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First Pages, 680 Experiencing Difference and Inequality in Everyday Life. quiet and stopped struggling The boys marched him up the block away from. his apartment Butchie head bowed hands held behind his back looked like a. captured prisoner, There are about twelve of us younger boys out that morning playing foot. ball in the street When the action started we stopped playing and prepared to. escape to our individual apartment buildings We didn t know if the older boys. were after us too they were sometimes unpredictable and we nervously kept. one eye on them and one on a clear avenue of escape As they marched Butchie. down the block it became apparent that we were meant to learn from what was. going to happen to Butchie that they were really doing this for us. The older boys took Butchie and stretched him This was accomplished. by four boys grabbing Butchie one on each arm one on each leg Then they. placed him on the trunk of a car in the early 1960s the cars were all large and. pulled with all their might until Butchie was stretched out over the back of the. car When Butchie was completely helplessly exposed two of the boys began to. punch him in his stomach and chest The beating was savage Butchie s cries for. help seemed only to infuriate them more I couldn t believe that a human body. could take that amount of punishment When they finished with him Butchie. just collapsed in the fetal position and cried The older boys walked away talk. ing as if nothing had happened, To those of us who watched the lesson was brutal and unmistakable No. matter who you fought he could never beat you that bad So it was better to fight. even if you couldn t win than to end up being stretched for being a coward. We all fought some with more skill and determination than others but we all. The day my brother John went out to play on the block and had to fight Paul. Henry there was plenty of wild swinging and a couple of blows landed but they. did no real damage When no one got the better of the other after six or seven. minutes the fight was broken up John and Paul Henry were made to shake. hands and became best of friends in no time, John was free He could go outside without fear I was still trapped I needed. help figuring out what would happen when I went outside John was not much. help to me about how the block worked He was proud that he could go out and. play while we were still stuck in the house I mentioned something about going. downstairs and having Ma come down to watch over me and John laughed at. me called me a baby He had changed he had accepted the rules no getting. mothers to fight your battles His only instructions to me were to fight back don t. let the boys your age hit you without hitting back Within a week I decided I just. couldn t take it and I went downstairs, The moment I went outside I began to learn about the structure of the.
block and its codes of conduct Each excursion taught me more The first thing. I learned was that John even though he was just a year older than me was in. a different category than I was John s peers had some status on the block my. peers were considered too young to have any,ore26903 pt03b indd 680 13 08 13 10 12 AM. First Pages,Geoffrey Canada 681, At the top of the pecking order were the young adults in their late teens. seventeen eighteen and nineteen They owned the block they were the stron. gest and the toughest Many of them belonged to a gang called the Disciples. Quite a few had been arrested as part of a police crackdown on gangs in the. late fifties and early sixties Several came out of jail during my first few years. on Union Avenue They often spent large amounts of time in other areas of the. Bronx so they were really absentee rulers, At this time there were some girls involved in gang activities as well many. of the larger male gangs had female counterparts whose members fought and. intimidated other girls On Union Avenue there was a group of older girls who. demanded respect and received it from even the toughest boys on the block. Some of these girls were skilled fighters and boys would say she can fight like. a boy to indicate that a girl had mastered the more sophisticated techniques. of fistfighting Girls on Union Avenue sometimes found themselves facing the. same kind of violence as did boys but this happened less often All in all there. was less pressure on girls to fight for status although some did for girls to fight. there usually had to be a major triggering incident. But status was a major issue for boys on the block The next category in the. pecking order was the one we all referred to as the older boys fifteen and six. teen years old They belonged to a group we sometimes called the Young Dis. ciples and they were the real rulers of Union Avenue This was the group that. set the rules of conduct on the block and enforced law and order They were the. ones who had stretched Butchie, Next were boys nine ten and eleven just learning the rules While they were. allowed to go into the street and play most of them were not allowed off the block. without their mother s permission My brother John belonged to this group. The lowest group was those children who could not leave the sidewalk. children too young to have any status at all I belonged to this group and I. hated it The sidewalk while it provided plenty of opportunity to play with. other children seemed to me to be the sidelines The real action happened in. the street, There were few expectations placed on us in terms of fighting but.
we were not exempt There was very little natural animosity among us We. played punchball tag and red light green light one two three It was the. older boys who caused the problems Invariably when the older boys were sit. ting on the stoop and one of them had a brother or cousin amongst us it would. be he who began the prelude to violence, I d been outside for more than a week and thought that I had escaped hav. ing to fight anyone because all the boys were my friends But sure enough Billy. started in on me,David can you beat Geoff, David looked at me then back at Billy I don t know. What You can t beat Geoff I thought you was tough You scared I know. you ain t scared You betta not be scared,ore26903 pt03b indd 681 13 08 13 10 12 AM. First Pages, 682 Experiencing Difference and Inequality in Everyday Life. I didn t like where this conversation was heading David was my friend and. I didn t know Billy he was just an older boy who lived in my building David. looked at me again and this time his face changed he looked threatening he. seemed angry,I ain t scared of him, I was lost Just ten minutes before David and I were playing having a good.
