Black men and Public Space by Brent Staples


Race has always been a topic that is associated with different emotions, views, and thoughts for thousands of years. Since the beginning of times, people have always been judged and treated based on their race or where they were born. For many minority groups that have been discriminated over the years, many writers and activists such as James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jnr emerged from such communities and struggled through racial movements to help their communities receive better treatment and recognition in the society.

Brent Staples was among the renowned African American writers that fought against the negative stereotyping of black men in public spaces through his book, “Black Men and Public Space” in which he employs numerous rhetorical uses that add more appeal to his descriptions of experiences as a black man in public spaces. In the very first paragraph of the essay, Staples refers to a random woman on the streets as his first victim. This passage in the essay from the onset strikes the reader with a surprise in addition to making the audience curious because we are aware of the fact that the writer himself is a well-educated person, or at least not a criminal.

This statement immediately makes the audience know that the story that is set to unfold is not going to be a happy one, since the main character, Staples himself assumes the role of a bad person. By adopting this approach, he becomes just like the woman in the streets who judges and assumes something about an individual simply based on the skin colour. Through the essay, Staples uses this notion of predator and victim as he compares the cutting of raw chicken to holding a knife to a person’s throat. Staples then goes on to describe how the vast, unnerving gulf lay between nighttime pedestrians, especially women and me.

The resulting imagery separates the victim (women) from the predator (Black Men) so that the readers can be able to clearly see the kind of stereotyping that Staples is trying to address. This essay begins with a narrative that Staples uses to convey many of his personal experiences as a black man. As a well-educated and prominent person, his decision to use his personal information as he tells his stories and realizations as a black man in public spaces not only improves the credibility of this essay but also improves the trust that the audience have in regards to what he is saying. Not only does the author share his accounts in the hands of his victims, but also those of his colleague, who is also an African American male journalist. Incorporating the views and experiences of other black men who have undergone similar situations helps in supporting the main idea that he is trying to convey by showing that it is not just one isolated case.

One of the most outstanding things that Staples says, “It is my equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in the bear country” (Staples 145). What he is trying to refer to is the music he listens to while walking, to let the others know that he is not dangerous. Prior to this, he had referred to himself as a predator while referring to the woman as the victim. However, by letting the audiences know the kind of music he listens to in the above quote and the kind of person he is, Staples is indirectly switching roles. In essence, he is now referring to the woman and other people with similar opinions about his skin colour as bears (predators) while considering himself as an innocent hiker (victim). Comparing racist bystanders to bears appears to be cruel, as it makes the reader wonder whether their stereotyping of black men is any better than what the author compares them.

Supplementing the casual personal atmosphere established by his careful use of language and diction, Staples uses very harsh and shocking examples of how young African American men to show the kind of discrimination the black community has experienced. Telling the readers that he was brought up with good values, went to college and is a morally upright person that even taking a knife to raw a chicken is not possible for him causes the audience to have a positive emotional reaction. He makes another emotional statement when he says that young black men that were tough guys locked away I have since buried several, too. They were babies, really- a teenage cousin, a brother of twenty-two, a childhood friend in his mid-twenties- all gone down in episodes of bravado played out in the streets (Staples 144).

Incorporating the discussions of such personal topics enables him to appeal to the emotions of the audience which in turn, is important in helping the reader understand his perspective and the significance. As part of the audience, we are able to deeply feel the troubles that Staples and his community have endured, which makes the audience want to get to the end of the essay to find the solutions to his problems. Staples backs up his claims with sufficient evidence by using logos to show how a man of color was often discriminated against and looked at stereotypically. The logical structure of this essay also appeals to logos.

Throughout the essay, Staples describes how he always encountered discrimination as an African American journalist working in a white majority workplace. He notes that he initially realized this while still attending college when he one day walking late in the night and ended up frightening a white woman who had this belief that he was following her. Staples does not have a problem with the fact that the world is a violent place and that the woman had the right to be frightened, but it still leaves him perturbed because of him, and the other black males are not able to overcome the fact they are the causes of such fears. As he comes to terms with this situation, he also starts to recognize that he is able to change his surroundings merely because of his skin color and the stereotyping that certain groups have leveled against him.


By acknowledging opposing views of this argument, Staples is able to validate his message that being discriminated against by complete strangers is one of the worst experiences that a person should undergo. His efficient use of rhetorical devices with a perspective that enables them to understand the main message being conveyed in the essay, which is the negative experiences of discrimination in public spaces, which in turn make his testimony more meaningful and impactful. Staples states that the possibility of being set apart from the crowd is a painful thought to bear. He uses several personal experiences that evoke emotions of the audience which in turn enables them to understand the nature of the issue he is trying to address. Staples concludes by noting that even though the fears of black men among most white people are valid, there is no good in separating the rest of the black men from the streets.

Works Cited

Staples, Brent. “Black men and public space.” Life studies (1992): 2-32.