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Just Walk on by - Black Men and Public Space, by Brent Staples

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Kara Brackney

Mr. Priest

ECA English

29 September 2017

Another Perspective

When reading Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space, by Brent Staples, many African Americans can relate to the struggles Staples went through. He paints a vivid picture of his experiences as a tall black male and obstacles he faced on a day-to-day basis. He describes himself and how he is the opposite of the picture people have painted because of his race. With his superior vocabulary, and his timid behavior, all that mattered to others was his external appearance. When he changed his behavior to accommodate fearful whites, he was convinced they were racist. Staples understood that people had preconceived notions about African-Americans, especially young African-American men.

Staples expresses his superior vocabulary throughout the essay. In an essay about people being racist against black men, it was necessary for Staples to add these words to show his intellect. There are many factors he addresses about people’s perceptions. With the use of words like: menacingly, quarry, lethality, and perilous, he dispels the stereotype that black men are not well educated. “I was twenty-two years old, a graduate student newly arrived at the University of Chicago” (Staples 652). He points out his education to prove that not every black man you see dropped out of high school. People would not know this about him, but because of this stereotype, people feared him.

Staples makes continuous efforts to present himself as non-threatening. Key examples of this include “I move about with care…I give a wide berth to nervous people on subway platforms…people who appear skittish…letting them clear the lobby before I return” (Staples 654). “I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers…virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” (Staples 654). He is implying that an un-educated, presumably black, mugger, would not have the knowledge of this type of music. He is not whistling music for himself; he is whistling to prove to those on the street that he is not what they perceive. Staples shows his intelligence not only through his words, but also through his music choice.  

Staples is not oblivious to people’s judgment of him being a black man. When he encountered a white woman on the street, he understood that he was intimidating to her because of his “broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing hair, [and] both hands shoved in the pockets of a bulky military jacket” (Staples 652). He also realized that “women are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black males are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence.” and understood the reason behind the racism of being a black male. If people would not assume the worst because of his race, there would not be a sense of fear. “Being perceived as dangerous is a hazed in itself” (Staples 652). He wrote this article on his perception of other people’s point of view.

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