"Black Men and Public Space" is a short narrative written by Brent Staples. Staples begins by stating his first "victim" was a white woman in Chicago. As she avoids him hastily, Staples comes to realize that she is frightened by his appearance: large, black and intimidating. As a result, she perceives him to be some sort of mugger or rapist, much to his anxiety. Since he instills fear merely by his presence, he is in an awkward and potentially dangerous situation. Other incidents, which include people mistaking him for a burglar, only made Staples more weary of the hostilities. To curb his anxiety, he uses non-threatening behavior such as whistling to soften any uneasy encounter he might have with white people, especially women. Thus, in this essay Staples wants to convey how he was profiled by white strangers, how the profiling evolved into a potentially dangerous situation, and how any uneasy situation that may arise can be avoided through docile and casual behavior. The main issue addressed in this essay is racial stereotype, and what dangerous implications it has for black males.
Now what is racial stereotype? All kinds of people produce racial stereotypes about themselves and others. That is, people simplify the intellectual images they maintain of specific ethnic groups, including their own, often in cruel or damaging ways. In "Black Men and Public Space" Staples often portrays his experiences of being a victim of racial stereotype. He begins by stating, "My first victim was a woman" (164). He goes on to explain how she was intimidated by his overall appearance, black, tall and disheveled. She is one of the many people who maintain a pre-conceived notion of a specific ethnic group. Staples comes to realize that by being labeled, he has the unfortunate "ability to alter public space in ugly ways" (165). Staples shows his frustration as being "labeled" by saying he has always been "a softy who is scarcely able to take a knife to a raw chicken" (165).