Elijah Anderson Code Of The Street Essay Help

“The Code of the Street” by Elijah Anderson Essay Sample

The statement Elijah Anderson is seeking to do is that the behaviour of the kids today is greatly influenced by the street civilization. In this street civilization. he describes it as being violent when they’re faced with impersonal onslaughts and any type of disrespect shown. 4. I think this class reading tantrums with two class constructs from the talks in category and the text edition. The first construct would be ethnography. The writer had reached a personal degree with the deprived African American communities of Philadelphia. He was able to separate the difference between “street” households and “decent” households. In the nice households. they teach their kids how to be polite to others. how to last their societal environment and etc. ; while the street households have no concern for one another and normally lead to drug usage. alcohol addiction. spouse maltreatment or some other signifier of self-destructiveness. The 2nd construct would be societal construction ( more towards achieved position ) . The difference between interior city/lower category households and upper category households in society is apparent.

The households that live off of “street” codifications have a harder clip get bying with the manus they’re dealt with than a individual who comes from a stable household background. 5. I believe the most of import transition in this article would be. “The codification revolves around the presentation of ego. ” I believe this is of import because the street codification is merely something that is influenced to a great extent by the continuance of a rundown society. Equally long as the codification is around to devour the kids into force. hatred. and discourtesy. it will go on to raise more coevalss into “street” households. The codification is what one makes of it. if the grownups would affect themselves more and go “daddies” in the inner-city communities. these street codifications could discontinue to be. 6. The reading reminds me of the Television show. “The Boondocks. ” In this one episode. it’s about a immature male child who is seeking to raise money for a fundraiser. However as he raises more money. he becomes entangled in the “fundraising game” and starts a crooked concern. This relates back to the class constructs by demoing that kids are influenced by the society around them. The nexus to the picture is every bit follows: hypertext transfer protocol: //www. youtube. com/watch? v=29YO4FkA6BM.

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Anderson Code of the Street Part I

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"A brilliant diagnosis of the internal factors that hold blacks back."-Wall Street Journal

"One of the best observers of poor people today is Elijah Anderson .... Code of the Street is required reading for anyone interested in the problems that urban African Americans face."-Detroit News

"Elijah Anderson's superb reporting-he is both an example and a reproach to journalists-is the foundation for his dra­matic deciphering of the complex code by which too many young people live, and die.Anderson combines a sociological imagination with a novelist's gift for using telling details to drive a narrative.The result is a deeply disturbing, but also moving, story of decency under pressure."

-George F Will

"Important .... [Anderson] demonstrates, time and again, how optimism, ambition and decency can sprout in the most unlikely places, given even the slimmest chance."


"Profoundly unsettling .... [A] powerful new book."

Katherine S. Newman, Ford Foundation Professor of Urban Studies at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and author of No Shame in Mly Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City




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Campaigning for Respect

N the inner-city environment respect on the street may be viewed as a form of social capital that is very valu­able, especially when various other forms of capital have been denied or are unavailable.Not only is it pro­tective; it often forms the core of the person's self esteem, partic­ularly when alternative avenues of self-expression are closed or sensed to be.As the problems of the inner city have become ever more acute, as the public authorities have seemingly abdicated their responsibilities, many of those residing in such communities feel that they are on their own, that especially in matters of personal defense, they must assume the primary responsibility.The criminal justice system is widely perceived as beset with a double standard: one for blacks and one for whites, resulting in a profound distrust in this institution.In the most socially isolated pockets of the inner city, this situation has given rise to a kind of people's law based on a peculiar form of social exchange that is perhaps best understood as a perversion of the Golden Rule, whose by-product in this case is respect and whose caveat is vengeance, or payback.Given its value and its practical implications, respect is fought for and held and challenged as much as honor was in the age of chivalry.Respect becomes critical for staying out of harm's way.In public the person whose very appearance-including his or her clothing, demeanor, and way of moving, as well as "the crowd" he or she runs with, or family reputation-deters transgressions feels that he or she pos­sesses, and may be considered by others to possess, a measure of respect.Much of the code has to do with achieving and holding respect.And children learn its rules early.


