Brent Staples Essay

1028 words - 4 pages

Altering Public Space in Ugly Ways In his essay "Black Men and Public Space", Brent Staples attempts to introduce people to something most all are guilty of, but pay little attention to. Using accounts from his own and others' experiences, Staples essay portrays the racist tendency of people to assume black men are potentially violent and dangerous. Staples discovery of this comes during a late-night encounter. A young white female, whom Staples labels "my first victim" (197), was walking down the street in front of Staples and was not comfortable with the space he provided for her. After a couple of glances back and changes in her pace, she soon began running and disappeared down a side street. Of course, Staples had no intention of robbing or in any way harming this woman. He was just taking a walk, just as she was. Nevertheless, this was a fairly well to do neighborhood. Apparently, this woman figured that if a black man did find himself in this part of town, he was most likely up to something. Not wanting any trouble, she decided to get out of harm's way. In another illustration, Staples describes an instance in which he was delivering a story to the editor of a magazine for which he was writing, and was mistaken for a burglar. While racing to his editor's desk in order to meet his deadline, the office manager and an "ad hoc posse" (199) of security personnel began to chase him through the building. "I had no way of proving who I was," Staples writes. "I could only move briskly toward the company of someone who knew me." (106) While writing for a Chicago paper, Staples walked into a jewelry store in another well-off part of town, and encountered another situation where his skin color came into play. The woman behind the counter disappeared and returned with an angry Doberman. Understanding that the woman did not quite value him as a possible sale, Staples "took a cursory look around, nodded, and bade her good night."(199) We get the idea that things like this happen only in Chicago, Staples also writes about some of his similar encounters in New York. In Brooklyn, he says women often become fearful when encountering him on the streets. As he describes it, "with their purse straps strung across their chests bandolier-style, they forge ahead as though bracing themselves against being tackled." (200) Staples also points out in the essay that he is not alone in his encounters of this racism. In another incident, a black associate of his was stopped and almost taken to jail by the police on suspicion that he himself was the murderer. "Such episodes are not uncommon," says Staples. "Black men trade tales like this all the time." (198) What is so nice about...

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