14 September 2018
Analysis of “Black Men and Public Space”
In 1986, Brent Staples wrote the text “Black Men and Public Space” to Harper’s Magazine. Staples utilizes rhetorical and argumentative strategies to prove how preconceived notions about race force a reluctant change in behavior that further alters society’s perceptions of an individual. Staples wanted to guide his opinion to Americans and more specifically women, and refute the argument that maybe the problem is not the majority of society, but himself. To demonstrate to his audience that prejudging somebody based off of their race can affect how others perceive them, Brent Staples makes use of emotional appeals, ethical appeals, and logical appeals.
Staples exhibits his use of emotional appeal by using personal narrations to tug on the heart strings of the audience. He also distinguishes instances where he has been lumped or profiled negatively. By showing his emotions in his writing Brent Staples shows he is only human, just like everyone else, and therefore someone the readers can relate to as they have reacted in much the same manner to situations in their own lives. He displays some examples of the these emotions when he says, “The kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect, a fearsome entity with whom pedestrians avoid making eye contact” (114), and “Over the years, I learned to smother the rage I felt at so often being taken for a criminal” (114). He does a good job of conjuring up the emotions of the audience by using pathos, supplementing the casual personal atmosphere established by his narratives and encounters as a black man on the streets. Staples narrates a story of how one day, while on a late night walk, ended up behind a white woman who upon noticing him began to sprint thinking that Staples was following her because he was black. Staples makes frequent use of words like mean and victim, which he uses to paint a picture in the mind of the audience that as soon as he found himself behind the white woman, somehow the woman had to react in a negative way. However, as the reader progresses, the picture begins to change, and by carefully altering this picture, Staples starts arousing the emotions of the reader. In principle, Staples is able to effectively use a range of emotions to appeal to pathos, which in turn helps him achieve his overall goal of making the audience see the levels of racism and discrimination.
Moreover, the narratives and evidence that the author uses to show his personal experiences as a black man helps in enhancing his credibility since he does not directly place the blame on the white women for reacting negatively but simply provides background information to show why they do so. This shows his deep understanding of the matter, which from the perspective of the reader, helps in establishing trust among the audience. Staples reflects on his personal background, like the place he was brought up in and how he was hardly noticeable “against the backdrop of gang warfare and street murders” (Staple 114). The author also notes that he was among the few who brought up as “good boys” opting not to be provocative and later managed to graduate from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. in Psychology. This contextual evidence that Staples decided to convey to his readers revealed how successful and inspired he must have been to be able to reach such levels of success in life, considering his harsh background. Incorporating such information in his stories and realizations as a black man in public spaces not only improves the credibility of this essay but also improves the trust that the audience has in regards to what he is saying. Staples makes his final appeal to ethos when he chooses to back up his stories by including the experiences of others who had comparable encounters, which demonstrates the credibility of his experiences to the audience since it is a common occurrence that happens to most black males.
On the other hand, Staples uses sufficient evidence to back up his claims through the use of logos towards the end of the article when he states that “It is my equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country” (Staples 115). By revealing his variation of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country, which in this case equates the cowbell to Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and the bears to racially discriminatory Caucasian Americans, he is able to carefully convince the reader about his argument. He also adopts a unique approach that involves the use of different techniques aimed at persuading the audience from a logical perspective. For instance, his logical use of diction is not only factual but is not exaggerated. For example, Staples avoids stating the exact crime rates in New York when he states that “Women are particularly vulnerable to street violence” (Staples 115) but instead opts to articulate his point to show that it is a place that women are always targeted. This is a simple statement that is not overdone but is still effective in offering his opinion when he states that “Young black males are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of the violence” (Staples 114). If a person were to study racial stereotyping in regards to violence, black men would be on top of the list, and this is how staple manages to logically put across this fact without inducing guilt among the readers.
Staples acknowledges the opposing views of this argument and is able to validate his message that being discriminated against by complete strangers is one of the worst experiences that a person should undergo. He efficiently uses rhetorical devices, pathos, ethos and logos to provide the audience with a glimpse into the kind of life black men experience in the modern society. By using these techniques, Staples is able to evoke emotional responses from the audience while also trying to accomplish his goal of putting the reader in his shoes and try to make them sympathize with him. This enables the author to accomplish his overall goal of making the audience recognize the fact that despite what the society claims, racial stereotyping and discrimination is still alive these days, and that it has become a part of life for most people.
Aaron, Jane E., and Ellen Kuhl. Repetto. 40 Model Essays: a Portable Anthology. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013.