Posted on March 20, 2017
I am reminded every day that history does not repeat itself; humans repeat history. As if the world we live in does not know this already, we still bomb each other. We still steal from each other. We still ignore problems that impact other people and the political correctness around those issues, just because those problems do not affect us. Even though these issues have been widely discussed in the media, the arts, and literature, why does it still exist? Most importantly: Why do we keep assuming the worst of people who are not like us?
In Brent Staples’ essay “Black Men and Public Space,” he mentions his experiences as a black male in public during his graduate school days. He notes that while walking down the street, he fell in the same walking path as a white woman. She began frequently look behind her and began to distance herself more and more from him until she started running away from him. The scenario is all too familiar for people of color, throughout history and in present day. I myself have had the same experience. Reading this added to my curiosity on why we assume the worst of people. Understandably, the story takes place in a post-Jim Crow Era where racial tensions were still pretty high. However, I have always wondered why we accept stereotypes of people which prevent us from seeing the best in them. This white woman was frightened because he was a tall and bearded black man. As if racial stereotypes are not enough, the fact his physical appearance seemed threatening does not make the situation any better. She probably assumed that he was a rapist or a thief, aiming for her purse. Little does she know, he is working on completing his doctorate degree at one of the country’s top universities. Even if she knew of this, would she still be frightened?
What hurts more than people accepting racial stereotypes is that people of these stereotypes have to prove that they do not fit them. Staples mentions how began to conform to those around him by whistling classical music and walking ahead and out of his way of white people so he does not look suspicious and there forth will not fit his stereotypes. As the educated black man he is, it appalls me that he has to find a way to “fit in”, even though he is most likely far more educated than the people around him. Furthermore, it appalls me that people today still have to find a way to “fit in” even though they really should not have to.