Black Lies and the White Little Truth: An Interpretive Thematic Analysis on Brent Staples’s “Black Men and Public Space” In his essay titled “Black Men and Public Space,” journalist and editorial writer for the New York Times, Brent Staples writes about his time residing in Chicago as a college graduate student and the conflicts he faced with the public. His essay reveals how the presence of black men represents the stereotypical misconception that the public has about them even up to this day. It represents the reality that every black man in United States faces day by day which is living in perception of fear, crime and murder. Staples realizes, within his college years, that his appearance in certain situations causes discomfort to the public due to his race. Throughout the essay, the author reveals that the racial discrimination he undergoes not only falls down the eye of the public but rather the agents of the law as well. Through his essay, Staples states examples of confrontations of black men, including himself, with police officers.
These examples are something that the United States can so readily relate to these past months when so much controversy has arisen between black men and agents of the law. Consequently, we must address the elephant in the room and acknowledge that black men continue to be victim of police brutality and discrimination because our nation is becoming a police state. Some individuals renowned as doctors, professors and other professionals even suggest that the US lives in a military state. What is factual is that this essay represents a part of history that supports the existing police state the United States is undergoing. Staples starts off his essay writing upon a late night experience in an impoverished section in the streets of Chicago. The first words from his essay characterize the author as a potential criminal. “My first victim was white woman, well dressed, probably in her early twenties.” (Staples 1)
The first words from this essay and the title make a huge connection to what is to look forward throughout the essay. The author’s introduction restates his concern towards his audience. It is pure genius by the author to make such a quick introduction to the controversy about to come. The reality in regards to the beginning of the first paragraph is that Staples is the true victim. He was a victim of racial profiling. Reading through the essay, the author expresses how he came to realize the effect he has upon other individuals. The first and second paragraph represents the racial profiling the author had to deal with in Chicago. He explains the different perceptions that individuals had towards him as an avid night walker. Words like mugger and rapist fall in the range of the public’s perspective the author had to undergo due to his race. In the public’s defense this is common perception within society.
There is complete assurance that most individuals have been a victim and a criminal of racial profiling as an avid night walker. It is not to blame the public for living in fear and self-defense because it is natural reaction to do so. It prepares these avid night walkers to expect the worst and hope for the best through their journey. But nonetheless, this fear towards black men has been continuous for more than a century now. It is a fear that lies within the public and it is now latching onto police officers. There are agents of the law that lamentably fall within this immature perception of fear the public eye has towards black citizens. Because like Staples states, “I only needed to turn a corner into a dicey situation, or crowd some frightened, armed person in a foyer somewhere, or make an errant move after being pulled over by a policeman. Where fear and weapons meet—and they often do in urban America—there is always the possibility of death.” (Staples 2) It is true what the author expresses through his quote.
There is always a possibility of death when confronted against an agent of the law. We are witness of such atrocities and occurrences in urban America and it should not fall down this way. Death should not come easy towards a confrontation against the law. Presently, it seems as though the law has merged to “point and shoot” rather than to “serve and protect.” As if law agents think that every situation should be one where they are protected first. The truth is that the words in their cars that spell out “protect and serve” refer to the community and not the agents themselves. We have been witness of such lines of confrontations between black men and the law. It has become part of the USian culture to represent the long-lasting conflict with black lives and lethal force. Staples essay relates anecdotes of confrontations between black citizens and agents of the law down his last body paragraphs.
The author writes, “Relatively speaking, however, I never fared as badly as another black male journalist. He went to nearby Waukegan, Illinois, a couple of summers ago to work on a story about a murderer who was born there. Mistaking the reporter for the killer, police officers hauled him from his car at gunpoint and but for his press credentials, would probably have tried to book him. Such episodes are not uncommon. Black men trade tales like this all the time.” This anecdote creates a great representation of what the United States police force presently reflects. The author was not accustomed to see these types of confrontations daily. Nowadays, the world lives in an era where the internet connects everyone and everything more than ever. Every week there are new videos uploaded on the web of police officers purposely abusing their power as law enforcers.
These videos show agents of the law shooting at point blank range to unarmed criminals, videos of policemen tasering elderly men, and videos of these policemen physically abusing innocent bystanders by choking them to death. These are outrageous sightings from the same agents that should be protecting their community. What is more outrageous is that every single victim of the law from the videos caught on tape is a black man. The officers in these videos do not represent every policeman in the US but there is a point to acknowledge in these videos. There is something systemic wrong in the police force and it lies on how the police department treats their agents. Police officers are being treated as if they were military men. They receive bigger guns, bigger vehicles and less ownership of their actions. Because the truth is there hasn’t been a single confrontation between an officer and a black man where an officer takes ownership of a wrongfully committed action. This is just another flashpoint that represents how the US is yet a step closer to a military state.
Through the reading, the author states that a decade has passed since the time he lived in Chicago. This essay made an original public appearance in Ms. Magazine in 1986. Staples essay is about 3 decades old and it still mildly represents the present United States of America because the truth is the existent race relations in the US are in deep tension. The United States lives in a culture surrounded by the misconception of the common perception towards black individuals. The police culture needs to change by creating a different option other than the use of lethal force. The existent police culture revolves in between the controversial conversation on gun control and racism. The United States is a country well known to succeed in the international relations area. Yet does this powerful nation find success in relations with its own citizens. Something needs to change in the United States police culture not only for the betterment of the country but for the betterment of people all over the world.
Staples, Brent. “Black Men and Public Space.” The Little, Brown Reader. Eds, Marcia
Stubbs and Sylvan Barnet 12th ed. Boston: Longman, 2012. 16-18. Print.