“Just walk on by” and behavior modification

February 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Brent Staples’ essay made me go back through all of my experiences passing others on the street at night.  It forced me to evaluate my behavior on these occurrences to see if I had done the same things that he described.  I think it is important that this essay made me more aware of my behavior, because often we pass people on the streets and react a certain way by how we perceive them.  The action takes seconds, and when it’s over we often do not give it another thought, unless you are in a similar position as Brent Staples.  I realized that I can walk down the street and not really be concerned about how people perceive me.  I never thought about that being a privilege, but now I’m beginning to change my mind.

What I kept turning over in my mind about this essay is the part at the end about his behavior modification.  I thought to myself that it is ridiculous that he should feel the need to change his behavior, because he was not doing anything wrong.  But then I remembered reading a book last semester in the Black Civil Rights Movement course that reminded me of a similar idea.  During the early part of the twentieth century, the Urban League worked with black citizens of the US to teach them behavior modification and job training that would allow them to seek employment.  Although in the context of the time period I understand why the Urban League sought this route, I think to myself, why don’t we try to teach people not to be intolerant instead of modifying the behavior of people who are not doing anything wrong?  This idea also reminds me of discussions surrounding rape of women.  Rape prevention consists of teaching ways in which they can minimize the opportunities others have to rape them.  Why can’t we teach people not to rape?  Each of these examples is a person or group of people who are forced to modify their behaviors, even though the problem really rests with larger society as a whole.  Brent Staples is doing nothing intimidating, menacing, or threatening, yet he feels that he has to change who he is in order to make others comfortable around him.

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§ One Response to “Just walk on by” and behavior modification

  • gdobler says:

    I thought you had some really interesting ideas in this post. I have never thought about it in the way that he changed his behaviors but he wasn’t doing anything wrong. It is obvious but a thought that we overlook. You are right, that isn’t fair. When I read his essay, I felt bad that he was having to go through what he went through and I kind of felt guilty for having the same reaction to people while walking down the street before. I think that people walking on the street should change their behavior rather than people like brent changing theirs. When you think about it, what does clutching a purse and walking fast and acting scared do to help you? The answer is, nothing. If someone on the street was planning on assaulting you in some way they would no matter what your behavior was like. So why act in those ways and oppress people who aren’t doing anything wrong?

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