Brent Staples’ Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space is an interesting piece that captured my attention from the first sentence. He starts, “My first victim was a woman – white, well dressed, probably in her early twenties…” After this first sentence it is almost impossible to stop reading. Staples goes on to explain this startling introduction. He documents his experience walking the streets of impoverished sections of Chicago, and later Manhattan. At the time, Staples was a black male of significant stature with long hair and a beard. People walking the streets felt threatened by him, particularly females. After all, it is true that females are often victims of theft and muggings, and it seems that the media reports that black men are often responsible. Additionally, it is generally perceived that people with beards and/or long hair are threatening. Regardless of the verity of these generalizations, walking on the streets of such areas can be scary, no matter who you are, and no matter who is on the street with you. I do not think you can blame people for being scared. Staples also noted that when he passed cars while they were stopped at traffic lights, people would lock their doors. Once again, it is hard to blame these people. The media does its job to scare us everyday with horror stories about robberies, hijackings, and muggings. I always lock the doors when I’m driving, and I am often a little scared when anyone is walking towards me in a shady area, regardless of the race of that person, or anything else.
One thing that Staples underlines that I definitely agree with is the “male romance with the power to intimidate.” The same thing confuses me. Why do most men think it is cool to act tough and fight and not show any sensitivity? I honestly do not understand it. I have never had the desire to get into a fight just to say I got into a fight. Even if I did get into a fight at one time or another, I would be ashamed of it; I would not be bragging about it.
On an unrelated note, I believe that Brent Staples’ revision of his piece is definitely more effective in conveying his intended message. His original version focused more on race, and his use of language was not as effective. The first paragraph doesn’t grab the reader’s attention as well as his revised version does. The original also makes it seem like he is playing games with people and trying to scare them, which is a little troubling.