NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 125

“ That ’ s not true ,” I say , harnessing the light above me , facing him head on . “ Over the summer , we talked about Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie .” I leave out the part where he said he was concerned his colleagues wouldn ’ t understand his “ methods .”
“ You ’ re trying to take the food from my children ’ s mouths .”
I make a silly sound in the back of my throat , faking incredulity , innocence . I try to appeal to the principal . She sits between us , her marbled notebook opened to a blank page . He knows . I don ’ t know how he knows ; but he knows . I drop all pretense .
“ I ’ m a mandatory reporter . I didn ’ t really know what to do or how to handle this . But I was told I had to report you ,” I say .
He straightens a bit , as though my honesty has injected him with a spine .
“ I ’ ve heard some things about you . About a roll of paper towels and you and Josiah .”
“ Are you serious ?” I ask . Josiah is a seventh grader , about half a foot taller than me . He has a round , smooth face and a deadpan delivery , dry to the bone . When I get angry at him for talking in class he says , “ You know you love me , Miss . I ’ m one of a kind .” And he ’ s right . I can ’ t stay mad at him . After class , I pretended to beat him up with a roll of paper towels ; then spread it around the school that I was the victor . The students looked at me , as though I was crazy . I was the one African-American teacher without any street credibility , the smell of suburban grass still clinging to me . I ’ d even brought in a picture of the private school I ’ d attended . I don ’ t know what compelled me to do it , one of those stupid first year mistakes , an attempt to make myself more “ known ” to my students .
“ You see what he is trying to do ?” I ask the principal .
“ Look ,” he begins again , his body lowered back into its defensive posture . “ I ’ m not trying to flip the script here . I ’ m just saying from here on out , you should watch yourself . Because I ’ m certainly going to be watching you .”
“ Is that a threat ? I ’ d like the record to show that I ’ m taking that as a threat .” I nod towards the principal ’ s blank page . He rears back in his chair , all waving hands . The principal apologizes for not bringing us together sooner . It turns out Abdullah had requested a meeting months before . A wounded expression crosses his face , and I am puzzled . For the first time , I am aware that there are powers greater than me in the workplace who could have orchestrated events to a different end . But the principal is still talking , describing a need for professionalism . I tune her out . The violence or even the threat of violence creates a hierarchy . By confronting Abdullah , I ’ ve disturbed the natural order of things , supplanted his place at the head of the table , or in the language of the streets , “ punked him .” He knows this , and I know this . It ’ s the unspoken truth between us . It is the thing that he can ’ t articulate , but it is the thing he knows should warrant an apology . There should be consequences , but there are none , because the language of the streets , its code of conduct , doesn ’ t matter in the workplace , only the administrator ’ s rules and the need for professionalism . I do apologize but not to him . I make matters worse by apologizing to the principal .
“ Why are you apologizing to her ?” he asks .