In the essay Just walk on by, author Brent Staples shares his experiences of living with the prejudged notion that he is someone to be feared because he is different from his peers. Brent Staples grew up in the small town of Chester, Pennsylvania where he was an outsider. He caught on to something that most of his friends probably had never thought about before or even felt that they had the right to think about. Somewhere along the line of his child hood Staples chose to rise above the normality of his peers.
He chose to become what was unexpected of him and set new standards for his life. He decided to be a dreamer, however; when his dreams came true Staples quickly learned that changing the way he felt about himself internally did not mean that people would overlook judgment on what they saw externally. Brent Staples grew up in an urban hardcore society that demanded him to lust for intimidation over others but he matured and managed to slide by the test of his manhood, Staples writes,” I came to doubt the virtues of intimidation early on.
I chose, perhaps even unconsciously, to remain a shadow—timid, but a survivor. ” Staples moved on and became nothing close to a prototype of his brother who died at age 22 to gang violence. So how come after making such a drastic change in his lifestyle he still cannot manage to “just walk on by”? Staples might make his mother proud but his intellect and charm is not noticed by the women he has encountered in his new life. Staples writes, “I often witness that “hunch posture,” from women after dark on the warren like streets of Brooklyn where I live.
They seem to set their faces on neutral and, with their purse straps strung across their chests bandolier style, they forge ahead as though bracing themselves against being talked. ” More than once staples has had instances where women think they are being followed by him; their fast pace walking that quickly turns into running insinuates that these women view him as dangerous. Being a forced suspect has caused him to observe and pay extra attention to the reactions of women around him. He focuses a lot of energy on pointing out the negative.
This stereo-type that has been thrust upon him might have caused him to become paranoid and perhaps over analyze situations. In his essay Staples does not necessarily state why people cast judgment upon him but as I read between the lines it was clear that the harsh treatment he received was engendered by a stereo type that was placed on his ethnic group. At a first glance from a distance, people only see a black man, which instills great fear in people because being a person of color meant you were potentially dangerous to society.
Why were people of color marked as dangerous? Perhaps because at the time Americans were mechanical and routine and there was only one right way, one right color. I’m sure that as soon as the people that judged Staples from a distance saw him up close began to question their perceptions on black men. People were probably surprised to see him holding a briefcase on his way to the office and wonder if black me can really do what everybody else can and perhaps even better. Brent Staples has gone through a lot of hardship because of the color of his skin.
He is attempting to let the readers understand the humiliation that he and his black colleagues have gone through, “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. ’ Staple’s is going through the humiliation of being something that he is not just to be accepted. It seems like he has made tenacious attempts throughout his life to become something else something better than what people see him as.
He had to lose himself to be able to move forward yet he still does not receive the respect that he is deserving of. His frustration is obvious; he has achieved things that many ‘normal’ looking people have not even been able to begin. While Staples is riding in his car at night, police officers do not see a successful journalist. All people really see is a black man; all they see is danger, a big red hazard sign to society. I am somewhat relatable to Staples. I am an 18 year old young woman; most lower class Mexicans in my town assume I am white or European because of my light complexion and hazel eyes.
They also assume that I come from a wealthy family because of my taste in clothes. I am often disliked by the girls in my town because I am different than them. Like Staples I look different, dress different, and behave different than the girls in my neighborhood. I live in the “ghetto” on the East side of Oxnard, a small town called La Colonia with the largest gang in in Ventura County. Fortunately my grandmother worked extremely hard to provide a better life for my sisters and me so that we would be able to rise above the standards of our society.
Girls in my neighborhood judge me and think that my family is wealthy or that I am spoiled because of my styles and aspirations. They do not know that the only thing that was given to me was bare necessities and those were always generic brand things. Since the age of 14, anything that I have possessed that is beyond the simplicity or tackiness in my neighborhood I have had to work for. However, I have noticed that middle class people can tell right away that I am not like them.
I remember being a freshmen in High school and going to the theatre with my friends Mexican boys would always notice me and try to get to know me but for some reason no matter how I looked that day I couldn’t get a blonde boy to pay me any mind. I have also had instances where people that I believed were my friends have given me rides home, as soon as they caught on to where they were taking me they would ask if they could drop me off on the cross street so that they do not have to enter the danger zone. They mark my home as dangerous and not good enough which somehow transfers onto their opinion about me.
I think that is unfair because I am a hardworking student and a good person. I do not believe a person’s character can be judged based on their ethnicity or background. Anyone has the power to change. So what do we do, is the question that Brent Staples is posing in his essay. What do we do as minorities? We can change our appearance and strive for success, we can even become journalists in the world renowned newspapers but even that will not guarantee acceptance from society. We might always be stuck in bear country and like Staples have to figure out ways to maneuver around the awkwardness that comes with being different.
We need to figure out our own ways to ‘just walk on by’ without worrying what other people are thinking. Staples showed that he was so cautious not to offend anyone by his actions and he augmented his freeness into daily routines to keep him out of trouble. Perhaps he might regret not living free, after all he deserved it. Staples is telling us to be free, he is telling us that everyone has an equal right to be prideful in his or her own achievements. And most of all, that people should not allow themselves to be categorized by others. Take a stand and be different, really different.