Summary of ‘Just Walk On By’ by Brent Staples

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Brent Staples, a journalist, in his essay ‘Just Walk On By’ explained through a personal story the perspective of how the American society has viewed and treated its African American male population. Society has put a negative label on African American men, they have been viewed constantly as a threat, and they also have been racially profiled more often than we think we actually know of or even acknowledge. There are a lot of barriers that come with wanting to change this socially constructed inequality that comes with the term racism. When it comes to talking about such a sensitive topic, society needs to go above and beyond the micro views of racism and focus more on the macro parts that play a part in this constant knowing and constant cultural transmission of beliefs, i.e., ideologies.

The sociological concept that Staples’ essay reflects is double consciousness. Double consciousness, as mentioned in Dalton Conley’s book ‘You May Ask Yourself’, is a concept developed by W.E.B. DuBois that describes two behavioral scripts, one for moving through the world, and the other incorporating the external opinions of prejudiced onlookers, which are constantly maintained by African Americans. African American men have adopted techniques when out in public to avoid any negative attention from those around them. Society is making a group of people have to adjust themselves when around a certain group of people instead of trying to fix the overall issue to stop this from occurring. This results in more pressure on the African American community to learn from a young age how to act in certain scenarios to help avoid what most cases are shown in the media, death. Contrary to most of society’s labels on African American males, Brent Staples described himself as someone who wouldn’t even bring himself to hold a knife at a raw chicken, let alone a human being. Brent has been stigmatized by how society sees African American men in general, and because of this, he is seen as dangerous or even at most points threatening. Throughout the article, Staples starts realizing the facial expressions of those in public areas when they look at him as fearful or wary, just because of his race. The term ‘race’ carries such important meaning because we have allowed it to be given meaning, meaning as in a social meaning, a political meaning, and a private action meaning.

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Furthermore, our government greatly used its hegemony over the population to enforce this racial inequality through social institutions, and by time the socialization of our country quietly gave consent to these forms of inequalities through agents of socialization (peers, family, media, and schools). It heavily influenced the social interaction patterns of the African American population with society by dissimulating their character when in different physical areas. Agents of socialization manifest the constant transfusion of individual and institutional racism throughout society by continuing trends of social norms and beliefs. Additionally, the labels that are given to the African American population start to create social deviance against the norms and beliefs that occur then and today.

In conclusion, African American men have been given this label and image that has led to many disadvantages and inequalities years ago that still occur today. They have acknowledged that society has been structured in a way for this inequality to be successful and to be continued. Brent Staples’ personal story sort of connects to the quote of Charles Cooley, “I see me, the way I think you see me”. Brent’s techniques later in his story were the conformity of how society is structured to privilege a certain group of people while disadvantaging others, which in the end affects future generations of those who are disadvantaged.

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Summary of ‘Just Walk On By’ by Brent Staples. (2024, March 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
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