Dealing with Society: Brent Staples’ “Black Men in Public Places”

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In his essay Black Men and Public Spaces, Brent Staples discusses society’s perception of black men and how it leads to instant judgments and discrimination. He shares personal experiences, such as being mistaken for a burglar, that show the unfair and unjust treatment he receives on a day-to-day basis. Staples acknowledges that while stereotyping is a form of safety utility for some individuals, it is important to recognize and challenge these biases. He discusses ways in which he copes with this discrimination, such as walking with distance and whistling classical music, to avoid being perceived as a threat. Staples’ essay serves as a strong statement against intolerance and the need for society to challenge its biases.

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Dealing with Society As much as people may want to avoid passing instant judgments on others, it seems to be a part of human nature to be critical. Stereotyping and making assumptions over a person due to the way they are casually dressed or by their race is a kind of safety utility one uses in order to be more aware of one’s surroundings and to avoid burglary or kidnappings. At first glance Brent Staples is someone a female would put on their radar to look out for.

Even though he recognizes that he does seem to have that appearance he knows who he is and feels it to be unjust because passing judgments are made about him on a day to day basis. In his essay “Black Men and Public Spaces”, he writes about society’s perception of a black man. Staples used another example where it strengthened an impacted his writing. While he was working as a journalist in Chicago a huge mistake was made. He was “…rushing late into the office of a magazine…with a dead line story in hand, [he] was mistaken for a burglar.

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The office manager called security and, with an ad hoc posse, pursued [him] through the labyrinthine halls, nearly to [his] editor’s door” (Staples 106). He had no form of identification and continued to walk with the security guards without putting up a fight to truly claim his post there as a journalist. This case made a point where the audience can sympathize with this sort of discrimination. One may try to identify with Staples because he has overcome his childhood and went down the right path. He writes “I grew up one of the good boys, had perhaps a half-dozen fistfights” (Staples 106).

He continues to say that he has buried some friends, had family in prison, and other people that used to live down the same block go down the wrong road. He is a college graduate, a person who made it through against all odds and so he believes that he should not be one to fear. Yet, it is going to continue to happen and one must cope with humanity. Dealing with society is not an easy task. At times one must sacrifice for others rather than just being able to live a normal life and to not care about what others think.

Staples finishes the essay saying that he has learned some ways to look less like a criminal. He started to walk and give people some distance, he let areas clear before he would enter a lobby so it would look as though he was not trying to follow anyone. The most interesting to me is where he writes “… on late evenings constitutionals I employ what has proved to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers” (Staples 107).

A clever way of making others around him believe that he does not fall under the conventional stereotype of a black man. It is difficult to have to deal with not being one’s self out in public. This makes for Brent Staples’ story to be impactful and to strongly make a statement about intolerance of other cultures. Work Cited Document Staples, Brent. “Black Men and Public Spaces. ” Literature for composition essays, fiction, poetry, and drama. 4th ed. New York, NY: HarperCollins College, 1996. 103-107. Print.

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Dealing with Society: Brent Staples’ “Black Men in Public Places”. (2018, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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