the cycle of stereotypes

November 7, 2007 at 7:33 am (Uncategorized)

Brent Staples’ two essays evoked two polar opposite emotions from me. At first, I didn’t understand why he even bothered to revise a perfectly good and effective essay. The second essay takes his situation and completely flips it upside down. His tone in the first one evokes pity from the reader: how could such a nice and sensible guy such as Staples who is “ scarcely able to take a knife to a raw chicken” be mistaken for someone about to knife a person? But after awhile, I realized that the complete alteration from the first to the second essay is necessary to fully understand Staples’ situation and the lack of a solution.
I have never really taken the time to ponder the thoughts of someone who unfortunately fits into a negative stereotype. I don’t even understand how Staples grew accustomed to it-how could you possibly get used to people crossing the street so they won’t have to pass you, averting their eyes, halting their conversations to clutch their purses and each other? While reading this, however, I could relate to his “victims.” I don’t know what it is, but if a tall black guy was walking in my direction down an isolated street at night, I would get a little nervous too. I’ve always wondered about that-how did that become an instinct of many white people? And why do some black men live up to that stereotype of being a criminal, as Staples points out? When and how did it all begin?
Staples stated that it is the “male romance” to embrace the power to intimidate and frighten others with their manliness strength. It’s a misconception that males in society should be dominant and aggressive. Likewise, society sees females as being submissive. Although this stereotype is enforced on males, people still expect them to live up to it even if they choose not to follow it, such as Staples.
This idea comes into play in the revised essay. If others won’t see past the stereotype, what more can one do but to live up to it? Staples’ first essay concluded on a positive note with him trying to help others feel comfortable around him so that they would discard the stereotype that all big black men are out to get them. His theory is correct- would someone about to steal your money be whistling a Beethoven melody? Apparently, no one thinks so. However, should Staples and others in his situation be forced to change their daily routines just to accommodate those who stick strictly to stereotypes? No.
I found it interesting that Staples said that he learned to “smother the rage” at being always taken for a criminal. His second essay contradicts his anger management skills and actually displays his true emotions surfacing. Staples chose to give into his rage and live up to the stereotype that is forced upon him. If power is already attributed to him, why not take advantage of it? His tone changes to fit the change in his mentality as he portrays himself as a hunter preying on victims. It’s not his choice to finally terrorize people- according to Staples, they are the ones to blame for his turnaround. And he is completely right- if people are unable to accept that some black men will not harm them, what more can be done? Although I sympathize with Staples, how can we ever rid ourselves of stereotypes if the cycle continues of the belief in them and then having them fulfilled?

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1 Comment

  1. foltzjj said,

    I have to agree that both essays evoke different emotions, but for me i would say they do not represent polar opposites. I say this because either way he should not have to live the life he lives branded with the stereotypes that come with being a African American male. I feel as though in the second essay he rather has become fed up with his role as the stereotypical African American male and therefore decides “why not try to have some fun with these stereotypes?” Because of that his second essay takes on a different tone, and perhaps it is because time has passed since he wrote the first essay in Ms. Magazine and his revised addition comes from his biography. I think his essay changes slightly because he gains more experience with the situation as he gets older, and time can change all. On a different not I enjoyed the ethos in your writing because you admit that sometimes you feel uncomfortable when walking alone and a large black male walks on by.

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