Just Walk on By
The Rhetorical Analysis of Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space by Staples
In Brent Staple’s essay “Black Men and Public Space,” the author argues that while in public space young black men are stereotyped to be a dangerous threat. He also claims that while in public space he and other black men must change their appearance and attitude to come off as law abiding citizens. He uses several different rhetorical techniques in the essay. Two techniques that he uses most productively are exemplification and cause and effect. These techniques work well to prove to his readers that young black men are being stereotyped as a threat to others in every day social settings.
He starts his essay off with an exemplification that has a dark tone to it. Setting his audience up to believe he is stalking his victim he says, “my first victim was a women…, I came up on her late one evening on a deserted street in Hyde park” (226). After setting his audience up he continues to tell us how the lady glances back at him. After a few more of her worried glances she picks up her pace and is soon running and disappears in a cross street. After using this experience to set up his essay he starts to tell us who he really is. In the second paragraph we learn that he is harmless “who is scarcely able to take a knife to a raw chicken – let alone hold on to a person’s throat” (226). This was his first encounter with being misinterpreted as a dangerous person by another person he had never met. He uses cause in effect in the second paragraph when he claims that being perceived as danger is a hazard to himself and other young black men he says “I only needed to turn a corner into a dicey situation, or crowd some frightened, armed person in a foyer somewhere” (227). He also claims how cops were a hazard to him and other young black men. This creates the reader to feel sympathy for the author to have to worry about walking into a dangerous situation by just walking down the street.
He builds his essay by using incidents. While walking at night and crossing intersections he would “elicit the thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk of the driver- black, white, male, or female – hammering down the door locks” (227). This is a vivid experience to support the buildup of his argument. He broadens his audience by electing to say that he was perceived as dangerous by both genders and all races. This incident also appeals to pathos because many people can relate to locking theirs doors while someone has moved towards or past their car without any reason except automatically stereotyping the individual as dangerous.
He changes to a more deliberate tone when in the ninth paragraph he is mistaken as a burglar at his place of work. While trying to make a deadline the author rushed into his office building. The office manager calls security fearing that he was a threat. The buildings security pursued him almost to his editor’s door. He claims he had no way of proving who he was and says he had to “move briskly to the company of someone who knew me”, in order to prove he was not a burglar (227). Here he is using pathos, gaining credibility from his audience. Being mistaken as a burglar for no logical reason other than him being a black man at the place of his work is a solid incident to back up his thesis.
Getting to more serious exemplification, the author keeps the same deliberate tone in the tenth paragraph. This is the first time he encounters being in a hazardous situation because of someone being scared of him. He was killing time before an interview when he stepped into a jewelry store. “The proprietor excused herself and returned with an enormous red Doberman pincher straining at the end of the leash” (227). He says he simply took a “cursory look around, nodded, and bade her goodnight” (227). This appeals to the reader’s emotion also because even when put in a situation where he could have made a remark, the author remained calm and politely bade her goodnight and left. It shows his audience that he is a good person and not willing to let other’s mistakes interfere with his ethics. It also appeals to emotion because his audience starts to feel sorry for a good person simply trying to kill time and almost getting attacked by a huge dog for being a different color.
His final exemplification is an instance of a black journalist friend of his. The journalist was working on a story of a murderer in Waukegan, Illinois. While the journalist was there Staples tells us “mistaking the reporter for the killer, police officers hauled him from his car at gunpoint and but for his press credentials would probably have tried to book him” (228). This is the very scenario that Staples feels is a hazard to him and other black men. So in order not to be mistaken as a criminal or worse the author uses different techniques to diffuse the cause and effect reactions he has demonstrated in public space. While walking the author says he will simply “whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and more popular classical composers” to himself (228). He claims that people feel more relaxed around him and sometimes join in on his whistling.
Brent Staples made a strong argument and used exemplification well throughout his essay. He built his essay up by using different experiences from simple having young women run away from him in the street to an instance of his journalist friend having guns pointing at him for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He tells us how he has to change in order to be perceived as a good person by whistling melodies so people can feel at ease and crossing the roads first so people don’t feel uncomfortable. He continuously appeals to pathos in the essay by using different incidents involving people acting out in ways of fear. This creates reader awareness that he has a valid argument about people stereotyping young black men before really knowing there intent.
