In "Black Men and Public Space, 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 "discreet, uninflammatory distance (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 "an accomplice in tyranny (385) in his first encounter. He describes the displeasure he feels that he was "indistinguishable from the muggers (385). His first year away from his hometown opens his eyes to "the language of fear (385).
Even in New York, Staples continues to see "women who fear the worst (385). Although he understands their vulnerability to street violence, it is still "no solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect (385). Staples wonders why it took so long for him to realize that others perceived him as a threat during his nightly walks to "stalk sleep. He believes his oblivion to this is due to his childhood in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was one of the "good boys (385) in a small, hostile town. As those close to him were buried or locked away, he remains "a shadow “ timid, but a survivor (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 "equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wea