The civil rights movement was a historical time stamp in the fight for equality for all African Americans. “Black Men and Public Space” by Brent Staples and “Juxtaposing The Black Boy & The Bullet” by Danez Smith work together to bring a coherent image to the reader through the use of irony, personification, and juxtaposition to show that although many events in history, like the Civil Rights Act which ended segregation and employment discrimination, African Americans have yet to reach social equality. Brent Staples was born during the civil rights movement. He lived in a very segregated part of Pennsylvania, constantly surrounded by violence and gangs. In his story, he talks about the experiences he’s encountered due to the color of his skin after moving to Chicago. There were still many negative stereotypes associated with African Americans at the time. White women would run away from him because they were scared they would become a victim of assault or burglary. Much like the poem, Danez Smith talks about differences yet similarities a black boy and a bullet have. Because the poem was written at a later time, it reveals what little changes have been made in the fight for social justice for African Americans. White men might not be refusing to sit with them, but society is still segregated. America still treats African Americans poorly because of the color of their skin. The only difference now is that people use self-defense as an excuse that validates their racism.
Both the story and the poem contain much irony. The story establishes the stereotypes presented post desegregation, “I was twenty-two years old, a graduate student newly arrived at the University of Chicago” (Staples 419). In the story, a woman believed she was in danger since an `African American man was following her. She was quick to think this man was a threat to her life when he was a well-rounded person who had no intentions of hurting her. The irony in this situation helps shed light on how African Americans were treated even after desegregation attempts, such as the Civil Rights Act, were passed. The author uses irony as a way of captivating the reader’s attention. He sets up the story in a way that makes the reader think he’s going to do harm which establishes a sense of suspense and keeps the reader engaged. Modern-day for African Americans is no better. The poem states, “One is hard & the other tried to be” (Smith L-1). From the very first line of the poem, Smith never specifies when he’s referring to the boy or the bullet. The reader would never think that such a deadly item could be so similar yet so different to a child. The irony used leaves it up to the reader’s imagination to decide when the author is referring to what. Smith uses irony throughout the poem to spark the reader’s mind, leaving them to contemplate how awful modern-day society treats African Americans. The story and the poem work together to emphasize how African Americans have overcome many challenges, yet other problems have risen which leads them to be treated exactly like they were in history. By comparing both selections, the reader realizes that African Americans are being treated with the same racial discriminations they once were. The irony in both pieces shows that the negative stereotypes that were associated with African Americans have traveled through history and are still in play.
In the story, Staples uses personification to bring life to the town he was raised in. “The small, angry industrial town where I came of age in the 1960s” (Staples 420). The towns were segregated; violence, gangs, blood, and murders ruled the streets where African Americans lived. The personification in the story is used to execute a somber tone towards the towns African Americans were forced to live. By personifying the town, the author makes the morbid living conditions more relatable to the reader. The reader becomes sympathetic towards the deadly and violent environment that African Americans lived through during the 1960s. African Americans have long fought knives, guns, and bullets for their lives. The poem, which was recently written, brings life to a bullet. “One’s whole life is a flash” (Smith L-5). When the author gave life to the bullet, he also gave it value. The personification in the poem forms the idea that our guns and bullets are of more value than African Americans. The author uses personification to tell the reader that it’s unjust to value bullets over African Americans. Although the personification used in both selections was utilized differently, both tie together. In the story, we see the awful living conditions African Americans lived in. A constant battle, like that of Bloody Sunday, they fought. Now with an increase in police brutality, they fight again. Both selections support the historical context of African American struggles by bringing to life the threats African Americans face. Throughout history, what threatens African Americans has changed, but the dangers that come with those threats have always been the same and the personification in the story and poem highlights that.
The story and the poem both juxtapose items to emphasize their contrast. Staples juxtaposes his soothing techniques and a mugger. “Everybody seems to sense that a mugger wouldn’t be warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” (Staples 420). For people not to fear Staples on late dark evenings, he resorts to whistling classic melodies to ease the people around him. Juxtaposing the bright and sunny selections to a mugger helps contrasts the good person he is against the dark bad person America sets him out to be. The author uses juxtaposition to contrast the good vs the evil. By doing so the reader can recognize the extent of what African Americans have to resort to in order to not be seen as a perpetrator. In the poem, Smith juxtaposes the life of the boy with a bullet. “One is loud & one is a song with one note and endless rest” (Smith L 3-4). By juxtaposing the boy’s life with a bullet, the author shows the reader how the loud bullet can alter the life of an African American by making it an endless rest. The author uses juxtaposition to show the reader the negative effects a bullet has on life. This makes the reader understand the magnitude of how guns and bullets have long affected the lives of African Americans throughout history. By comparing the juxtaposition used in both selections, the reader realizes the similarities between modern police brutality and historical events such as what is known as Little Rock Nine.
Staples and Smith incorporated irony, personification, and juxtaposition in their work. The irony used in both pieces makes the reader stop and think about how America treats African Americans. When the reader stops to think, he or she begins to realize that the way African Americans are treated isn’t normal. The personification used served the purpose of making African American struggles more relatable to the reader. Without feeling a personal connection with the story, the reader only feels sorrow and pity. Giving human traits to a nonliving object has the power to make strong feeling more accessible to the reader, which can make them start social justice movements for African Americans. The juxtaposition used in both pieces assists in drawing focus and contrasting the good from the bad. It provides the reader with a better deeper connection between history and modern-day events. These three literary elements work together for the reader to understand the historical events and how they’ve shaped today’s racial discrimination against African Americans.