- Staples, Brent “Black Men and Public Space,” The Bedford Reader. E. X.J.
- Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy and Jane E. Aaron. Boston: Bedford St. Martin, 2012, 226-232. Print.
The Issue of Racism in Just Walk on By: a Black Man in Public Space
Public spaces are made for the public. All people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. In the readings by Brent Staples called “Just walk on by: Black men and public spaces” and the other called “The Paranoid style if American Policing”by Ta-Neshi Coates both discussed the unofficial, cultural racism as it is expressed in public spaces. People judge each other all of the time; the way one looks, dresses and acts. I believe that we live in a changing world and people need to change their views on others and put an end to judging.
Just Walk on By
In the essay, “Just Walk on By: A Black Man in Public Space”, Brent Staples talks about how other people judge and discriminate him and people like him all the time due to the way he looks and his occupation. Brent Staples works as a journalist in a heavily white dominated field. Thought the essay he explains how he first realizes how much his appearance is seen by others and basically scares them; especially white women that are out in the streets late at night. Staples understands the world that we live in and that we live in a culture that becomes more and more violent and dangerous, but he shows in his writing that he is sad that the people of color, especially men are being judged only based on their appearance. He writes many examples where he is mistaken for a burglar or as a killer. He says that these kind of mistakes are very common amongst his community. Staples writes that when he goes on late night walks, he whistles “white tunes” such as classical music so that other people would feel safer being around him. This essay takes the discrimination of white people to black people and exposes what really goes on from a black persons point of view. This essay shows readers that things have changed, like the end to segregation, but we still have a long way to go towards full equality.
The Paranoid Style of Policing
In the other essay, “The Paranoid Style of Policing” by Ta-Neshi Coates talks about his life as a child as police violence against the black community rises and the diminishing of trust in police force. Coates writes that in his community young people were considered to be dangerous and often would fight. Fighting would mediated by adult and never a police officer. Everybody knew that if the police was ever to be called, someone would be killed. Coates grew up in a what is considered a rough neighborhood he grew up with not being able to trust the people that are hired to enforce the law and safety. A 19 year old boy named Quintonio LeGrier had a mental illness and was shot by the police for simply holding a bat. Coates writes that police in Chicago were very hard to trust because the police officers judge people only based on the color of a persons skin. People in his community are killed, beat, and tased, they make assumptions that all black people are dangerous, if a black person even looks at the officer wrong way, s/he is at risk of looking his/her life.
Comparison of the Two Essays
Racism is a belief that one race is superior than another; usually seen in white people again black people. Segregation ended, people of color got their power, but some peoples mindset hasn’t changed which leads to discrimination. In both of the essays by Coates and Staples show the discrimination from white people to people of color. People like to believe that times have changed and everyone is accepting of one another, no matter shape, size, race, or religion. These essays show that even long after people of color took their freedom the stigma of people of color still shadows them everywhere they go.
In the essay by Staples, “Just Walk on By: A Black Man in Public Space” he shows that white people are frightened of people of color. “After dark, on the warren like streets of Brooklyn where I live. I often see women who fear the worst of me” (Staples 340). This just shows that the stigma of violence that shadows people of color doesn’t go away. He later describes how women kling onto their purses and walk with a faster pace to avoid being tackled my a black male. The same goes for the other essay by Ta-Neshi Coates called The Paranoid Style of Policing”. When he describes people feel scared or threatened, they generally call the police but, the authorities tend to resort to killing when they feel the slightest bit threatened. Coates wrote, “To kill because one was afraid” (Coates 100). The authorities are people too and just like in Staples writing, people are afraid of people of color. But Coates later went onto say, “did not really exist among parents in my community” (Coates 100). The second part of the quote symbolizes that people in his community see each other by more than just the color of their skin. They see each other as people and would never resort to killing another. It signifies that even though people say that they have changed and that they don’t discriminate, there is still a fear impeded in the back of a white persons head. My parents constantly tell me to be careful in the city, especially when it gets dark. They bought me pepper spray that hangs off my keys, they tell me not to talk to people. Just by parents constantly saying these kinds of things to their children makes the fear grown instead of accepting all people and to treat humans as humans. I believe that police are one of the worst criminals, some officers abuse their power and resort to killing and don’t even get punished for it. “The police are supposed to serve and protect us and yet they take the lives” (Coates 104).
