I went to a crummy (sorry if you went there) city High School in the Bronx where the white kids were generally knocked around by the two larger groups, the blacks and the Puerto Ricans. In those days, political correctness hadn’t shown it’s face yet.
The school was divided into three distinct groups: blacks, Puerto Ricans, and about 10% white. So when I look at this homogeneous image it makes me wonder what my world would have looked like had I attended a prep school. I was lucky, because in my second year I became friendly with two black guys that were in the school band (I played trombone).
There were semi-official days, like – get Whitey Day. How we knew it was coming, I don’t know, but everyone knew about it, and we always figured out a way to stay away on that day. Towards the end of my days there, I was caught by a small gang of Puerto Rican kids that had me down on the ground and were taking turns smacking me in the face. It looked like curtains – until I saw – out of the corner of my eye – one of my black pals (we had become close friends) from the band – and there were a lot more of them then Puerto Ricans – and my friend yelled out, Hey – they got Beckerman.
He lead them into the fracas and it turned into an all out war. Nobody won or lost, but without their help I would have been badly hurt. As it is – my nose was bent to the right ever since that day.
You know, as I look back on those days now, I realize that I was actually in a preparatory school. It wasn’t preparing me to become a stock broker, or a financial whiz – but was preparing me for the real world in New York. I emerged from this racial whirlpool of hatred and gangs with the ability to judge people based on who they were – not on what they looked like. And somehow, that knowledge could be transfered to people from other races. But if you want to know what life is really like for kids – walk into any lunchroom and look at how kids have grouped themselves. I wonder what it must be like in the prep lunchroom.
I’ll even take this one step further – and say that the ability to read people is a helpful skill for an urban street photographer. If you tossed me out into a rural area, I suspect I’d be right back in that lunchroom.