NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 123

In November , I meet with the principal , Ms . Luciano , in her office . We sit at the conference table that is too big for the room . We are pressed against the wall , pressed into the edge of the wood . It is hard to say who is more nervous . She is in her mid-thirties . Her hair is mussed , as though she didn ’ t have time to comb it that morning . Her skin is pale . There are dark circles under her eyes . She is wearing a tight brown skirt and grey high heels covered in silver sequins . She looks young and uncertain . In a shaky voice , I tell her what I know . She keeps interrupting me with questions . Who said what ? When ? Why ? Finally , I say , “ Wait a minute , I took notes .” I go downstairs to my room and get them . When I return her demeanor has changed . I read from them slowly .
“ I apologize . I didn ’ t take down names ,” I say . “ I just wrote what they said he did to them .”
“ What did he do ?” she asked .
“ The boys said he punched them in the chest and the stomach . He slammed one of them against a wall and then down on his back . Another said he poked them in the face , pulled their hair and twisted their ears .”
“ People call us ‘ Cumbaya ’ but we ’ re not ,” she says . “ We care about the children . There is a difference between touching a child and hurting a child . We don ’ t believe in hurting children .” Gently , she reminds me that next week she will be visiting my room for an observation .
For months , nothing . Mr . Abdullah stops speaking to me . He stops answering my calls for help . He glares at me from across the cafeteria in the mornings . I know he knows , but I pretend that he doesn ’ t . The school ’ s violence ebbs and flows . The air changes before a fight . The tension starts in the morning , picks up speed collecting minor irritations , disturbances , absorbs all of our discontent , and is finally released through our conduits who face off and free us from our collective shame , the embarrassment of our failures , the constant ridicule delivered by students and teachers alike . I am shocked by the messiness , the sloppiness of the swinging fists . The perpetrators , the boys , almost always weep afterwards , their thin limbs shuddering . On more than one occasion , I watch our Academic Coordinator , a tall , young white man , wrap his arms around them , hold them close , and hush them like frightened newborns . “ It ’ s alright ,” he chants in their ears . “ It ’ s alright now .” During our parent-teacher conference in March , Mrs . Wooden , Ishmael ’ s mother , sits in front of me with her son beside her .
He is proud of his grades . They show modest improvement . He clutches his report card and reads from a prepared script . At first she keeps her hand over the wound , a two by three inch gash on her jaw , a patch of exposed maroon skin . I try to imagine what could have inflicted it and settle on a shoe , either the toe or the heel . Most likely the heel . As the conference progresses and it becomes clear I won ’ t ask her about it , her hand falls away , and she takes small , furtive looks at her son . When I speak , her head ducks down , she murmurs sounds of affirmation , as though urging me along , as though even my gentle attention is too much to bear , as though it is best , safest to go unnoticed . She nods , glances up , only to look away . As they leave the school , Mr . Wooden who has joined them for the reception threatens to beat Ishmael for his poor grades .
At the end of March , I comment again to my advisees how little has changed , and they mention again that Abdullah has been hitting them ; only now the blows are mixed with threats .
“ If I say anything else , he says he ’ s going to punch me in the chest and send me to the hospital ,” Ishmael says .
“ What ?” I ask .