We do live in a constantly changing world, but the people in the world are yet to change their ways of thinking and judging each other. In both of the essays, “Just walk on by: Black men and public spaces” and “The Paranoid style if American Policing” show the reader that race and racism is learned, kids are taught to fear others that are not like them. People that lived in Coates community were taught not to trust the police force. The authors also show that people that are discriminated against can “read” the people and places on which racism and racist behaviors are inscribed/ written such as Staples having to whistle white people music so that people around him wouldn’t be scared to be around him late at night. People of color have to be 10 times nicer and proper to be equalivent to a white person. We still have a lot more people to change their opinion and long way to equality.
Just Walk on By: Rhetorical Analysis
With so much positive influence on cultural diversity in society, it is hoping that people would be more accepting of others. Unfortunately, still, there are individuals who do not wish to accept others that are ‘different’. Staples introduces his essay “Just Walk on By”, that published in Harpers, in 1987 by recounting the frequent challenges of negative stereotypes that men of color face on a daily basis in public places in previous events. Brent Staples essay appeals to authority by recalling his stories, appeals to emotion through the structure of the essay, and appeals to logos through the logical structure of his writing by claiming that not all men are harmful and should no longer face labels such a ‘criminals’ about themselves.
The Rhetorical Situation
The rhetorical situation begins with Staples stressing the problems that he faces in day to day life. This essay voiced the story of a twenty-two-year-old male-defined as someone dangerous and untrustworthy in an informal, casual tone. Meanwhile, Staples recalls the encounters he had to face as well as the emotional impact.
The writer, Brent Staples graduated from The University of Chicago with a Ph.D. in psychology, but, later returning to go in the direction as a journalist. Furthermore, the intended audience is for both men and women, especially African American males who might have shared similar situations, because their demeanor appeared unapproachable. Overall the article’s dialogue helped bring into line a strong appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos.
Throughout his piece, Brent Staples uses several strong results to support his credibility and appeal to ethos. The focus point is that assumptions can have a major impact on a persons’ life. With this in mind, his first realization was by how much his presence alarmed others, especially younger woman all the while enjoying an evening walk. For instance, at the time in Chicago in his early twenties, Staples recounts the portrayal of a woman who was white and well-dressed, during his time as a graduate student (Staples). The woman’s perception of him was that he was either a “rapist, mugger or worse”, seeing that she was running away from him (Staples). For one thing, the author recognizes how society is still separated and more dangerous; thus, feeling frustrated for men, especially men of color, who face a harsher backlash.
For this reason, Staples increases a strong appeal to pathos, with his emotional writing. In the introduction, the writer triggers the interest by saying, “My first victim was a woman”, which grabs immediate attention to the audience with the meaningful passage. However, the first thought that a reader might have would be that something terrible is about to take effect, but by proof and misconception of how others categorized him, will then shift sympathy for the author.
Adding to his pathos appeals, Staples uses strong appeals of logos, with logic through the structure of his argument in the middle section. He points out while walking the streets in Brooklyn, New York he will notice females with a worrisome look, as while holding onto their purse for dear life (Staples). Furthermore, the author understands as to why women are skeptical of their surroundings. As has been noted woman are particularly more vulnerable to a street attack, not to mention the writer notes, “young black males are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence” (Staples). He claims that even though the black male population, which he is part of is responsible for most of these circumstances towards humankind, he feels there is still no peace in light of the situation. Even though women should be alert at all times, he still expresses the annoyance of the continual narrow-mindedness of others.
Overall, Staples communicates a persuasive essay in term of how African American men are branded by discrimination in the world of woman and public places. He does a great job claiming each appeal subject to logic, emotion, and personal credibility. Readers can understand the problem that exists in both humanity and woman, with the effort of displaying his personal experiences, anger, and adapted due to this culturally divided word.