Children from even the most decent homes must come to terms with the various influences of the street.Indeed, as children grow and their parents' control wanes, they go through a social shuffling process that can affirm-or test or undermine-much of the socialization they have received at home.In other words, the street serves as a medi­ating influence under which children may come to reconsider and rearrange their personal orientations.This is a time of statUs passage, 1 a formative stage for social identity, as children sort out their ways of being.It is a critical period of flux, and a child can go either way­decent or street.For children from decent homes, the immediate and present reality of the street situation can overcome the compunctions against tough behavior that their parents taught them; as children learn to deal with their social environment, they may thus quickly put aside the lessons of the home.The child is confronted with the local hierarchy based on toughness and the premium placed on being a good fighter.As a means of survival, one often learns the value of having a "name," a reputation for being willing and able to fight.To build such a reputation is to gain respect among peers.And a phys­ically talented child who starts down this track may find him- or herself increasingly committed to an orientation that can lead to trou­ble.Of course, a talented child from either a decent or a street­oriented family may discover ways of gaining respect without resorting unduly to aggressive and violent responses-becoming an athlete or, occasionally, a good student.Some parents encourage their children to become involved in dance, camp, Little League, and other activities to support a positive orientation.The important point here is that the kind of home a child comes from influences but does not always determine the way the child will ultimately turn out.The neighborhood and the surrounding environmental influences, including available social and economic opportunities and how the child adapts to this environment, are key.

Typically, in the inner-city poor neighborhood, by the age of ten, children from decent and street-oriented families alike are mingling on the neighborhood streets and figuring out their identities.Here they try out roles and scripts in a process that challenges their talents and prior socialization and may involve more than a little luck, good or bad.In this volatile environment, they learn to watch their backs and to anticipate and negotiate those situations that might lead to troubles with others.The outcomes of these cumulative interactions with the street ultimately determine every child's life chances.

Herein lies the real meaning of the many fights and altercations that "hide" behind the ostensible, as a rule seemingly petty, precip­itating causes, such as the competitions over girlfriends and boy­friends and the "he say, she say" conflicts of personal attribution, including "signifYing" and other name-calling games.Adolescents everywhere are insecure an'd trying to establish their identities.Young people from the middle and upper classes, however, usually have a wider variety of ways to express the fact that they consider themselves worthwhile.The negotiations they engage in may also include aggression, but they tend to be more verbal in away unlike those of more limited resources.In poor inner-city neighborhoods, verbal prowess is important for establishing identity, but physicality is a fairly common way of asserting oneself.Physical assertiveness is also unambiguous.If you punch someone out, if you succeed in keep­ing someone from walking down your block, "you did it."It is a fait accompli, and the evidence that you prevailed is there for all to see.

During this campaign for respect, through these various conflicts, the connections between actually being respected and 'the need for being in physical control of at least a portion of one's environment become internalized, and the germ of the code of the street emerges.As children mature and obtain an increasingly more sophisticated understanding of the code, it becomes part of their working conception of the world, so that by the time they reach adulthood, it has emerged as an important element of public social order.The rules of physical engagement and their personal implications become crys­tallized.Children learn the conditions under which violence is appro­priate, and they also learn how the code defines their relationship to their peers.They thus grow to appreciate the give-and-take of life in public, the process of negotiation, as well as its implications for social identity.And to a degree they learn to resolve disputes mainly through physical contests that settle-at least for the time being­the question of who is the toughest and who will take, or tolerate, what from whom under what circumstances.In effect, they learn the social order of their local peer groups; this order, always open to change, is one of the primary reasons the youths take such a strong interest in the fight.

This reality of inner-city life is absorbed largely on the streets.

