In Brent Staple’s essay, “Just walk on by: A Black Man Ponders his Ability to Alter Public Space. He describes how he is predisposed to purposeless discrimination because he is black. Staple’s shares a series of encounters he had with people who view him a threat. He was a graduate student at the University of Chicago when he began to notice that is presence made people uneasy, because he is a tall black man. Formatted in 1st person’s perspective he immediately grabs the reader’s attention.
In the first sentence of the first paragraph he reflects on his first innocent encounter while walking down the street. He states, “My first victim was woman…” Using dashes to describe her physical attributes, he goes on to tell how she frantically runs away from him. The reaction to his presence enlightened Staples of what he called “the unwieldy inheritance I’d come into. ”(par2) The tone of the essay is gloomy an unsettling, especially because the author expresses that he was somewhat hurt at the fact that he was viewed as a criminal.
After drawing the reader in with the first anecdote, he begins anther tale about him moving to New York, where he feels one-on-one encounters are less suspenseful. He mentions an Author by the name of Norman Podhoretz who wrote an essay entitled “My Negro Problems- and Ours”; he also includes an author by the name of Edward Hoagland who also wrote essays and novels on Black men who caused havoc around the city of New York. Having mentioning these men and their works, Staple’s goes on to notice the things they wrote about and the effect they had on people, while living in New York.
The Authors wrote about people walking around the city hunched over, eyes on the ground, bracing themselves for an attack by a black man. With no chronological order in tact Staples reverts back to his life in Chester, Pennsylvania, a place where he seen what the writers wrote about first hand. While growing up in Chester Staples writes about how men, at a young age learn to intimidate and manipulate through violence to get what they want. The tough guy role for many was the only thing they knew how to do.
Many of his friends and relative who fell inside that trap of the tough-guy role usually wound up in jail or in worst case scenario dead at an early age. Staples refused to go that route. Unfortunately for the good guys like him, the actions of his peers formulated the opinion in many people that black men are harmful. He goes back to writing about Podhortez’s essay, “My Negro Problems-and Ours” saying that the author spoke of hatred he had for the perpetrators who committed the crimes, a hatred in which he did not possess. With more anecdotes about his trials and tribulations he faced the tone of the essay shifts from gloomy to acceptance.
In paragraph 13 he states… “I began to take precautions to make myself less threatening”. Staple changes his whole routine to ensure the comfort of other people. He didn’t walk so close to people in subways. He took alternate routes when people were alone near him and remained calm when stopped by the police for no reason at all. He found that walking late at night around places where lots of people were not present kept the likelihood of a scare down. He also tells the reader about his decision of whistling tunes from Beethoven and Vivaldi warning people that he was coming was a good way to no startle the people.
In the last sentence Staples compared to his whistling as a cow bell hikers use in bear country. That statement alone is enough to bring the reader to tears. With the tone shifting in ways in an unimaginable fashion, it is hard for the reader to be unsympathetic to what the author describes as his life. The flaw about this essay is that it is written primarily in first person perspective so the thoughts of the people who he referred to as his victims aren’t available. Staples anecdotes are a great tool to inform the person who is quick to judge a book by its cover that all people who walk late at night aren’t always bad people.