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Luke Thompson

Mrs. D. Tantalo

English 101

Wednesday 45-650


Due 1/10/0

Research Project

-Author Brent Staples-

Author Brent Staples is an editorial writer for the New York Times newspaper, and an influential commentator on American politics and African-American culture. Staples grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, and earned his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago in 177. The essays that I have researched are psychological observances that Staples has made on many people who are guilty of stereotyping African American males by appearance alone. Many of Staples observances take place at night in the impoverished streets of New York (due to his insomnia problem), where he tends to put himself in situations that may make others uncomfortable with his presence, just to see if their reactions to the color of his skin were any different than the would be reactions to a white man. Staples’ psychological approach in analyzing random people’s reactions has interested me, in the sense of making the same type of observances socially and physically, both upon myself and others. I plan on majoring in psychology myself, and Brent Staples has inspired me to make the same type of observations on others without them knowing, and how to explain these observations through my writing.

Brent Staples is an analytical writer, in the sense that his analysis is purely based on physical reactions of strangers to his presence as a black man in the streets of urban New York. As a psychologist, Staples uses his knowledge of analyzing people to provide the means of writing, and storytelling. His writing uses the combination of logic and emotion to appeal to his readers.

Since Brent’s youth, he has realized that he was able to instill fear into people just by taking his frequent walks at night, in combat with his insomnia. It was by accident that he was able to discover this ability to “alter public space,” in a situation where he happened to be following the same route as another woman, while on a nighttime walk through the streets of New York. As the woman realized he was walking behind her, she begins to frequently glance back at him, and walk faster, as they progress, she eventually crosses the street, and begins to run toward a street that seemed to be safer. This gave him the notion that people preconceived that a black man walking down the street at night was most likely a potential criminal, and that if they don’t react, they might become some sort of victim.

One of the essays that Brent has written interprets the psychological observations that Brent has made, entitled Just Walk on By A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space. What Staples means in terms of “altering public space,” is that he is putting himself into a normal situation that could arise on a typical night in New York, such as walking behind a woman down the street, and altering the situation in making it seem as if he could possibly be following her or possibly just happen to be a man walking behind her. In putting himself in these situations, where people might think he is the “bad guy” just by his appearance alone, Staples observes their reactions, most of which the he can sense the discomfort of the person he is analyzing.

In his writing, it almost seems as if Staples is trying to make those who are uncomfortable around overtly racist, or a person who stereotypes all black males as being criminals, or dangerous. In New York, potentially every male that walks the streets at night could be a mugger, a rapist, a murderer, a kidnapper, and so on. Brent also fails to realize that he is putting himself in these situations where people are most likely to feel uncomfortable in his presence.

In these situations where any random person could be a criminal, the factor does not remain solely on the color of the persons skin; the key factors would mainly be the demeanor or suspicious activities that would make a person believe that they are in danger, or are in a potentially harmful situation in the presence of this particular stranger.

In Staples writing, he makes it seem as if most people, women in particular, are paranoid in the presence of black males. Staples explains how black males do play a particularly large role in many crimes that occur in New York, and that many black males that loiter the streets play a role of being tuff and thug-like.

The other essay I have chosen by Brent Staples is called Black Men and Public Space. In this essay, Brent uses the same types of analysis in the conclusion that people are fearful of black males. Staples refers to the characters of his analysis as his “victims,” in which Brent’s encounters all result in the person of Brant’s analysis being scared, or fearful of him. In Black Men and Public Spaces, his story differs from Just Walk on By, in that he is now walking through the wealthier neighborhoods, walking behind and somewhat following women until some react by running away, gripping their purses tightly and frequently turning and looking back at him until their destination is reached, or simply walking into the nearest building that they come across.

Brent often refers to this “altering” as a game, and he finds neighborhoods and streets where people were most likely unsafe. These areas usually consisted of dark sidewalks, and were less frequented by people than those of which were highly populated and well lit. “ One night I stooped beneath the branches and came up on the other side, just as a couple was stepping from their car into their town house. The woman pulled her purse close with one hand and reached for her husband with the other. The two of them stood frozen as I bore down on them. I felt a surge of power these people were mine; I could do with them as I wished. If I’d been younger, with less to lose, I’d have robbed them and it would have been easy.” These people were “victims” to Brent Staple’s game, and the reaction of the helpless couple had nothing to do with the color of his skin. In his writing, when he plays the part of the abusee, he fails to look at his suspiciousness, and take notice of why people might really be scared of him. Brent at no time in this essay takes account for the reasoning of people feeling discomfort, it is purely his ability to altar these spaces that causes people to react in the way that they do. In his writing, Brent acts as if he is plating the role of the victim as being a black man, when in fact, the people in which he make analysis of are truly potential victims, because Brent did say that he at once had the potential to actually rob someone. Who is to say that if Brent is putting himself in the position of being able to take advantage of the vulnerable on a regular basis, that he absolutely will not act on his impulses.

Staples’ writing is somewhat in the clarification that he is a victim of circumstance, in that each time he has an encounter on the streets, whether passing by or sitting next somebody, he senses discomfort in them, usually very noticeably. When sitting on a buss or subway, he explains how people will tend not to look at him directly, and when entering will sit further away from him than people with a different skin colr than him.

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