There children gain, in the words of the street, valued "street knowl­edge."At an early age, often even before they start school and without much adult supervision, children from street-oriented families grav­itate to the streets, where they must be ready to "hang," to socialize competitively with peers.These children have a great deal of latitude and are allowed to rip and run up and down the streets.They often come home from school, put their books down, and go right back out the door.On school nights many eight- and nine-year-olds remain out until nine or ten o'clock (teenagers may come home whenever they want to).On the streets they play in groups that often become the source of their primary social bonds.

In the street, through their play, children pour their individual life experiences into a common knowledge pool, mixing, negating, affirming, confirming, and elaborating on what they have observed in the home and matching their skills against those of others.They also learn to fight; in particular, they learn the social meaning of fighting.In these circumstances even small children test one another, pushing and shoving others, and they seem ready to hit other children over matters not to their liking.In turn, they are readily hit by other children, and the child who is toughest prevails.Furthermore, as the violent resolution of disputes-the hitting and cursing-gains social reinforcement, the child is more completely initiated into a world that provides a strong rationale for physically campaigning for self­respect.

In a critical sense, violent behavior is determined by specific situ­ations, thus giving importance to the various ways individuals define and interpret such situations, which become so many public trials.The individual builds patterns as outcomes are repeated over time.Behaviors, violent or civil, that work for a young person and are reinforced by peers will likely be repeated, particularly as the child begins to build a "name," or a reputation for toughness.

Moreover, younger children refine their understanding of the code by observing the disputes of older children, which are often resolved through cursing and abusive talk, and sometimes through outright aggression or violence.They see that one child succumbs to the greater physical and mental abilities of the other.These younger children are also alert and attentive witnesses to the occasional verbal and physical fights of adults; later, they will compare notes among themselves and share their own interpretations of the event.Almost always the victor is the person who physically won the altercation, and this person often enjoys the esteem and respect of onlookers.These experiences reinforce the lessons many children have learned at home: might makes right; toughness is a virtue, humility is not.The social meaning of fighting becomes clarified as these children come to appreciate the real consequences of winning and losing.And the child's understanding of the code becomes more refined but also an increasingly important part of his or her working conception of the world.

The street-oriented adults with whom children come in contact at home and on the street-including mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, cousins, neighbors, and friends-help shape and rein­force this understanding by verbalizing the messages these children are getting through public experience: "Watch your back.""Protect yourself.""Don't punk out.""Respect yourself.""If someone disses you, you got to straighten them out."Many parents actually impose sanctions if a child is not sufficiently aggressive.For example, if a child loses a fight and comes home upset, the parent might respond, "Don't you come in here crying that somebody beat you up; you better get back out there and whup his ass.I didn't raise no punks!If you don't whup his ass, I'll whup yo' ass when you come home."Thus the child gains reinforcement for being tough and showing nerve.

While fighting, some children cry, as though they are doing some­thing they are at best ambivalent about.The fight may go against their wishes, yet they may' feel constrained to fight or face the con­sequences-not just from peers but also from caretakers or parents, who may administer another beating if they back down.Some adults recall receiving such lessons from their own parents and justify repeating them to their children as a way to toughen them up.Appearing capable of taking care of oneself as a form of self-defense is a dominant theme among both street-oriented and decent adults who worry about the safety of their children.But taking care of one­self does not always involve physical fighting; at times it can involve getting "out of stuff" by outwitting adversaries, a tactic often encour­aged by decent parents of the inner city.Marge, the hardworking decent woman and mother of five children whom we met in the preceding chapter, tells this story: My son that's bad now-his name is Curtis.And he was going to Linden Junior High School, and he was in the eighth grade.And my son Terry was in the same grade.Terry's a year younger, but Curtis had gotten put back in the second grade.They had never had a fight.

