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While, like all stereotypes, people could point to one instance of the truth of a stereotype, there is no overwhelming proof that should cause people to categorically deny any other image. Unfortunately, most of the stereotypes of black men are based on either a few bad actors or long-held myths about black men that result from a racist past and present. In “Black Men and Public Spaces” Staples talks about how it felt to be the target of a racial stereotype—that of young black thug. He recounts how white women who encountered Staples walking at night in Chicago and New York would run away from him, cross the street, lock their car doors, and openly demonstrate their fear of him. While many who were stereotyped in this way would be angry and proclaim the unfairness of it, Staples chose to handle it in another way. He was sympathetic and did not seem angry with those strangers who would accuse him without evidence. “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 overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence. Yet these truths are no solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect” (Staples 384-385). Just in his reaction to the way these women treated him, Staples subverts the stereotype. Staples says that he looked like a stereotypical thug: over six feet tall, with a beard and a wild Afro, wearing a military coat. His solution to counteract the stereotype was to whistle Vivaldi tunes and other classical melodies so that strangers who thought he might be dangerous would see the incongruency of his look with his obvious intelligence and decency. This, he thought would reassure them that just because he was a black male did not mean he was dangerous. Frequently, it worked because people would join in and whistle or hum along with him. Surely, those experiences helped to change the minds of some of the people Staples he encountered. Staples demonstrated a lot of grace when many people white or black would have rightfully been offended by the actions of these strangers who automatically assumed because of the way he looked, he must be a dangerous person. At first, he admits to being “surprised, embarrassed, and dismayed,” but he clearly comes to sympathize with his silent accusers. Staples explains his patience with these openly racist strangers comes from knowing the statistics. Shaun Harper, another young black man, articulates the same understanding in another way. “In America, [black men] have long been regarded as criminals, irresponsible fathers, descendants of dysfunctional families, self-destructive drug addicts, materialistic lovers of flashy possessions, and violent rapists of White women . . . . These attributes are typically used to render us collectively undeserving of trust, respect, equitable pay and workplace promotion, and fairness” (Harper 697). Staples says he had known thugs growing up and had seen some of these tough guys end up in prison or die on the street in a violent way, so he understands why black men are stereotyped in the ways that Harper lists, but Staples still believes it is unfair to stereotype even if he understands why people do. “Over the years, I learned to smother the rage I felt at so often being taken for a criminal. Not to do so would surely have led to madness. I now take precautions to make myself less threatening. I move about with care, ...Show more
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592611 Brent Staples paper Currently Brent Staples works for the New York Times editorial board. He writes about race, culture, and education. He holds a Ph.d. in psychology from the University of Chicago. His success is not unique, but many in this country think it is…
Brent Staples
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