Imagine being a 23 year old male, six feet two inches, broad shoulders, a scruffy beard, and walking through Chicago in the late evening. Oh I forgot to mention one thing, also imagine being African-American. African-Americans have always been assumed to be up to no good or to be big trouble makers. That is a stereotype that we see become reality in some places, but also see to be completely false in other areas. In the essay “Just Walk on By” by Brent Staples, he describes a couple of his encounters with other pedestrians while walking through different cities. He talks about the development of a thug and the mindset of a young thug.
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Youngsters find out early that the intimidation factor can get you what you want by simply taking it. After the intimidation factor is discovered, the so called “tough guy” is created. Not every boy that learns the intimidation factor is a tough guy, such as Staples. He was shy but managed to survive that way. Some might think this the coward way to go about life, but to Staples surviving is more important than being the tough guy.
Staples talks about his situations and encounters with people avoiding him or mistaking him for something he is not based on his appearance and a stereotype. He is a writer not a thug that will mug you or cause you harm, but because of his size and skin color he is often mistaken for something he is not. Its crazy to think a writer can cause such fear in people just by walking down the street at night. Having people lock their car doors as you walk by must not be a good feeling. Even though the situations he gets into might be humorous, they just show that racism still exists.
The intimidation factor is real. I discovered it at an early age. Before this essay, I have never thought of how it would feel to have people avoid you based on appearance or because of a stereotype. Before this essay, I only knew the intimidation factor as just actions but not in addition to appearance. Even though appearance never really intimidated me in the street, it is something to think about. These days walking around town you usually see at least five intimidating people, but they aren’t always a tough guy. This is where the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” comes in to play. For example, Staple’s appearance is of a thug, but he is far from that. Many of these “tough guy” looking youngsters in town are just gentle giants. I have many friends that are big football players and terrorize their opponents on the field but on the street wouldn’t hurt a fly. I feel skin color also plays a factor in intimidation. Usually the minorities are avoided, such as the African-Americans and the Latinos. We see more, “Tough guys” with brown or black skin doing crime on the news. This is why they can be more intimidating on the street.
What are the, “Non-tough guys” supposed to do? Are they supposed to let the, “Tough guys” intimidate them all the time? The “Non-tough guys” have an untold duty to show the world that not all brown/black skinned youngster is a “Tough guy”. The non-tough guys have to put up with more accusations than necessary. We are all taught not to judge people but as we grow up we learn that all we do is judge people. Judgement is made by first impressions, first sight, and first conversation. You judge the people you trust and the people you trust judge you right back. Why are we taught at young ages not to judge, but then are told to use judgement to figure out who to talk to and who to make your life long friends? Judgement skills should be taught earlier.
“Just Walk on By” Staples, Brent ( http://homepage.smc.edu/zehr_david/Brent%20Staples.htm )