How would one summarize each chapter of Brent Staples' Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As we are limited in space as well as in access to Brent Staples' Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White, below are a few ideas to help get you started as well as an explanation of exactly how to summarize texts if that's what you need to do to complete your assignment.

More detailed summaries of the full book can be viewed via the link provided below; however, in brief, Parallel Time is a memoir Staples wrote after the murder of his brother Blake Staples, a drug lord who was murdered by a drug addict and rejected customer. More specifically, the memoir helped Staples cope with what he perceives to be growing racism within the US, despite the American Dream. Staples himself was able to escape the working-class life in crime-ridden neighborhoods that many of his African-American race and even family are subjected to. He was invited to study in a program for minorities at Widener College and continued on to pursue his PhD in psychology at the University of Chicago. He even pursued a journalism career as an outlet to write about the racism and marginalization he witnesses, a career that also led him to an editorship at The New York Times. However, to pursue such a dream career, he had to leave his family and community behind. Witnessing his brother Blake be murdered by a drug addict and ex-customer, his older sister wind up in jail, another sister become pregnant at 15, and other family members fall into patterns of violence and drug abuse all made him grieve for the marginalized of his race. He blames racist assumptions for the obliteration of real opportunities his race has to advance--assumptions that those in his social and economic class are incapable of doing any better. As editors of Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation phrase it, he also agonizes "over the arbitrary forces behind one person's triumph [like his own] and another's self-destruction" (eNotes, "Parallel Time Analysis").

Staples begins his first chapter with a vivid description of his murdered brother's corpse lying in the coroner's examining room. He then goes into details about his brother having been murdered by a cocaine addict and former client named Mark McGeorge. We also get the first taste of his protests against racism in this chapter when we read the details of McGeorge's trial. Staples states that McGeorge's lawyer "described the shooting as a gunfight in which Blake was beaten to the draw"; however, this description is impossible considering Blake was shot multiple times, even multiple times in the back, and no gun was found near Blake's body (p. 5). Blake even had a gunbearer who testified that Blake was not carrying a weapon when McGeorge attacked. Regardless, the jury at McGeorge's trial did not consider an African-American gunbearer of a drug lord to be a credible witness and refused to convict McGeorge of first-degree murder. Instead, they only convicted him of second-degree murder, and McGeorge was sentenced for only a total of seven years: "Five for the murder. Two years for using the gun" (p. 5). In this first chapter, Staples also captures the moment he first learned of his brother's death and of his visit to the Roanoke Commonwealth Attorney who had little to say about the case, prejudicially calling it "an ordinary death," and presented Staples with all of the evidence in a manila pouch.

Summarizing is definitely a critical skill to develop to aid with both reading comprehension and writing ability. To continue summarizing the chapters in Parallel Time, you need to be able to pick out the main characters, the main events, and the main themes of the book. We already know that Staples' main themes concern racism and marginalization, so looking for any people, events, or personal thoughts Staples relays to illustrate these themes will help you pick out the important details you need to summarize. For example, in my summary above, details about his brother's murder help illustrate marginalization because it's due to marginalization that his brother became trapped in the drug profession, leading to his untimely death. Details about McGeorge's trial also illustrate the theme of racism because the trial was clearly biased, leading to unfair results. To keep finding important details, it may also help you to search for "Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How" ("Summarizing"). Using graphic organizers may also help you organize your thoughts ("Graphic Organizers for Summarization").

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