Alienation Through the Eyes of Brent Staples

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In “Black Men and Public Space” (1986) by Brent Staples (born in 1951) we are told Staples story of life as a black man and his experiences with stereotypes as well as his changes in behavior for a minority community. The theme of Alienation/Otherness through race is the umbrella under which this falls into. We see Staples theme of rave through his use of literary devices as well as his own life experience as a black man dealing with discrimination and prejudice.

Staples makes many references to his own life and observations of black in racially profiled situations. The first one at the beginning of ”Black Men and Public Space” when Staples speaks on his first experience being an encounter with a white female. He states ” As I swung onto the avenue behind her... She cast back a worried glance... To her, the youngish black man... seemed menacingly close.” (Staples 1986) with this Staples sheds light on the issue and in addition to that he appeals to his audience's emotions.

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A few other references Staples used were when he states “I could cross in front of a car stopped at a traffic light… the driver black, white, male, or female hammering down their locks” (Staples 1986) or when he speaks about being “mistaken for a burglar.” (Staples 1986) then had security called upon him by the office manager who also pursued him through the halls of the office. These stories are specific to Staples experience however he also includes an example of a “black reporter who was mistaken for a killer then taken away by police at gunpoint just for being near the places murderer was born.

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” (Staples 1986) These situations not only add to the overall meaning or theme they also serve as anecdotes. They tell Staples’ and other black male/ females story about what it’s like.

Anecdotes were not the only literary devices used by Staples to add to the overall meaning. Staples used many literary elements and figurative language that really helped in supporting the purpose, effect, and meaning as well as recreating experiences. Staples use of the word “victim” when speaking of the white female towards the beginning serves as irony because she wasn’t in fact the victim. Staples doesn’t come to this realization through til later on in “Black Men and Public Space” further into the text staple uses imagery when he talks about women. He states “They seem to have set their faces on neutral and with their purse strap string across their chest bandolier— style, they forge ahead as though bracing themselves against being attacked.” (Staples 1986) this creates an image for the reader by showing them the effect a black man has on women. He uses this imagery to create the setting for the reader so that they potentially see what it feels like to have such a negative effect on the people around them. Staples was bothered by this and was beginning to feel unsafe. All of the other reactions he received in public also impacted him to the point that he began to take his own precautionary measures. He uses the metaphor “It is my equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country.” (Staples 1986) He compares wearing a cowbell to one of his precautions.

Staples's experiences and the devices he used to back them up brought “Black Men and Public Space” together. Staples by using himself as the character to tell his story and many other black male/ female’s made this that much stronger and the fact that he views the problem through white male/ female perspective as well as “ took precautions to make himself less threatening.” (Staples 1986) Staples states “I understand, of course, that the danger they perceive is not a hallucination.”(Staples 1986) after this he goes on to say “women are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black males are drastically over-represented against the perpetrator of that violence.” (Staples 1986) so while he understands where white males/ females are coming from, He still deals that blacks are over-represented. However, in understanding he takes precautions. by “moving about with care, particularly late in the evening, giving space to nervous people on subways, whistling melodies form Beethoven and Vivaldi, and being calm and congenial when pulled over.” (Staples 1986)

With all that being said Staples’ “Black Men and Public Space” really does an exquisite job at conveying the feeling of discrimination and oppression of black males/ females. “Black Men and Public Space” really grasp the theme of Alienation/Otherness through its use of many examples and literary devices and in doing so gives the reader incite into what life as a black male/ female is like in a minority community.

Works Cited

  1. Staples, Brent. “ Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space.”
  2. Admin, JL. “Just Walk On By: A Black Man Ponders His Power To Alter Public Space – Summary & Analysis.” Jotted Lines, 30 June 2013,
Updated: Nov 01, 2022
Cite this page

Alienation Through the Eyes of Brent Staples. (2020, Nov 29). Retrieved from

Alienation Through the Eyes of Brent Staples essay
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