Black Men and Public Space
Brent Staples (b. 1951), the oldest of nine children, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. His father was a truck driver who lost his job along with 40,000 other workers in the 1960s because of plant closings in the area. The family was reduced to poverty. Staples had never considered college until a college professor took an interest in him and encouraged him to apply to a program that recruited black students. He enrolled at Widener University (B.A. 1973), where he excelled and received a Danforth Fellowship for graduate study. He took a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology at the University of Chicago in 1977. From 1977 to 1981 he taught psychology at several colleges in Pennsylvania and Illinois, but a job as a report for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1982 and 1983 began his shift to journalism. He began writing for the New York Times in 1983 and has served on the editorial board of that newspaper, for which he writes opinion pieces on race, social problems, politics, and contemporary culture. In 1994, Staples published the autobiographical Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White, which won the Anisfield Wolff Book Award and in which “Black Men and Public Space” appears. The Term public space is just 30 years old, and definitions vary. One definition states that public spaces “protect the rights of user groups. They are accessible to all groups and provide for freedom of action but also for temporary claim and ownership. A public space can be a place to act more freely” (Steven Carr, quoted in “The Death of Public Space?” at http://www.columbia.edu/_gs228/writing/histps.htm).
My first victim was a woman—white, well dressed, probably in her late twenties. I came upon her late one evening on a deserted street in Hyde Park, a relatively affluent neighborhood in an otherwise mean, impoverished section of Chicago. As I swung onto the avenue behind her, there seemed to be a discreet, uninflammatory distance between us. Not so....
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