So he [Curtis] called me at work one day and told me tlhat somebody was bothering him, and he was afraid.He was thirteen or fourteen at the time.He said he was also afraid to tell the teacher because if he told the teacher, they were gonna pick on

him more.And he didn't have any men in his life at the time­my husband was not his father, so that was another issue.So I said to him, "What are you gonna do?Are you gonna leave school?"He said he was afraid to leave school because ifhe left school, they would still pick on him.So I said to him, "Curtis, I'll tell you what you do.I'm gonna get off work early.What I want you to do, I want you to talk as bad as you can talk and don't act afraid.They don't know me.None of your friends in your classroom know me."I said, "I want you to come out and talk as bad as you can talk, but don't hit anybody.And then walk away."I said, "If a fight breaks out, then I'll come and break it up."And that's what he did, and they left him alone.Isn't that something?See, he had to show nerve; it's very important for boys.It's easier for girls.The boys in the neighborhood-ifyou don't do some of the things they do, or even with the clothes, if you don't have nice things-at that time it was J ordache jeans and Sergio-if you don't have some of those things, people will pick on you and that type of thing.

Many decent parents encourage their children to stand up to those who might be aggressive toward them, but they also encourage their children to avoid trouble.Given their superior resources and their connections to the wider society, including schools, churches, and other institutions, the decent parents have the ability to see them­selves beyond the immediate neighborhood; they tend to have more ways "to be somebody" than the typical street-oriented person.The difference in outlook has to do mainly with a difference in social class.Hence they tend to encourage their children to avoid conflict by talking or by turning and walking away.But, as was indicated above, this is not always possible, and as a last resort such children are usually taught to stand their ground.


By the time they are teenagers, most young people have internalized the code of the street, or at least learned to comport themselves in accordance with 'its rules.As we saw above, the code revolves around the presentation of self.Its basic requirement is the display of a cer­tain predisposition to violence.A person's public bearing must send the unmistakable, if sometimes subtle, message that one is capable of violence, and possibly mayhem, when the situation requires it, that one can take care of oneself.The nature of this communication is determined largely by the demands of the circumstances but can involve facial expressions, gait, and direct talk-all geared mainly to deterring aggression.Physical appearance, including clothes, jewelry, and grooming, also plays an important part in how a person is viewed; to be respected, it is vital to have the right look.

Even so, there are no guarantees against challenges, because there are always people around looking for a fight in order to increase their share of respect-or "juice," as it is sometimes called on the street.Moreover, if a person is assaulted, it is essential in the eyes of his "running buddies" as well as his opponent for him to avenge himself.Otherwise he risks being "tried" (challenged) or "rolled on" (physi­cally assaulted) by any number of others.Indeed, if he is not careful, he can lose the respect of his running buddies, thus perhaps encour­aging one of them to try him.This is a critical consideration, for without running buddies or "homies" who can be depended on to watch his back in a "jam," the person is vulnerable to being rolled on by still others.Part of what protects a person is both how many people can be counted on to avenge his honor if he is rolled on in a fight and who these defenders are-that is, what their status on the street is.Some of the best-protected people in the environment are members not only of tough street-corner groups but also of families and extended families of cousins, uncles, fathers, and brothers who are known to be down with the street.Their family members, espe­cially when the family's reputation is secure, "can go anywhere, and won't nobody bother them."Generally, to maintain his honor, the young man must show that he himself, as an individual, is not some­one to be "messed with" or dissed.To show this, he may "act crazy"-that is, have the reputation for being quick-tempered.In general, though, a person must "keep himself straight" by managing his position of respect among others, including his homies; funda­mentally, this task involves managing his self-image, which is shaped by what he thinks others are thinking of him in relation to his peers.3

Objects play an important and complicated role in establishing self-image.Jackets, sneakers, gold jewelry, even expensive firearms, reflect not just taste, which tends to be tightly regulated among ado­lescents of all social classes, but also a willingness to possess things that may require defending.A boy wearing a fashionable, expensive jacket, for example, is vulnerable to attack by another who covets the jacket and either can't afford to buy one or wants the added satisfac­tion of depriving someone else of his.However, if a boy forgoes the desirable jacket and wears one that isn't hip, he runs the risk of being teased or even assaulted as an unworthy person.A youth with a decency orientation describes the situation this way:

Here go another thing.If you outside, right, and your mom's on welfare and she on crack, the persons you trying to be with dress [in] like purple sweatpants and white sneaks, but it's all decent, right, and you got on some bummy jeans and a pair of dull sneaks, they won't-some of the people out there selling drugs won't let you hang with them unless you dress like [in] purple sweatpants and decent sneaks every day ...

