Essay on Just Walk On By

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Consider the story of Mary Campbell, a young ten-year-old girl with red hair and freckles, who someday was caring for her neighbor's children in Western Pennsylvania only to.PLOP! Be kidnapped by natives and adopted into their families for the next six years. Although there was evidence that she lived a happy life with her Indian tribe, her story became a cautionary tale that planted hatred of natives in the hearts of Europeans, Therefore, leading to a massive racial genocide that wiped out seventy-five percent of the five to fifteen million population of natives. But why? You might ask. Why kill a huge amount of people only because of one event that happened to be misunderstood? What happens to be the case here is that the Indians were just too different for the Europeans to bear. Their skin was darker, their language differed, and their way of life happened to leave the settlers puzzled. This then evoked fear, making it easy to point fingers at innocent individuals who were brutally killed in the name of Christianity and so-called “ Civilization.” We see this same behavior with African-Americans and people of color today, in modern America. Through the use of personal stories and imagery in “Just Walk On By.”, Brent Staples effectively educates his audience; white individuals, on what life is truly like for a man of color.

At the beginning of his writing piece, Brent Staples starts with his personal story of coming into contact with a well-dressed white lady who appeared to be afraid of him. He asserts, “ My first victim was a woman---white, well-dressed, probably in her early twenties. I came upon her one evening on a deserted street in Hyde Park, a relatively affluent neighborhood in an otherwise mean, impoverished section of Chicago. As I swung onto the avenue behind her, there seemed to be a discreet, noninflammatory distance between us. Not so, she cast back a worried glance. To her, the youngish black man-- a broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing hair, both hands shoved into the pockets of a bulky military jacket-- seemed menacingly close. After a few more glimpses, she picked up her pace and was soon running in earnest. “ (Staples 1) He starts off here with sarcasm, initiating the woman as a “Victim.” enough as evidence to enable us to see that he was looked at differently despite the fact that he hadn’t come into close, physical contact with her, as well as giving us a hint that whites often call themselves victims to innocent behavior of black men. Hidden in this story, is the use of figurative language, and imagery. He paints in our minds the way he was dressed, and the manner of the lady skedaddling away. His purpose here is to help us create this scene in our minds, and get a better grasp of his point; People assume someone is a criminal based on the color of their skin and the way they dress.

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Furthermore, Staples goes on to say “ That was more than a decade ago. I was 23 years old, a graduate student newly arrived at the University Of Chicago, It was in the echo of that terrified woman’s footfalls that I first began to know the unwieldy inheritance I’d come into-- the ability to alter public space in ugly ways.“ (Staples 2) By reading this sentence of the second paragraph, Staples employs the rhetorical appeal of ethos, helping us as his audience to see his character; a man of understanding. Through this, we can see that Staples has tried to put himself in the shoes of this woman, which would later be his main turning point for change. This helps us as an audience trust him more.

Similarly, he states, “ As a softy who is scarcely able to take a knife to raw chicken--let alone hold it to a person’s throat-- I was surprised, embarrassed, and dismayed all at once. Her flight made me feel like an accomplice in tyranny. It also made it clear that I was indistinguishable from the muggers who occasionally seeped into the area from the surrounding ghetto. ( Staples 2) Here, Staples builds his tone of being angry, affronted, and wounded. He also incorporates the rhetorical strategy, Pathos. He wants us to feel exactly how he felt. He wants us to feel the unnecessary attack people of color are facing in America, and he successfully does this by being straightforward in how he felt and using the terms “ It also made it clear.” to emphasize how upfront and noticeable the discrimination in the woman’s actions is.

As Staples moves his argument from sarcastic to bitter, he starts being more polite, in that he shows his sense of understanding throughout his piece. “ I understand, of course, that the danger they perceive is not a hallucination. Women are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black males are drastically over presented among the perpetrators of that violence.” (Staples 6) This is again, a use of ethos. Staples is showing us his true self, his true character, that he is a man of understanding, and that he is willing to admit mere facts when it comes down to women being harassed in the streets, particularly, young men of color. His willingness to admit, and acknowledge that these situations indeed occur, is a sign of his intelligence and honesty which makes us as individuals and the audience, want to listen to him more, and actually process the information staples is trying to educate us on. It makes us admire him more.

