Black Men and Public Space by Brent Staples

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In the short essay, “Black Men and Public Space” by Brent Staples, the author shares his personal experiences on how he is stereotyped for being an African-American male. Many people discriminated against and profiled him due to his skin complexity. He begins with an anecdote, reliving the moment when his first “victim” a Caucasian woman saw him in Chicago and started running because she was intimidated by his appearance. Staples was surprised by the woman’s reaction because he would not harm an animal let alone a human being. After that incident Staples began to think that he had “the ability to alter public space in ugly ways” (Staples 1). Staples needed to be careful as a young African-American male walking in the streets at night because if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he could have possibly been killed due to his skin color. He was used to people crossing the other side of the street and wished people would just pass by him comfortably.

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Staples moved to New York, but the same behavior, similar to his first victim, still occurred, and felt as though women “fear the worst from him” (Staples 2). Their purses were held tight against their chests, feeling a sense of premonition, as if he was going to steal from them. However, Staples understood that women were vulnerable and “young black males were drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence” (Staples 2). He claims that violence towards women can be carried out by anyone, not just African-American men. Growing up in the small town of Chester, Pennsylvania, Staples was “one of the good boys” filled with a town of violence around him. He gives another anecdote of his life as a young boy describing the “tough guys who were locked away” and how he unconsciously stayed quiet to survive. This anecdote gives the reader an inside view of the author’s life and makes him credible, understood, and it supports the argument that Staples was misjudged by society.

Staples then goes on to tell a few more incidents that happened to him. When he worked as a journalist in Chicago, the office manager believed he was a thief because Staples was running fast in the office, and so he called security on him. With a guard chasing behind him, Staples could not stop running until he arrived at his editor’s office since he was the only person who could prove who Staples was. In another incident, Staples waited to have an interview and went to a nearby jewelry store where he unintentionally “scared” the proprietor by his presence. The proprietor returned with a huge dog that looked ready to attack Staples. As he took a look around, he respectfully tried to ask her questions but she ignored him. In one of his other incidents, Staples tells us a story about another African-American male journalist who was mistaken for a murderer, and if it wasn’t for the journalist’s press credentials, he would have been arrested.

Throughout the years, Staples learned to control his frustration, on how people acted towards him because if he did not it would have potentially led to madness. One way he did this was by taking precautions and trying to ease people’s worries when they were around him. He even whistled melodies of classical music which surely “a mugger wouldn’t be warbling” as he would say (Staples 3). Additionally, Staples published his essay in Ms. Magazine to most likely appeal to a feminine audience. Staples did all of this because he did not want to be stereotyped and convey that he was harmless.

On a personal account, many of the discriminations that the author faced, my younger brother could relate to as well. Every day is a challenge for my brother due to his autism. For him, it is difficult to communicate with people, and there are times when people would judge him because he would scream out of nowhere. My family would also feel the backlash as many would tell us to “control that boy” and proceed to give us a dirty look. We try to have them understand that he has special needs but sadly, they would not listen. Still, to this day, many people due to ignorance on certain aspects of people, leap to conclusions as to why a child is acting a certain way or why they feel fear when they see a man of color. In all, the world is filled with many stereotypes of all sorts of people, and if no one takes the time to understand or learn the truth behind something, then they fall victim to their ignorance and believe something that is not true in the end.  

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