had been murdered by police in Signal Hill near Long Beach. He was a star college football player at Long Beach State who tutored kids and had everything going for him. He was pulled over for a traffic stop and was discovered the next day hanging in a jail cell in the Signal Hill police station. The police said he committed suicide. Our community knew it was not true; everybody who was Black and Mexican knew not to drive through the very white Signal Hill at night. The police got off because Ron wrote a paper admiring Stagger Lee. It is STILL infuriating.
    http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/14/us/suit-over-football-player-s-death-in-coast-jail-settled-for-1-million.html

    As a mixed-minority family (my husband is white) with a Black daughter, and five Black nieces and nephews who visit for weeks off and on, we are constantly confronting issues of class and race where ever we are. The kids in our family are “Blaxicans” who are many times placed in situations where they are challenged to prove their “Blackness” or “Mexicaness” by disenfranchised kids who are darker-skinned or who think that our kids are more privileged than they are. They are confronted by these challenges more frequently than by racism from whites, but they still get racism from whites, too. The kids in our family are “other” where ever they are.

    What happened to you had to feel awful. You look like a local mom from one of the local neighborhoods (Berkeley, or El Cerrito) to me, so I don’t think it was because you are a Black woman. This may not be of any comfort to you, but I think the police were called because of other robberies that have occurred in the last 2-3 years. Many of them were committed by a white woman who walked around knocking on doors. If no one was home, she’d call her partners, 2-3 black men in a truck who would park outside, looking like movers, who would go to the back of the house and kick in the door. The “movers” would then remove the more valuable contents of the house. If asked, they could say they were movers. This robbery happened repeatedly for months in Albany. I think they were eventually caught.

    Sorry for the ramblings. I have no answers. Still working through my own privilege and bigotry.

  8. Hi Breeze, I’m catching up on my email backlog and just got a chance to read your post. I appreciate your efforts to bend over backwards to consider “reasonable” explanations for why the police were called, but I would say it was racism and implicit bias, clear and simple. I remember once I (a white woman) went to check on my mother’s house in the Berkeley hills while she was out of town, accompanied by my African American husband. The house phone kept ringing. At first I ignored it, but it rang so many times I finally picked up. It was her next-door neighbor, “just checking..because she saw people going in the house…” Now if she had just seen me, would she have called? Or would she have assumed that I was family, or a housesitter? Her imagination didn’t stretch to the possibility of an African American son-in-law for her white neighbor, but easily fetched up an image of a black man as a criminal (apparently the kind that goes in and out the front door in broad daylight).

  9. dear Breeze, congratulations to your pregnancy!! 🙂 I hope you’ll find a permanent living situation very soon.
    Anyway, when I moved in with my girlfriend, who’s black and rather butch, the same thing happend. She was bringing all her gardening equipment the day before the actual move. It was just her and a cart, with lots of shovels and other things and someone called the police. Fortunately she’d already left again when they arrived and they talked to a neighbour (who told us the story later) and the police asked (since this is Switzerland, where there’s no race discourse happening at all, so they don’t even realise they “shouldn’t” do or say certain things), if someone saw the Black guy, who was behaving suspicioisly in the neigbourhood. We live in a very white, very immigrant-free, pretty wealthy suburb. So.. sigh, that’s that.
    I figured I’d share the story just to reflect back, that you in all likelyhood do know exactly what was going on.
    My gf then introduced herself very quickly to all the neighbours, the same week we’d moved in, just to make sure, that they know her and stop being scared of the Black guy. Now they’re just curious about the lesbians, but that’s a whole other story again.. (one neighbour bends over his balcony ceiling to observe us, when we’re in the garden…)
    oh dear, it’s so important and yet such a thing of privilege to have a safe home.
    I wish you all the best, lots of love from
    Switzerland, Jasmine

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