Review of Brent Staples’ Black Men in Public Space
This is my review of Brent Staples’ Black Men in Public Space. I am posting this review and analysis as a journal entry on the assignments I particularly enjoyed reading about while taking my Honours English class.
This piece is a harrowing exposé into the experience of Black men in the United States of America; the micro-aggressions, and implicit bias they repeatedly encounter. My first observation while reading Staples’ piece is that it gloomily shows how Black males—boys, teenagers or university students—are perceived as criminals and aggressors in American society. Whereas, those who they encounter are perceived as victims.
Staples further describes how Blackness is seen as intimidating and threatening to people in the United States. For me, this calls to mind instances of “driving while Black.” Where Blackness meets Whiteness, we often see Whiteness clutching handbags, locking car doors, policing Blackness in neighborhoods, following Blackness around in departments stores, and so on.
Staples’ piece also illustrates how Black men, who may find themselves in respectable occupations, are still perceived by society as criminals and thugs. For example, Staples described how police officers misidentified him as a killer (Staples, 1986). Police officers also held Staples at gunpoint irrespective of his status as a reporter (Staples, 1986). A similar incident happened to Dion Rabouin, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In the video uploaded to YouTube, we see a police officer arresting Rabouin and commanding him to take a seat. He also threatens Rabouin with a charge of obstruction if he did not comply (Rebel HQ, 2023). In 2020, police in riot gear arrested Omar Jimenez, a Black correspondent for CNN, who was covering the protests in Minneapolis. Despite identifying himself as a reporter and complying with their request, Jimenez was taken into police custody (CNN, 2020). To be fair, Minneapolis police also arrested a CNN producer, who happened to be White.
My last observation is Staples’ attempt at enculturation and assimilation. To read that Staples felt he had to “whistle melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi” (Staples, 1986) to not be perceived as non-threatening is surreal. It cannot be denied that Black Americans often engage in these self-preserving behaviours to provide those in their environment with comfort, so that Blackness can live to see another day.
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CNN. Police arrest CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and crew on live television. 29 May 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftLzQefpBvM. 19 January 2023.
Rebel HQ. AZ Police Detain Law Abiding Black Reporter. 06 January 2023. YouTube. 19 January 2023.
Staples, Brent. Black Men in Public Spaces. 1986. https://harpers.org/archive/1986/12/black-men-and-public-space/ . 19 January 2023.