They tease 'em.First they'll tease 'em and then they'll try to say they stink, like they smell like pig or something like that, and then they'll be like, "Get out of here.Get out.We don't want you near us.You stink.You dirty."All that stuff.And I don't think that's right.If he's young, it ain't his fault or her fault that she dressin' like that.It's her mother and her dad's fault.

To be allowed to hang with certain prestigious crowds, a boy must wear a different set of expensive clothes every day.Not to do so might make him appear socially deficient.So he may come to covet such items-especially when he spots easy prey wearing them.The youth continues,

You can even get hurt off your own clothes.Like, say I'm walkin' down the street and somebody try to take my hat from me and I won't let 'em take it and they got a gun.You can get killed over one little simple hat.Or if I got a gold ring and a gold necklace on and they see me one dark night on a dark street, and they stick me up and I won't let 'em, and they shoot me.I'm dead and they hid me.I'm dead and won't nobody ever know [who did it].

In acquiring valued things, therefore, an individual shores up his or her identity-but since it is an identity based on having something, it is highly precarious.This very precariousness gives a heightened sense of urgency to staying even with peers, with whom the person is actually competing.Young men and women who can command respect through their presentation of self-by allowing their posses­sions and body language to speak for them-may not have to cam­paign for regard but may, rather, gain it by the force of their manner.Those who are unable to command respect in this way must actively campaign for it.4

One way to campaign for status is to take the possessions of others.

Seemingly ordinary objects can become trophies with symbolic value that far exceeds their monetary worth.Possessing the trophy can symbolize the ability to violate somebody-to "get in his face," to dis him-and thus to enhance one's own worth by stealing someone else's.The trophy does not have to be something material.It can be another person's sense of honor, snatched away with a derogatory remark.It can be the outcome of a fight.It can be the imposition of a certain standard, such as a girl getting herself recognized as the most beautiful.Material things, however, fit easily into the pattern: sneakers, a pistol, even somebody else's girlfriend can become a tro­phy.When a person can take something from another and then flaunt it, he gains a certain regard by being the owner, or the controller, of that thing.But this display of ownership can then provoke a challenge from other people.This game of who controls what is thus constantly being played out on inner-city streets, and the trophy-extrinsic or intrinsic, tangible or intangible-identifies the current winner.

In this often violent give-and-take, raising oneself up largely depends on putting someone else down.The level of jealousy and envy underscores the alienation that permeates the inner city.There is a general sense that very little respect is to be had, and therefore everyone competes to get what affirmation he can from what is avail­able.The resulting craving for respect gives people thin skins and short fuses.Shows of deference by others can be highly soothing, contributing to a sense of security, comfort, self-confidence, and self­respect.Unanswered transgressions diminish these feelings and are believed to encourage further transgressions.Constant vigilance is therefore required against even giving the impression that transgres­sions will be tolerated.Among young people, whose sense of self-esteem is particularly vulnerable, there is an especially heightened concern about being disrespected.Many ilnner-city young men in particular crave respect to such a degree thai they will risk their lives to attain and maintain it.

As was noted above, the issue of respect is thus closely tied to whether a person has an inclination to be violent, even as a victim.In the wider society, particularly among the middle class, people may not feel required to retaliate physically after an attack, although they are well aware that they have been degraded or taken advantage of.They may feel a great need to defend themselves during an attack, or to behave in a way that deters aggression, but they are much more likely than street-oriented people to feel that they can walk away from a possible altercation with their self-esteem intact.Some people,may even have the strength of character to flee without thinking that their self-respect will be diminished.

