The Civil Rights Act was signed by US President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. This law was a prominent landmark in the American history because it proclaimed the end of the racial segregation in schools and working places. Since that day black men are considered citizens of the United States, as equal as any others. Unfortunately, it took much more time for ordinary people to understand this equality and to start treating the black with the same respect as representatives of other nations. People were used to the idea that they see former slaves in front of them and nothing more. And white population expected black people to be aggressive and weird. Actually, it was mutual expectancy as well as mutual fear of each other. And this feeling electrified the air around and generated fights, murders and rapes.
Famous black journalist and writer Brent Staples in his essay Black Men and Public Spaces writes about his personal experience regarding the attitude to black people. The story was written in 1986, twenty-two years after the Civil Rights Act was signed, yet author feels uncomfortable in the world of white. Black people had a bad image. They were considered to be criminals – muggers, rapists, killers, robbers etc. Writers made black main negative heroes of their crimes stories and this only proved people’s opinion about danger you would be in case you meet a black man in the evening.
On the other hand, this situation was itself inconvenient and hazardous for black citizens of the United States. The journalist mentions the story that happened to one of his colleagues: the man was investigating the case of the murderer but was mistaken for the killer himself and had troubles with the police. Brent Staples writes, ‘Where fear and weapons meet – and they often do in urban America – there is always the possibility of death’. He is aware of the fact that his watched by others and any of his actions can be classified as the dangerous one. Policemen treated black people with a greater amount of suspiciousness. It is fear of uncertainty and unknown, which controls people’s emotions and actions in this case
Undoubtedly, the amount of crimes committed by the black population was a great number. And some of black people actually were murderers, robbers and rapists. But it should be mentioned that many of them lived in ghettos, have little access to education and were treated with little respect. Of course, they were allowed to vote and attend schools but they it was hard to get a good job for a young black man, and it is always hard to prove that you are a good man if everybody considers you a criminal. They felt themselves poor and powerless. Of course such a lifestyle generates dissatisfaction and aggression. And the author admits this fact in his essay. He writes that it was time when black men understood their masculinity and their rights to get what they want. Yet, many of them understood it too literally and that is why their actions were beyond the law. Brent Staples says that in their attempt to test own power to intimidate young guys turned on the wrong way. And he lost some of his friends and even the brother because they choose the easiest way and were killed or died in a young age.
But is surprising in all this story is the passive braveness of the author, who decided not to change his habits. He was used to walk during the evening. And he continued to do it even despite he was aware of the danger of being misunderstood. Brent Staples was twenty two when he noticed how suspicious people are about him, mainly because he is black. He caught attention in public places and felt fear of people around him. It should be pretty hard to be a journalist in such conditions. But the author managed to prove his professionalism and his willingness to make people feel more comfortable with him.
He took several easy precautions and his tension-reducing measures worked out. One of the brilliant ideas that came to his mind was whistling. Brent Staples whistled melodies from Beethoven and Vivaldi during his evening walks. Nobody suspected a young black man to be a criminal when he was whistling. Some people even joined the tune.
This story teaches us that people live in the world of stereotypes and it is always hard to break them. It took centuries for black men to get their rights to vote and to work equally. But it took even longer for the white to treat them equally. On the other hand, the main aim of the essay is that there is no such situation a man cannot find a way out. There is a solution to every problem and even the most complicated psychological cases, such as stereotypes, can be changed.