In â€œBlack Men and Public Space,â€ Brent Staples provides examples from a ten-year period of how he became aware of the effect of his presence as a black male on others in public. In the opening sentence, Staples uses the phrase "first victim" (384) to set the tone of the essay, an ironic way to begin an essay that will later prove he is, in fact, the victim of discrimination. Continuing in the first paragraph, he describes his attempts to maintain a â€œdiscreet, uninflammatory distanceâ€ (384) between himself while he was a graduate student and a white woman on a deserted street in Chicago. As the woman ran away from him, he states that he felt like â€œan accomplice in tyrannyâ€ (385) in his first encounter. He describes the displeasure he feels that he was â€œindistinguishable from the muggersâ€ (385). His first year away from his hometown opens his eyes to â€œthe language of fearâ€ (385).
Even in New York, Staples continues to see â€œwomen who fear the worstâ€ (385). Although he understands their vulnerability to street violence, it is still â€œno solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspectâ€ (385). Staples wonders why it took so long for him to realize that others perceived him as a threat during his nightly walks to â€œstalkâ€ sleep. He believes his oblivion to this is due to his childhood in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was one of the â€œgood boysâ€ (385) in a small, hostile town. As those close to him were buried or locked away, he remains â€œa shadow â€“ timid, but a survivorâ€ (386).
As Staples examines the years that follow, he describes his ability to suppress his anger. He also learns different methods to lessen the anxiousness of others around him during his walks. One such method is to whistle melodies by popular composers, what he calls the â€œequivalent of the cowbell that hiker