Men in Bear Country
February 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Just Walk On By” by Brent Staples raises many points about the ability of a black man to modify the environment around him. He has the power to be perceived as menacing and intimidating to those around him simply from the color of his skin. While this main idea in his essay is an interesting one, I think it is easy to overlook another, if not more important, point. This power has negative consequences for men that reach beyond stereotyping. Staples mentions that being perceived as dangerous is a danger in of itself and “there is always the possibility of death”. He learned that it only took once to come upon a startled woman who, out of fear, would resort to drastic measures when she feels threatened. This power of intimidation affects both parties. He found multiple ways to protect himself from the danger of being perceived as dangerous such as whistling Beethoven.
The last sentence of the essay is perhaps the most powerful: “It is my equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country”. The hiker is Staples and bear country is those who feel intimidated in his presence. He whistles to prevent startling a “bear” and in doing so, trying to protect himself from harm. The real danger is for those men who hold the “power” to intimidate. So we should ask: is the ability to appear menacing and dangerous because of the color of your skin a power or a hindrance? Even for the men who embrace the “power”, there is always the possibility of frightening the wrong person. This kind of stereotyping not only leads to discrimination but to the risk of danger and death for those on the intimidating end.