time Now he looked like I was his worst enemy I became scared scared of. David scared of Billy scared of Union Avenue I looked for help to the other. boys sitting casually on the stoop Their faces scared me more Most of them. barely noticed what was going on the rest were looking half interested I was. most disheartened by the reaction of my brother John Almost in a state of panic. I looked to him for help He looked me directly in the eye shook his head no. then barely perceptibly pointed his chin toward David as if to say Quit stalling. you know what you have to do Then he looked away as if this didn t concern. him at all, The other sidewalk boys were the only ones totally caught up in the drama. They knew that their day would also come and they were trying to learn what. they could about me in case they had to fight me tomorrow or next week or. During the time I was sizing up my situation I made a serious error I showed. on my face what was going on in my head My fear and my confusion were obvi. ous to anyone paying attention This I would later learn was a rookie mistake. and could have deadly consequences on the streets, Billy saw my panic and called to alert the others Look at Geoff he s scared. He s scared of you David Go kick his ass, It was not lost on me that the questioning part of this drama was over Billy. had given David a direct command I thought I was saved however because. Billy had cursed My rationale was that no big boy could use curses at a little. boy My brother would surely step in now and say C mon Billy you can t. curse at my little brother After all he s only seven Then he would take me. upstairs and tell Ma, When I looked at John again I saw only that his eyes urged me to act. implored me to act There would be no rescue coming from him What was. worse the other older boys had become interested when Billy yelled Kick his. ass and were now looking toward David and me In their eyes this was just a. little sport not a real fight but a momentary distraction that could prove to be. slightly more interesting than talking about the Yankees or the Giants or their. girlfriends They smiled at my terror Their smiles seemed to say I remember. when I was like that You ll see it s not so bad, Thinking on your feet is critical in the ghetto There was so much to learn.
and so much of it was so important It was my brother s reaction that clued me. in I knew John He was a vicious tease at times but he loved me He would. never allow me to be harmed and not help or at least go for help He was tell. ing me I had to go through this alone I knew I could run upstairs but what. about tomorrow Was I willing to become a prisoner in my apartment again. ore26903 pt03b indd 682 13 08 13 10 12 AM,First Pages. Geoffrey Canada 683, And what about how everyone was smiling at me How was I ever going to play. in the street with them if they thought I was such a baby So I made the decision. not to run but to fight, I decided to maximize the benefits the situation afforded I said not quite. with the conviction that I d hoped for I m not afraid of David He can t beat. me C mon David you wanna fight, There was only one problem I didn t know how to fight I hadn t seen. Dan taking back John s coat or John s fight with Paul Henry But a funny thing. happened after I challenged David When I looked back at him he didn t look. quite so confident He didn t look like he wanted to fight anymore This gave me. Billy taunted David You gonna let him talk to you like that Go on kick. Then Paul Henry chimed in Don t be scared little Geoff Go git him. I was surprised I didn t expect anyone to support me especially not Paul. Henry But as I would learn later most of these fights were viewed as sport by. the bystanders You rooted for the favorite or the underdog Almost everyone. had someone to root for them when they fought, David put up his balled up fists and said Come on I didn t know how to.
fight but I knew how to pretend fight So I put up my dukes and stood like a. boxer We circled one another,No you come on, Luckily for me David didn t know how to fight either The older boys called. out encouragement to us but we didn t really know how to throw a punch At. one point we came close enough to one another for me to grab David and we. began to wrestle I was good at this having spent many an hour wrestling with. my three brothers, Wrestling wasn t allowed in a real fight but they let us go at it a few. moments before they broke us up The older boys pronounced the fight a tie. and made us shake hands and be friends They rubbed our heads and said. You re all right and then gave us some pointers on how to really fight We both. basked in the glory of their attention The other sidewalk boys looked at us with. envy We had passed the first test We were on our way to becoming respected. members of Union Avenue, David and I became good friends Since we d had a tie we didn t have to. worry about any other older boys making us fight again The rule was that if you. fought an opponent and could prove it by having witnesses you didn t have. to fight that person again at the command of the older boys This was impor. tant because everyone and I mean everyone had to prove he could beat other. boys his age Union Avenue like most other inner city neighborhoods had a. clear pecking order within the groups as well as between them when it came to. violence The order changed some as boys won or lost fights but by and large. the same boys remained at the top New boys who came on the block had to be. placed in the pecking order If they had no credentials no one to vouch for their. ore26903 pt03b indd 683 13 08 13 10 12 AM,First Pages. 684 Experiencing Difference and Inequality in Everyday Life. ability they had to fight different people on the block until it could be ascer. tained exactly where they fit in If you refused to fight you moved to the bottom. of the order If you fought and lost your status still remained unclear until you d. won a fight Then you d be placed somewhere between the person you lost to. and the person you beat, The pecking order was important because it was used to resolve disputes.
that arose over games or girls or money and also to maintain order and disci. pline on the block Although we were not a gang there were clear rules of con. duct and if you broke those rules there were clear consequences The ranking. system also prevented violence because it gave a way for boys to back down if. everybody knew you couldn t beat someone and you backed down it was no. big deal most of the time, My fight with David placed me on top of the pecking order for boys on the. The following excerpt is from the memoir Fist Stick Knife Gun by educator Geoffrey Canada His personal recount of childhood experiences in his neigh borhood offer an illustration of the role of violence in constructing masculinity O n Union Avenue failure to fight would mean that you would be set upon over and over again Sometimes for

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