In a world where racism inevitably exists, Brent Staples is one who personally shares his firsthand experiences with issues of racial inequality and unjust treatment in his remarkable essay “Black Men and Public Space”. As an African American man with a BA from Widener University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (139), people disregard his multiple qualities of success in both his school career and work career and judge him based off stereotypes because he is seen a distinct way due to his skin color. Throughout his personal essay, he faces dreadful treatment based on assumptions which has taken a toll on his emotions.
A clear purpose is seen from beginning to end of his narrative. He attempts to shine a light on the issues him and countless others, unfortunately, face entirely because of their look. With this, he hopes for a change. A change in where black men no longer must fear for their lives or face the feeling of discomfort as others “fear” them. The purpose can be compared to situations going on in today's times. As this took place as early as the 60s, it is not shocking that individuals are still getting sickening treatment and racial discrimination is still a common issue.
As the audience is not particularly focused on one certain group, readers may think the audience is to America as a whole. Staples wants his words and stories to get out about how badly he feels as he is viewed to have “the ability to alter public space in ugly ways” (139).
Ideas are arranged in a somewhat chronological way focusing on the beginning of the story, branching into a nonlinearly way towards the end. Readers are immediately thrown off by reading the very first sentence of the written work – “my first victim” (139). This creates the idea of thinking he is the “bad guy” and adds a negative tone, but it is quickly learned that this is just how others view him and how he is expected to be in the world. These horrendous opinions continue as he moves to New York. Nothing has changed in the way he is seen in the community. An introduction to his childhood reveals he grew up in an “angry industrial town” filled with gangs and murders (140). Because he came from this kind of environment, he is expected to mimic those actions. Soon to find out that he grew up a “good boy” and sadly had to see his community get “locked away” and “buried” (140) at a young age. Towards the conclusion of his story, Staples adds encounters of other men and the experiences they have conversated about. A harsher experience was sadly faced by another man as he was mistaken as a killer and held at gunpoint in his own vehicle (141). Adding additional experiences aside from his own show that this is a serious universal problem these young men must face. No matter who, where, or when, these issues remain prominent in these individuals' lives and showcase the severity of these everlasting problems. Focusing on the conclusion, an important idea is made. Staples mentions he would “whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi…” (141) and some would even join. This may be viewed as a form of symbolism, which reveals this is something he believes brings him and others together, despite differences.
Formal language satisfies Staple's essay. With no slang being used, the importance of the context is clear, and it should be taken so on a more serious note rather than a casual story. Staples brilliant word choices and elements aid in capturing the true feelings that are being felt and sensory details add to the experiences. “As a softy who is scarcely able to take a knife to a raw chicken…- I was surprised, embarrassed, and dismayed…” (139) hints at the genuine emotions he feels and the type of person he is. He would not dare hurt a thing in the world but that is the complete opposite of what society believes of him. There are many moments of Staples describing his sensory details like in the “dark, shadowy intersections” (140) or the sounds “thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk (140) he hears as he is simply crossing the street as people in their own vehicles are panicked and lock their doors.
The structure remains strong and steady throughout. A declarative approach is used within as everything is stated. Every experience and moment are based on facts. The essay is explored by two sets of facts – the way people see and react to him, and how it makes him feel as he is “an object of fear… going about business in the city” (144). A strong effect is given off to the audience as it is learned everything is stated with facts, meaning everything that is said and shared should not be looked over, and there are everlasting effects left on not only Staples but everyone who encounters the treatment given.
Dialogue and quotations are not something major in this work as these moments described are strictly his experiences which become the entire layout.
Arguably, Pathos and Logos are both rhetorical appeals exhibited. Pathos is used to signify the hardships and emotions African American men go through in their lives as an attempt for the audience to understand the seriousness of it, focusing on the effects it has mentally for the rest of their lives unless the stereotypes come to an end. Logos focuses on the reason men feel this way, justifiable due to the various judgments and treatments they undergo from a community.
Racism in our country and the world will not be disappearing before our eyes anytime soon. With all the horrific experiences Staples chose to share, or the deep emotions he revealed that came upon him as he was viewed differently, we can only hope one day individuals will not be looked down upon for simply wanting to walk the streets just because they are diverse.