In impoverished inner-city black communities, however, particu­larly among young males and perhaps increasingly among females, such flight would be extremely difficult.To run away would likely leave one's self-esteem in tatters, while inviting further disrespect.Therefore, people often feel constrained not only to stand up and at least attempt to resist during an assault but also to "pay back" -to seek revenge-after a successful assault on their person.Revenge may include going to get a weapon or even getting relatives and friends involved.Their very identity, their self-respect, and their honor are often intricately tied up with the way they perform on the streets during and after such encounters.And it is this identity, including a credible reputation for payback, or vengeance, that is strongly believed to deter future assaults.


In Philadelphia as in other urban areas, young people especially become associated with the parts of the city, including streets and blocks, from which they come, gaining reputations based on the "character" of such areas.People are likely to assume that a person who comes from a "bad" area is bad.5 The reputation of the neigh­borhood affects the reputation of the school, particularly the high school, that the youth attends.The school's reputation is shaped by its history, including the records of its sports teams, the achievements of its students, the levels of violence and of entrenched and persistent poverty associated with the area, and the number of staging areas in and around it.

Staging areas are hangouts where a wide mix of people gather for various reasons.It is here that campaigns for respect are most often waged.Three types of staging areas can be distinguished.One is quite local, revolving around neighborhood establishments such as carry­outs, liquor stores, and bars.The staging area might be inside, on a street comer outside, or at a house party with little or no adult super­vision, where alcohol and drugs are available.The second type is a business strip whose stores cater to street-oriented working-class and poor people.Buzzing with activity, it draws people from a larger area.The third type-multiplex theaters, sporting events, and concerts­brings together large crowds from throughout the city.Such areas are the most volatile, especially at places such as roller-skating rinks or dances where there is music, alcohol, drugs, and rough crowds of young people inclined to "act out" what they have seen or heard others do.

People from other neighborhoods who come to a staging area and present themselves are said to be "representing" both who they are and the "world" or " 'hood" from which they hail.To represent is to place one's area of the city on the line, to say to outsiders, "Hey, this is what's to me [what I am made of] and my neighborhood," com­pared with other neighborhoods of the city.For the boldest young people, it is to put oneself on the line, in effect, to put a chip on one's shoulder and dare others to knock it off.It is to wage a campaign for respect, but with the added elements of dare and challenge.There are often enough young people in the staging area to provide the critical mass of negative energy necessary to spark violence, not just against people like themselves but also against others present in the staging area, creating a flashpoint for violence.At sporting events (where a school's prestige can be on the line) and at other public events like movies at the multiplex, some people are looking for a fight, making the place something of a tinderbox.

In representing, material goods play an important and complicated role in establishing self-image.Youths typically place a high premium on eyewear, leather jackets, expensive sneakers, and other items that take on significance as status symbols.An impoverished inner-city youth who can acquire these material things is able to feel big and impress others, but these others may then attempt to relieve him of his property in order to feel big themselves and impress still others.The wise youths of the neighborhood understand that it is better not to opt for the more expensive items, because they realize that by doing so they make themselves into targets for theft and robbery.But for those who go for bad the staging area is a place to show off, to represent, even to dare someone to mess with you.Just visiting the staging area can be quite satisfying, and risky.The person goes to the "block" or the staging area to see what is the latest trend, what is happening, who is doing what with whom, or who did what to whom, and when.

But the staging area is also a densely populated place where young people hang out and look to meet members of the opposite sex.Here young men and women out to be "with it" or "hip" smoke cigarettes or drink "forties" or other alcoholic beverages, or perhaps they are there to get high on "blunts" (drug-laced cigars).As people represent, their demeanor may serve as a kind of dare.Young men may taunt others by joking with them, saying directly, "Now, start something!" as though they are ready for anything.At an event with large crowds from all around the city, heterogeneous groups vie for social position.People can become touchy, and a fight can start over seemingly minor incidents, but what happens is anything but minor, because an injury or death may result, rearranging the social order of the group and setting the stage for payback-inspired feuds.With so much at stake a man, or a woman, can easily feel disrespected by another who looks at him for "too long" or simply by being cut off in the concession line.Such a "cut," which might also be viewed as an advance at some­one's girl- or boyfriend, may be taken as a "statement."Challenging the statement creates a "beef," and a confrontation can erupt.As the situation deteriorates, it may be very difficult for either party to back down, particularly if members of an audience are present who have, or are understood to have, a significant social investment in who and what each participant pretends to be.

