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Review and Analysis of "Just Walk on By: a Black Man Ponders His Ability to Alter Public Space" Essay by Brent Staples

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Review and Analysis of "Just Walk on By: a Black Man Ponders His Ability to Alter Public Space" Essay by Brent Staples essay
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While we work to change the tolerance in America, the prejudice response of perceiving black men as criminals, is still a regular occurrence. In his essay, “Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Ability to Alter Public Space” Brent Staples analyzes the effects he has on those around him and expresses his feelings about being able to “alter public places in ugly ways”. Staples purpose is to magnify the ongoing prejudices happening to black men as they are often stereotyped as a threat. He hopes to change the view of others by describing how black men are made to feel because of these unjust views. He supports his position by using strong imagery as he chronicles his own encounters with prejudices. The author maintains a surprisingly understanding tone, he is also pleasant and easy-going which broadens his audience to any reader. Black men can relate to his experiences, women are given understanding, also he is addressing those who act on stereotypes. Staples uses credible evidence through his own experiences of racial profiling which makes him a trustworthy source, he is able to gain the reader’s empathy by expressing the pain felt as a result of his victimization. Staples often wrote about growing up facing poverty. He wrote this essay in 1974, only eight years after the death of Martin Luther King, when civil rights for African-Americans were improving. However, the discrimination continued even when segregation stopped. Staples was a 23 year old graduate student when he first experienced racial profiling, suggesting that he was not predisposition to expect this type of bigotry. He concedes that women are more vulnerable and that they are victims on the streets who do need to be cautious. He also acknowledges the role that young black men produce by being a populous number of the perpetrators. As a result of his genuine sincerity in trying to change the outlook of others, Staples is able to persuade others to think before they react and proves to be a respectable, reliable source of information.

Staples offers several examples of being treated like a criminal, he begins by recalling an interaction with a young woman where he is made to feel like a predator for the first time. The first three words written in his essay are, “My first victim, ” (pg. 260) introducing the idea that it makes him feel like a bad guy experiencing this encounter. He makes the reader feel his agony for being the cause of her fear stating: “It was in the echo of that terrified woman’s footfalls that I first began to know the unwieldy inheritance I’d come into, ” recognizing the discrimination facing him as a black man. When strolling at night, he crossed streets of Chicago where “blacks, whites, male and female” would all lock their doors as he passed their cars demonstrating that the same behaviors are exhibited by all types of people. While at work as a journalist, he was mistaken for a burglar in his own workplace and needed to rush to his employer in order to establish his identity. He was threatened by a jewelry store owner and her Doberman while browsing her store. Staples looks back on his childhood, explaining his vantage point of growing up with a “shyness of combat” watching his friends give way to the seduction of power. He was not drawn to violence, instead finds himself feeling lonely and isolated when he is feared on the streets.

Staples builds such a rapport with his audience, it is hard not to trust him. He is able to transform the view of others by pulling them through his eyes as he walks each night on the cold pavement. He illustrates the sadness and loneliness he feels as he demonstrates his desire to be equal. While he understands why women have reason to fear for their safety, this fact brings him no comfort. He feels “the alienation” from always being a suspect to others. He actually argues that feeling feared, in turn makes him fear his own safety, stating that when people are afraid, there is “always the possibility of death. ” for him. He demonstrates his willingness to change to the way he acts in public in order to make those around him feel safe by whistling current tunes. Thus proving the idea that he alone is able to alter the ideas of those around him based on his own inactions and actions which brings his audience to a sympathetic reaction about his situation.

His openness about a wide range of emotions, the sympathy and understanding he gives to women, as well as his willingness to make changes he shouldn’t have to make in order to comfort others shows his real character. The fact that he withholds anger when it should be overflowing, affirms the ethos appeal of the author’s attitude and personal characteristics. Black men are singled out and profiled by the police, they themselves are in danger by being perceived as dangerous by the public. His purpose is to challenge the audience’s views and actions toward black men by demonstrating how black men are made to feel when facing these prejudice views. He does this very professionally, with a fair, and hopeful expectation. Staples offers many examples from his own life as well as one from another journalist who was mistaken for a murder suspect while working, he adds that black men regularly exchange their similar stories. He expands his argument by using direct sources where black men have had a “firm place” being represented as muggers in New York literature using Norman Podhoretz’ article, “My Negro Problem” and “Heaven and Nature” by Edward Hoagland as specific examples. The structure of the essay allows us to begin when he first felt himself viewed as a threat in Chicago and continues through to moving to his current location in New York where there is a slight relief felt in Manhattan’s crowded streets. Staples appeals to our emotion by looking back on his childhood recognizing that he “remained a shadow” growing up “one of the good boys, ” staying “timid” to survive. Assuming that he must make himself act and appear less threatening in order to protect himself. He begins to whistle as he takes his nightly strolls while giving “a wide berth to nervous people”. He amplifies his feelings of being “surprised, embarrassed, and dismayed” to his audience which gains their sympathy. Even though the first reference point in this essay was 1974, with the examples used, this essay could have been written in 2018 and would still ring true. Even readers without these prejudice views are able to sympathize and gain a new perspective to the struggles black men continue to face.

By analyzing the rhetorical triangle, it is clear how Staples illustrates his personal experiences which leads the reader to trust his conclusion that his presence in public does have an effect on others, he is able to gain the reader’s empathy by vividly expressing the variation of emotions he felt throughout these experiences.

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Review And Analysis Of “Just Walk On By: A Black Man Ponders His Ability To Alter Public Space” Essay By Brent Staples. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from
“Review And Analysis Of “Just Walk On By: A Black Man Ponders His Ability To Alter Public Space” Essay By Brent Staples.” GradesFixer, 16 Mar. 2020,
Review And Analysis Of “Just Walk On By: A Black Man Ponders His Ability To Alter Public Space” Essay By Brent Staples. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 Jan. 2022].
Review And Analysis Of “Just Walk On By: A Black Man Ponders His Ability To Alter Public Space” Essay By Brent Staples [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Mar 16 [cited 2022 Jan 18]. Available from:
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