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“Just Walk on by: Black Men and Public Space” by Brent Staples: Rhetorical Essay

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In the three pieces, every author employs varying forms of Logos, Ethos, Pathos, and Kairos to support their work and ensure that their arguments are strong and persuasive, and compelling.

The first work in an essay written by Peggy McIntosh called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” was written to show what types of benefits she as a white woman receives in our society providing an exceedingly long list of each and every one of those benefits while also giving a discussion on racism and how she was incorrectly taught what it exactly meant. She also goes to great lengths to show these privileges that she mentioned shouldn’t be only offered to people with this privilege, but rather a normal standard for our society. Another topic she discusses was the fact that changes to the system may take several decades to accomplish as she feels that white people tend to not acknowledge this privilege granted to them because of the color of their skin and how this topic is considered taboo to openly discuss. She ends the essay by posing the question of whether her fellow white people will use what she calls this unearned power to rebuild the system of dominance. Her purpose for writing this essay as stated before is to show how this system of white privilege and racism benefits white people in our current system of society.

The second piece by Brent Staples called “Black Men and Public Space” goes into detail on what black men go through and the discrimination that they face when they are seen in public spaces while providing powerful personal stories of exactly what he has experienced. These personal stories all include him being in public spaces and describing how he images the people that see him and what they think. He describes the people’s thoughts of seeing him and making him out to be this nefarious villain that wants to maim and harm the people around him when he really is just minding his business in a public space. He also calls the people that saw him victims because they were in his presence, but really he was the one who was being victimized by these false notations and stereotypes. Another story that Staples provides is the one about how he was treated poorly while looking around inside a jewelry store and how the owner instead of treating him like a customer stereotypes him and believes that he is a thief and could potentially rob the store. He noticed this shift in behavior and prejudice in the owner and decided to leave the building fearing for his well-being. With these complying stories, his purpose for writing the essay was to show exactly how black men are unjustly perceived in society by just existing and being present in the area and how they are being treated as people who only bring harm wherever they go.

The last article was written by Amy Traub and her colleagues and is called “The Asset of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Gap” dives into the subject of the racial wage gap and debunks many of the myths that people use to say that the wage gap isn’t real. The authors then go on to cite various statistics that back up this idea that the racial wage gap is a problem and how the issue dates back to times of slavery and segregation and how policies and regulations were installed to ensure that white people were able to afford homes and attend college during the time period after World War II. One of the statistics mentioned was the notion that attending college would shrink the gap and is seen as a source of wealth. This, however, is not the case as the study showed that a person of color that attends college would make just as much compared to a white high school dropout. Another study that was cited was how working full-time also doesn’t close the gap stating that white families make more money than their person of color counterparts due to job availability and payments. One of the last studies that were shown was the idea that spending less also doesn’t shut the gap down as it is reported that white families spend more money than their colored counterparts in the same income group showing that even when the colored families save money the numbers still aren’t as how much white families are spending/saving. The purpose of the article is mainly to show that the racial wage gap is a very real and serious issue that is affecting people of color and their families to be able to live comfortably in our society as opposed to their white counterparts.

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Every one of these works has a strong source of ethos and they use this credibility to show that they know about the work they are writing about to establish a sort of authority on the subject. For Staples’ work, he shows ethos by actually living through the experiences he discusses in his article and providing the stories of the things that have happened to him in his life. Traub displays ethos by having years of research on her belt on the subject of the widening racial wage gap and racial inequality in our society. For McIntosh’s essay, she provides the strongest example of ethos as her credibility on the matter of white privilege is unmatched. The main reason she has the best notation of ethos is that she is a white woman herself and provides a source of the benefits she has received just for existing in society.

Two of the works show a strong source of logos to provide logical support to their argument in order to better support it. The first one is McIntosh’s essay and it shows logos through the long list she provides in her essay that states all the advantages of being white. This is logos for the reason that McIntosh is showing an objective viewpoint of what being white entails. The second article with the strongest source of logos would have to be Traub and her colleagues’ essay as they provide the most statistics to prove that the racial wage gap is a big problem.

When it comes to pathos two of the pieces showed strong emotional appeals that bolstered the strength of their argument. The first piece that showed pathos is McIntosh’s and it was shown through the way that she describes racism as terrible things and not invisible systems that secretly cause an established hierarchy in society. The other piece with the strongest use of pathos would be Staples’s essay on his experience of being a black man in public spaces. He provides this strong emotional appeal by showcasing the stories of what he has experienced by being a black man in a society facing these cruel prejudices.

As for the strongest use of kairos for the three articles, all of them used it effectively to support their arguments and ideas. Staples’ essay was published in a magazine in 1986 and for that time an article like this would’ve been an effective way to make people see the kind of prejudice that black men suffer and continue to suffer in public spaces. Traub and her colleague’s essay which was published in 2017 also used kairos to show that even in these recent times people of color still struggle to compete with white people when it comes to wages. The strongest form of kairos, in my opinion, was McIntosh’s as her essay was published in 1989 in those times talk of white privilege was exceedingly rare so to publish an essay about the invisible benefits white people get in society at that time was a perfect use of kairos.

Although there are flaws in every argument, I felt that the most effective argument was McIntosh’s essay as the way that she conveyed ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos to provide a solid vision of exactly what white privilege and racism was and how people like her were unconsciously benefiting from it in our society. It was also most effective for me because this essay being published in 1989 would’ve been a rare discussion topic that would’ve most certainly brought discomfort to everyone around her. For these reasons Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” was the best use of rhetorical tools to convince her readers of what she trying to show them about this issue of white privilege, racism, and systematic dominance in our society.

Works Cited

    1. McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Louisville Anarchist Federation and No Borders, 2000. Accessed April 1, 2020
    2. Staples, Brent. “Black Men and Public Space.” The Bedford Reader. Boston: Bedford St.Martin’s, 2014. Print. Accessed April 1, 2020
    3. Traub, Amy, et al. “The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap.” Demos, Accessed April 1, 2020
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