Today, when a black person walks around at night, they are automatically thought of as being a troublemaker. People will often do everything possible to avoid a black person, be it walk on the other side of the street or cross a street at a different area. Black Men and Public Space, by Brent Staples, demonstrates just what really happens to a black person when he / she is walking around at night, or even during the middle of the day. Staples uses personal experiences and stories he heard about other black men to prove his point. He leads off with an example of a woman who was walking down a street in Chicago and Staples was walking down the same street behind her. He noticed that she kept picking up her pace of walking, eventually reaching a slow running pace.
Within seconds, she disappeared from his sight, all because he was a black man walking down a street at night. It was because of this one experience that he learns of his ability to alter public space in ugly ways. Staples describes himself as a softy who is scarcely able to take a knife to a raw chicken, let alone hold one to a person s throat. Many black people today, who are just like Staples, are mistaken for muggers, rapists, and murderers. He realized that being perceived as dangerous is a hazard in itself.
All he needed to do was to turn a corner into a bad situation, or crowd some frightened, armed person, or make an errant move at a police officer, and he could wind up hurt or even dead. He then moved to Brooklyn, and it is the same here as it was in Chicago. Women will not look at him when he passes by, they have their purses clinging against their bodies, and they forge ahead as though they are playing football and are being tackled. He understands why women act this way towards him. Women are particularly susceptible to violence and young black men are the representatives of these perpetrators.
He attributes his non-violent attitude to his childhood. In the neighborhood that he grew up in, he was scarcely noticeable against a backdrop of gang warfare, street knifing's, and murders. He was one of the good boys, and he had to suffer as if he was one of the bad ones. I saw countless tough guys locked away; I have since buried several too (Staples 153). He has seen a teenage cousin, a brother, and a friend all lowered into the ground. Due to all of this, he chose to remain a shadow-timid, but a survivor.
Other examples Staples uses to show his ability to alter public space are when he was mistaken for a burglar in his own office. The manager called the police and the only way Staples could prove that he in fact did work there was to find someone who knew him. Another time he was killing time before and interview and decided to go into a jewelry store. The owner excused herself, and then returned with a big Doberman pinscher ready to attack. He took a hint, and left the store. He also describes a story he heard about another black journalist who was mistaken for the murderer in a story he was covering.
What is this world coming to when a black journalist cannot cover a story without being under suspicion that he is a suspect, all because of his race As scary as this may sound, it is the truth. Be it in a big city or one the size of Williamsport, these kinds of things happen. One could put this theory to the test. Just stand on a sidewalk for an hour or two on a busy night, and count how many people will alter their path in order to avoid contact with a black person. One could argue that black people have the same rights as whites do today.
Yes, the constitution says so, but what about the right to walk down a street and not be thought of as being a murderer or rapist Yes, black people and white people are supposedly treated equally, but blacks today do not have all the same rights as whites do.