Altering Public Space

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Over the past 40 years Brent Staples has come to understand and accept his ability to alter public space in negative ways and has written about his experiences in the essay “Black Men and Public Space.” Staples describes the range of emotions he has felt as a result of the misinterpretations of him by the people he encounters on a day to day basis. Able to move past his feelings of shock and embarrassment, Staples realized the potential danger he was in and decided to modify his behavior to make himself appear less threatening. Shock was the first emotion Staples felt after realizing that people, women in particular, consider him a threat. It is not clear to Staples how he was able to reach his early twenties before realizing the negative impact his presence has on those he comes into contact with. Staples attributes this to growing up in a small town in the sixties where he was known as one of the “good boys” of the neighborhood, surrounded by a bunch of gang activity and violence. As a graduate student new to the Chicago area, Staples learned that to strangers he looked no different than the criminals that frequented the area. Describing himself as a softy who has a hard time taking a knife to raw chicken, Staples found it hard to accept being mistaken for a mugger. Staples was surprised when men and women alike would cross to the other side of the street rather than walk past him or lock their doors as he walked past their cars stopped at traffic lights. Staples has endured many embarrassing situations due to being perceived as a threat. While he was taking a walk one night, Staples found himself walking behind a woman who, after casting a few worried looks over her shoulder at Staples, began to quicken her pace until she was running down the sidewalk and was soon out of sight. The woman’s reaction to Staples presence made him feel embarrassed, like an

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