By: Maggie Talbott-Malone
All forms of text surround us. We read the words from other people's social media posts, take in the text passed out during class, and find text that we simply just enjoy. In the era I’ve grown up in, I have read one too many social media posts, dreaded reading during class, but also learned to have a love for reading.
As Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” Finding and reading new text is always something that has been exciting to me. Recently, I have been doing my best to find texts that will educate me on Black Culture. Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Spaces by Brent Staples and “A Letter To My Nephew” by James Baldwin are two texts I feel have done this. I come back to them time and time again, each time my feelings are just as strong.
Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Spaces is a short essay told from Staples’ perspective about what it is like to be a colored man and how it affects his experience in public places:
“In that first year, my first away from my hometown, I was to become thoroughly familiar with the language of fear. At dark, shadowy intersections, I could cross in front of a car stopped at a traffic light and elicit the thunk, thunk, thunk of the driver – black, white, male, or female – hammering down the door locks. On less traveled streets after dark, I grew accustomed to but never comfortable with people crossing to the other side of the street rather than pass me. Then there were the standard unpleasantries with policemen, doormen, bouncers, cab drivers, and others whose business it is to screen out troublesome individuals before there is any nastiness.”
In just one paragraph Staples is able to convey his emotion to the reader, as well as the actions that other people were making that made him feel as though he always seemed like a threat to any other individual he was around. The descriptions that Staples puts in this essay provides the reader with imagery and a strong sense of the emotion that he was feeling. Staples does an exceptional job of providing the reader with knowledge through his description of actions and emotion.
The second text I chose to include is James Baldwin’s “A Letter To My Nephew”. The first time I came across this piece of text it was being recited by Chris Rock. I was astonished to see a piece by a man who is commonly put in comedic circumstances recite a piece of text that has so much value behind it.
“This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.”
In this excerpt, we read a part of the letter Baldwin wrote to his nephew. In the letter he shares his thoughts on what the future will look like in a country with a horrific racial history. Baldwin shares his thoughts on family, environment, and the “countrymen” that will surround his nephew in his near future. While Baldwin is reflecting and sharing his thoughts, it also seems like he is giving advice. Baldwin creates a strong and powerful piece that shows how terrible the history of America is, and shows that it will affect colored people until the end of time.
These two pieces of text may seem unconventional as we are not just reading straight facts about Black people and their culture. We have to look into the text and examine it to gain the knowledge we are looking for. I strongly recommend these pieces and urge you to read them fully and examine them to gain knowledge as well.