How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

by Jerald Walker

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Unprepared Summary and Analysis

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When he was seventeen, Walker hesitantly accepted a ride from a stranger after missing his bus in the pouring rain. While the two engaged in small talk during the ride, the driver, an approximately fifty-year-old man, removed a jacket from his lap, exposing his penis to Walker. As the man continued driving, he asked Walker questions about his work and did not cover his exposed genitalia. As Walker prepared his response to the eventual proposition—that he simply wasn’t interested in men—he began to reflect upon Black crime. 

He recalled the murder of Nathaniel Cater, a twenty-seven-year-old man who was one in a long line of Black male murder victims over about a two-year period. Black boys, typically much younger than Cater and ranging in age between nine and fourteen, were found shot, asphyxiated, and strangled. The common assumption was that the murders were the work of the Ku Klux Klan and that the South “was rising again.” 

Eventually, police arrested a twenty-three-year-old man named Wayne Williams. He fit the profile of a serial killer: single, introverted, and a loner. The surprising detail was that he was also a Black man. People decided that his arrest was simply a “smokescreen” to cover up white supremacy. After all, serial killers belonged to a particular breed of deranged mentality that belonged to whites—not Blacks.

Walker recalled the horrors of white serial killers throughout fairly recent decades: John Wayne Gacy, Albert Fish, Richard Angelo, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gary Ridgway, and Andrew Cunanan. Yet in 1981, a month before Wayne Williams was arrested, no one knew of these names yet. Williams maintained his innocence during his trial, and many Black people believed him based on a sense of “genetic superiority.”

In 2019, the fortieth anniversary of Williams’s crimes, Walker had long since reconciled his beliefs that Blacks could only be “so bad.” To believe this also meant the opposite—that Blacks could only be so good. He realized that both beliefs limit the full spectrum of humanity that exists within the Black experience.

Three weeks following the conviction of Williams, “Coral” Eugene Watts, a thirty-three-year-old Black man, confessed to killing forty women and girls, almost all of whom were white. This was unusual, as most serial killers only kill those members of their own race. Still, many Black people came to the defense of Watts, insisting that he was angry about the oppression of Black Americans and was seeking revenge on his oppressors. Watts, however, confessed to no such intentions; instead, he disclosed that he had dreamed of killing women since he was twelve years old. Watts also spoke of his conversations with demons and explained that he needed to drown some of his victims to prohibit their evil spirits from floating free. Walker realized that Watts was no “vigilante” and was simply as deranged as any white serial killer who had come before him or who would follow after. Watts, Williams, Bundy, Gein—serial killers belong to us all, he realized, regardless of race.

Thus, men like the one who exposed himself to seventeen-year-old Walker also belong to us all. As the two approached Walker’s destination, the driver offered him twenty dollars in exchange for a little “fun.” Delivering his rehearsed line, Walker replied that men just weren’t his “thing.” The driver doubled his monetary offer, and Walker again declined. Just before stopping the car, the driver pulled the jacket back across his lap and picked up his money as the trip came to an uneventful end.


The title of this essay is a reminder that blindly accepting stereotypes can leave people “unprepared” to face...

(This entire section contains 769 words.)

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life’s challenges. Statistically, most serial killersare white; however, Walker explains how some members of the Black community were misled to believe that Black people participating in “the torturing and execution of people for sport” simply wasn’t possible—that the ability to perform such heinous acts was missing from Black people’s DNA. This oversimplification therefore left some Black people “unprepared” to face a tangible threat in their midst. Was Williams able to murder his young Black victims by capitalizing on their belief that Black people couldn’t be serial killers? Did they find themselves more at ease because of their shared race, therefore letting their guard down? Walker finds it imperative to believe that all people are capable of infinite goodness—and infinite horrors. Understanding the spectrum of humanity means that anyone can find themselves faced with “the full range of human behavior” at any moment of daily life, and race does not limit those potential encounters.


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