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Summary and Response to "Just Walk on By"

            In "Just Walk on By" by Brent Staples, the author describes the reactions of people walking on streets in response to seeing an approaching black man of the author's appearance. Staples begins by describing the first time he had noticed a negative reaction to his presence when a young woman ran away from him while he was walking casually behind her almost a block away. At this moment, Staples realizes that because of the way he dressed, his height, and long hair he appears frightening to people, particularly white people, he came across while walking along the streets. Staples makes the association that statistically, that a majority of rapists and muggers are black and that people avoid coming in contact with him on the streets for fear that Staples has the intention of harming them in some manner. Once he became aware of his blatant distinction from other passers by, Staples began to "become thoroughly familiar with the language of fear" (255). Staples notices that people on the streets were afraid of him, and so he began observing different behaviors demonstrated by people he encountered while walking. For example, Staples notices that people avoid making eye contact with him or people cross the street to avoid coming in contact with him. Staples cites from two essays in which the authors are both intensely uncomfortable in the presence of black men on certain streets and Staples also notes that he often notices the "hunch posture" (256) that one of the authors describes in his essay. Staples describes the area in which he grew up and the developmental behavior of his peers in an attempt to recognize why some people become thugs, and why he remained shy in some circumstances. Staples remarks that he witnessed the arrests and burials of many "tough guys" (256) from his neighborhood. Next, Staples depicts some scenes in which he or another black man is mistakenly thought to be a criminal and persecuted purely because these black men looked like people's stereotypes of criminals.

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