Analysis of “Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space” by Brent Staples
A single story does not define who someone is, and it most definitely does not define a whole ethnic group. Not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Germans are Nazis, and not all African Americans are criminals. However, there are many blacks in the world today who have to accommodate for white people in order to not be stereotyped as “criminal-like.” They have to be careful with how they dress, how they walk, and how they talk because of their fear of being pushed into a stereotypical box. “Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space” by Brent Staples is a story of a young black graduate student who describes the discrimination he endures every day because of his skin color and explains how he accommodates for the white people who are afraid of him. Staples shows us that discrimination does not have to be verbal, it also shows through people’s actions and thoughts; it is important we break down these walls of racist stereotypes and build bridges of understanding between one another.
Staples starts off the essay with an anecdote; he is walking down a street in a Chicago neighborhood far behind a young white woman, and after frantically looking back several times, she starts running as if he has a knife or gun in his hands. After the woman starts running, he says, “Her flight made me feel like an accomplice in tyranny,” and he begins to feel “surprised, embarrassed, and dismayed, all at once”. This scarring incident makes him realize his “ability to alter public space in ugly ways,” and that he is indistinguishable from all the other criminals who are black. After this realization, he begins to become familiar with how scared people act around him; they lock their car doors when he walks by, cross to the other side of the street instead of passing him, clench their bags when they see him, avoid eye contact, etc. In his hometown Chester, Pennsylvania, he was known as a well-behaved boy and now, in Chicago, he is seen as the complete opposite which was an uncomfortable transition for him. He then talks about two instances in his work and in a jewelry store when the workers treated him as if he was a criminal; both of these incidents led him to start making himself less threatening. He accommodates for them by moving with care, letting people clear the lobby before he enters, and whistling melodies from popular classical composers in order to appear less scary.
This essay is a perfect example of the demeaning stereotypes that hang above black people in our society today. Staples is thrown into society’s tiny stereotype box and is looked at as a criminal solely because of the color of his skin; if we treat blacks as if they are criminals when they are not, they may start to believe it and act just as that (self-fulfilling prophecy). It mentally screws a person up when they are treated as something less than they are; it makes them feel alienated as if they are not even a real person anymore. Let’s face the facts: a white man is just as likely to be a criminal; however, people who are black are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while being unarmed compared to a white individual. It is because of the color of their skin that their very own human rights are ripped from their hands. A single story cannot possibly embody the lives of every black person; every single one of them has a unique story, and it is our duty to acknowledge that.
After being thrown into the box with the other black criminals, Staples starts to change things in his life just to accommodate for these white people. However, even though he does those things, he still has to encounter discrimination every day when he is just walking on the street. He states, “I grew accustomed to but never comfortable with people crossing to the other side of the street rather than pass me”. He begins to feel alienated so in turn, he begins to whitify himself. He states, “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. Virtually everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright sunny selections from Vivaldi; four seasons,” (Staples). How dare they? How dare they put him in this box? How dare they make him feel this way? How dare they change him? What gives them the right? No one should ever have to grow accustomed to people being scared of them just because of the color of their skin. He is a human being with a story, a heritage, and feelings; no one gets to take his human rights away from him. It is not fair that he has to change who he is just to accommodate for people who are too shallow to get to know him.
How did we let it get this far? In 1955, what did Rosa parks sit in a white man’s seat for? In 1963, what did Martin Luther King stand in front of 250,000 people to preach for? In 1964, what did Nelson Mandela stay in jail for 20 years for? They surely did not do all of those things just for us to reverse back in time. If any of these activists were alive right now, they would be extremely disappointed. Although we emphasize the importance of freedom and rights in America, there are so many black people who are not free; they have their rights and freedoms yanked from their very hands every single day.
Staples uses this essay to help us understand what it is like to be a black individual in a society that is driven by stereotypes. Instead of judging people based on these stereotypes, let’s learn more about them, about who they are, where they came from, and where they are going; everyone deserves that chance. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Let that day be today, not tomorrow, not a few weeks from now, TODAY. Let us break down the wall of stereotypes and instead, build bridges between each other.