However, he goes on to say, “ Yet these truths are no solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect, against being set apart, a fearsome entity with whom pedestrians avoid making eye contact. (Staples 6) Meaning that we as individuals should not judge a person based on previous news or experiences, and rather understand that not everyone is the same, and not everyone has negative intentions. We cannot judge someone based on what we have seen in the news, movies, or what we have heard. In this context, Staples is appealing to our sense of Logic; Logos.

Equally important, Staples orates about what it means to be a “young thug.” and how young men of color, tend to perceive what a “young thug.” is and should be. He mentions, “ Many things go into the making of a young thug. One of those things is the Consummation of the male romance with the power to intimidate. An infant discovers that random flailings send the baby bottle flying out of the crib and crashing to the floor. Delighted, the joyful babe repeats those motions, again and again, seeking to duplicate the feat. Just seduced by the perception of themselves as tough guys. “ (Staples 8) “ Unfortunately, poor and powerless young men seem to take all this nonsense literally.” (Staples 8) Here you have staples not only again showing us the type of individual that he is; non approving of gangs and violence, and an approver of peace/tranquility but also explaining to his audience why young men of the color act the way they do, and the process of how that behavior is formed. He also calls in “nonsense.” to show his consciousness, as an individual of color, of how silly and bizarre these young men are. In other words, he is agreeing with the fact that being in a gang and believing that you are superior to another human being, is claptrap. Which in return allows us as an audience to respect him.

Last but not least, Staples offers a solution to the issues he has been noticing in terms of being a colored man out in public and having to go through the pain and struggle of being avoided and mislooked. He says, “ I began to take precautions to make myself less threatening. I move about with care, particularly late in the evening. I give a wide berth to nervous people on subway platforms during the wee hours, particularly when I have exchanged business clothes for jeans. If I happened to be entering a building behind some people who appear skittish, I may walk by, letting them clear the lobby before I return, so as not to seem to be following them. I have been calm and extremely congenial on those rare occasions when I’ve been pulled over by the police.” (Staples 13) Here, he is trying to emphasize to his audience; whites that it is OK! People of color are not dangerous as it seems, and himself being a man of color, understands the wrong his people engage in, but does not allow him to change his self of being. He is proving with this statement that he cares about having to be looked at differently in the streets, it bothers him and he came up with a solution himself. It shows that he not only cares about how he is perceived but also about the white women on the street who have feared him. He is not selfish.

Similarly, Staples asserts, “ And on late-evening constitutionals along streets less traveled by, I employ what has proven to be an excellent tension-reducing measure: I whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi and the more popular classical composers. Even steely New Yorkers hunching toward nighttime destinations seem to relax and occasionally even join in the tune.” (Staples 14) Here, he is proving how his technique and idea of willingness to change the way he is perceived on the streets benefited and is being made use of. This allows us as an audience to feel for him. It allows us to not only feel bad for what people of color are going through but to gain an understanding that innocent people of color are being attacked for no reason at all and that we as whites and the audience should rethink a second time, before judging a person of color. Not every person of color is the same. We are all humans, made out of flesh and blood.

Through his lenses, Staples has helped us get a feel of what it’s like when someone sees you as a criminal based on the color of your skin. Coming from a family that potentially likes to point fingers and assume, this only helped me more in my mission to create a safe haven for people in my presence, and friendship. It helped me gain a much better understanding of the reality of a person of color, and it goes back to that same old phrase we’ve heard since elementary, “ you can judge a book by its cover.” Being a girl who has been wearing the hijab for almost two years now, I can strongly relate to Staples in that we are perceived differently based on our differences and false accusations. Although, I tend to see this due to a matter of fear, and not being completely informed and educated on culture, just like the Europeans with the Natives. If we as individuals, took the time to understand and learn about the different cultures that surround us, I truly believe hatred wouldn’t have a home in a big, diverse country like America. It is our duty as humans to lift up one another, regardless of our differences. Only through understanding and communication, can we achieve what the world desperately needs; humanity.

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Essay on Just Walk On By. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
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