The fight over the beef can begin within the confines of the mul­tiplex or athletic event, first with words that can quickly escalate into shouting, name-calling, or fisticuffs.A peace officer or security guard is usually there, or is sent for, to break up the altercation.Bystanders may also try to break it up, but this is becoming increasingly rare, as people assume that a fight in a public place is likely to erupt into warfare with guns or knives; a stranger trying to intervene may be risking his or her life, and most people will not do so unless they are very sure of themselves or have a stake in the outcome.

If violence occurs, matters are not always settled on the spot.If one person gets the better of the other, there often must be a pay­back.Everybody knows this, and certain people may wait.Mainly for protection, young people who attend such events may carry "equalizers" or "shit"-firearms or other weapons-but because of security, only the boldest will try to enter the event armed.Most people will leave their shit in the trunk of the car, or hidden in accessible bushes or a trash can, to be retrieved if the need arises.A young man with a publicly known beef will feel there is a chance that he will have to go get his shit.For this to happen, the young man's life does not always have to be in danger; pride, how he feels about his homies, low feelings, or having gotten the bad end of an altercation may be enough for him to prepare to settle things or to try to avenge the offense.So after the security guard or others have stopped the fight, the participants may want to take it outside, where their shit is, and where there is a lot less security.While the staging areas of the city are often tlhe places where beefs sponta­neously develop and fights to settle them occur, the code itself ger­minates, emerges, and grows on the streets, in the alleys, and on the playgrounds of the inner-city neighborhood, where in the interests of social survival small children begin early in life their campaign for respect.6


Tyree is a young black man of fifteen, a high school student, and his story illustrates the intricacy of the rules of the code.Until recently, he lived in a poor section of South Philadelphia with his mother, Rose, a nurse's aide at a local hospital.Then their house burned down, and they lost much of what they owned.Tyree never knew his father, but his mother has had a number of boyfriends who have served as a male presence in his life.These men have come and gone, leaving a bit of themselves here and there.He has known Richard, a man who worked as a security guard;Reece, a parking lot attendant who sold drugs on the side; and Mike, who worked as a janitor at the hospital.Mike continues to come around, and at this point he is Tyree's mom's "main squeeze," the man with whom she keeps com­pany the most.Tyree likes Mike the best.Mike has taken Tyree to Eagles games in the fall and Seventy-sixers games in the winter.Steady and decent, Mike has been most like a real father to Tyree.

After the fire Tyree and Rose moved in with his grandmother, who lives in Southwest Philadelphia, one of the most distressed neigh­borhoods in the city.Along Fifty-eighth in Southwest, a local staging area, small groups of teenage boys hang out, talking, milling, and passing the time.On the side of a dilapidated building is a graffiti memorial reading, "Barry, we love you, RIP."Particularly at night, prostitutes hustle their wares on the corners.A drug dealer hangs near the pay telephone, standing there as though this is his corner, which for all intents and purposes it is.Public, open-air drug mar­keting goes on here-in broad daylight or at night.Buyers, some with out-of-town license plates, stop their cars, seeming not to care who might be looking on.Some are white, others are black, but they have one thing in mind-to "cop" their drugs and go on about their business.

Drug dealing is big business here.The trade is carried out in pub­lic, but also in the homes of certain proprietors, who charge dealers to sell in the house and rent rooms to whores or johns who want to get "tightened up."There are also crack houses, where people simply go to buy or smoke their drugs.The neighbors are aware of this situation, but they are often demoralized, feeling there is little they can do about it.They sometimes call the police, but the police require proof that the place is what the neighbors know it to be.But such proof is not easy for the police to gather.It is sometimes easier, though frustrating, for the residents simply to "see but don't see," trying their best to ignore what is much more than a nuisance.

