Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space

Treating everybody as equal is something many people learn at a young age. No matter what the other person looks, seems, or acts like, you always treat them the way you would want to be treated. Its 2019 and this simple idea is something that many people are still not able to grasp. Stereotyping and being racist towards one another are two major politic problems and hot controversies in the world we live in today. Many people encounter and endure issues on a daily basis due to their appearance. Being a witness to racism and stereotyping can be horrifying to many, but to personal have it done to you is something one will never forget. Within the short essay “Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space” by Brent Staples, Staples takes his audience along his personal journey of racist and stereotypical encounters to share his side of the story.

Staples essay begins with what seems like a crime being committed but enlightens the audience that there is no crime occurring it was only him walking at night as a 22 year-old graduate student. He was surprised at first when the lady ran away from him, but then remembered that he lives in place where crimes against others are being committed by people who happen to have a similar appearance. He explains how people he knew who were like him ended up in jail or killed because of the activities they participated in and vowed to stay away from those endeavors to get through life. His frustration continues while describing two accounts where he was presumed as being a burglar at his own work and a jewelry store, and another man who was thought to be a murderer because he fit the profile. According to Staples, all men over color have similar stories because instances like those are not uncommon. For Staples to not have those uncomfortable encounters he changes his actions so the people

around him do not feel uncomfortable; whistling classical music, changing his clothes, and waiting for people to clear the lobby are all things he does to change people’s minds on who he is.

After reading this essay I felt a lot of sympathy for Brent Staples. I cannot say I felt empathy because I have no personal experience of what he has gone through, but I do know that no person should have to go through these challenges on a daily basis. I can’t imagine what it feels like to not be able to go for a walk at night without someone misjudging who you could be. I can tell in his writing that it frustrates and upsets him that he is the reason that some people get uncomfortable when he is present around them, so I commend him on his ability to change his actions so that others around him feel safe in the space that they are in.

This essay opened my eyes to how difficult life can be for other people. It also made me realize that I too am guilty of stereotyping another person before I actually get to know them. This essay was written in 1986 but is still very relevant to today’s society. It’s 33 years later and we are still factoring in peoples appearance into our judgement of them as a person. The Muslim, Black, and Hispanic communities are all groups of people that have preconceived notions about who they are just because they look a certain way. This essay is a great reference to understand the prejudice and disrespect that these people have been exposed to. It also a primary example on how we should not make assumptions about a stranger and that we should look at every person we are surrounded by as equal.

Works Cited

  1. Staples, B. (Sept. 1986) Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space. Ms. Magazine