This is the neighborhood Tyree has moved into, and he has been here only a few days.His major concern at this point in his young life is "to get cool" with the boys who run the neighborhood.He refers to these boys as "bols."He refuses to call them boys.Part of this may have to do with the fact that for so long the term "boy" was so demeaning that young black men replaced the term with one con­sidered to be "cool" from the standpoint of the code.At any rate, Tyree says "boIs," spelling it "b-o-l-s" and pronouncing it "bulls."A particular meaning of the term is "friend."On the streets of his new neighborhood, Tyree's biggest problem now is to get cool with these bols.

What does that entail?Here, as in almost any working-class to impoverished inner-city neighborhood, the boIs are known to run the neighborhood.Tyree understands what the deal is.He used to run with the boIs from his old neighborhood, where he himself was in charge, where he had established himself as a main bol of the neighborhood.The task before him now is to get to know the new boIs-but also to allow them to get to know him.They must be able to take his "measure" up close, to see what he will or will not stand in his dealings with others, how much nerve and heart he possesses, whether he will defend what he claims is his.Tyree has a general idea of what he has to do here to survive or to have any semblance of a decent existence.

On Saturday, while his mom is at work, Tyree's grandmom quite innocently asks him to run to the store for her.

"Yeah, Grandmom.What you want?"

"I need a loaf of bread and a quart of milk."

Tyree dutifully takes the money and heads out the door.It is two o'clock on a nice, sunny afternoon.He leaves the house and begins to walk up the street toward the store.He can't help being somewhat tense, given his familiarity with the code of the street.He knows that eventually he will encounter the bols.And sure enough, after about five minutes, he spies about twenty boIs walking up the street toward him.He sees them, and they see him.Their eyes meet.It is too late to turn back, for that would mean he would lose face, that he had acted scared, and his sense of manhood will not allow him to do that.He must face this situation.

As he approaches the bols, he feels himself tensing up even more, but he continues.As they come face-to-face, they stop and begin to talk.He knows they want to know what his business is.What is he doing here?Where does he come from?What gang is he from?Even before the questions are fully asked, Tyree tries to respond, "Well, uh, my grandmom, uh ... " But the boIs do not really want an answer.They want to roll on him (beat him up).Before he realizes it, the bols begin to punch him out, allowing most of the group to "get a piece."One boy punches-then another and another.

It is important to understand that these are almost ritual punches, with "good licks" and some kicking, pushing, and slapping "upside the head."Soon Tyree loses his balance and falls to the ground." [This] really scared me," he said.FaIling in such a fight is very risky, for then the worst can happen: someone "could really get messed up."There is an important distinction between rolling on someone and messing someone up.To roll is simply to take advantage of some­one, to act as the aggressor in the fight.To mess someone up is actually to hurt him physically to the point where blood is spilled and he might have to go to the hospital.In this instance, the bols are not out to mess Tyree up.

The bols leave Tyree lying on the ground in a fetal position.As they move away, they smirk and say things like, "Who do he think he is?" and "We showed the motherfucker, think he gon' come up in here bigger than shit!"Tyree is bruised and hurt, but his pride is hurt much more than his body.For Tyree is a man, and it is extremely important not to let people do this to you.But there was really little that he could do to prevent this.He has been rolled on and utterly dissed.He is very angry, but also sad and dejected.He knows that they could have seriously hurt him.They wanted to put something on his mind, to show him whose turf this is.And Tyree understands the profound meaning of this incident, for he understands the code and has himself lived by it.

Tyree picks himself up and, without completing his errand, walks back to his grandmom's' house with his head down.He is angry, for

he has been violated.When he arrives at his grandmom's house, she says, "Where you been?Where are the groceries?"He mumbles a reply and goes to sit on the living room stairs and peer out the win­dow."What's wrong, boy?" she asks.

"Aw, nothin'," he says.

"Wha-you been fightin'?" she presses.With this, he mumbles, "I met some boIs.""You hurt!?I'll call the police!" she exclaims."Naw, don't call the police."

"But you hurt."

"Don't call no police, I'll take care of it myself," he pleads.


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