Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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One of the boys in the back of the class opens his mouth wide and makes a face just like Chuck’s. Then he squeals like a pig.
Everyone laughs. Mrs. Gruber acts like she didn’t notice that, either.
“Hey, this ain’t fair,” another boy says. “Why we gotta have two of ’em in our class? Like one coon’s not bad enough.”
Some of the others grumble in agreement.
“All right, everyone, settle down,” Mrs. Gruber says. She doesn’t even look at the boy who spoke. “Who doesn’t have a book yet?” Chuck and a few other people raise their hands.
I flip open my new textbook. I’ve always liked school. Adults always tell me I’m a bright girl with a good future ahead of me. If I can concentrate on my classwork maybe the white people’s antics won’t bother me so much.
As soon as I open the book I know something’s wrong.
I leaf through to the last chapter to make sure. There’s no doubt. I raise my hand. Then I put it down again. Mrs. Gruber isn’t going to want to help me.
But she saw. She comes to stand right in front of my desk and sighs again, loudly. “Did you want something?”
“No, I—” I start to falter, but I can’t show any weakness in front of these people. I meet Mrs. Gruber’s eyes. “I was curious as to the name of this course.”
One of the white boys laughs. “Nigger shows up, doesn’t even know what class she’s in!”
Another joins in. “Don’t you see the charts on the wall? Can’t you tell a Math class? Ain’t you ever seen numbers before, nigger?”
“As your schedule clearly states, this is Remedial Math 12,” Mrs. Gruber says. Then she turns her back.
“Remedial?” Oh. That’s what the R’s stood for. They were on almost every class on my schedule. Chuck’s, too. They’ve put us in the remedial track.
All the Negroes who came here were in the college prep courses back at Johns. That’s why they picked us to integrate Jefferson. We were supposed to be the best of the best. The kind of students who could handle the white school’s classes and still have enough smarts left over to put up with the rest of it.
I learned how to do the work in this textbook in ninth grade.
I wonder if they put us in these classes because they think we’re stupid or because they wanted to punish us for coming here in the first place. I wonder if my college will still let me in when they see those remedial classes on my transcript.
But I don’t have time to worry about that now. I have a bigger problem.
Everyone in this room heard what I said.
They know I think I’m too smart for Remedial. Smarter than they are.
I am smarter than they are, but that isn’t going to help me now.
The boys start in right away.
“The nigger thinks she’s a genius,” one says. “Look everybody, we’ve got Einstein in our class!”
“Hey, girl, if you too good for Remedial, how ’bout you put your smarts to use and come clean my house?”
“Hey, nigger, can you count this high? Two, four, six, eight, we don’t wanna integrate!”
Mrs. Gruber keeps her eyes on the chalkboard.
It goes on that way for the rest of the period. The boys leave us alone while Mrs. Gruber is talking, but as soon as she looks away they start in on me, and Chuck, too. Mrs. Gruber hears it, but she doesn’t say anything.
I keep looking straight ahead. At first I think I’ll get used to it. Instead, the longer it goes on, the more it stings.
“Those niggers need to be put in their place.”
“What’d they come here for? Don’t they know we don’t want to look at their ugly black faces?”
“I bet they got their nigger tails tucked in under those clothes. Let’s rip ’em out.”
When the bell rings I want to charge out of the classroom. I want to put as much distance between myself and these people as I can.
There’s no use. The white people in the hall won’t be any better. It’ll be worse, in fact, because there will be more of them.
So Chuck and I gather our things and leave with everyone else, ignoring the pushing and shoving until we’re out in the hallway. There, the white people gather around us in a circle to shout names until we’ve separated and made our way to our next classes. Then they follow us down the hall, shouting at us, pushing us, stepping on our heels, jabbing elbows into our sides.
Not much changes the rest of the morning. In every class the students move away from my desk as soon as I sit down. My Typing and History teachers aren’t as bad as Mrs. Gruber, but neither of them makes any effort to make me feel welcome. I come to recognize the look in each of my teachers’ eyes when I walk through their classroom doors. The look that says they wish I’d turn around and walk right back out. I’m making their jobs harder just by being here.
Fourth-period French is different.
The students look the same as ever. Most of them have been in some of my classes already that day. The red-haired girl and her friend Judy are there, sitting on the far side of the room, scowling at me.
As I come in a boy yells, “Ain’t you heard? We don’t care what no nigger-loving judge has to say. We don’t believe in race mixing in this class. So you best turn around and run back to Africa.” The rest of the class move their seats away from mine.
I sit straight in my seat, blinking at the chalkboard, like always. It’s a lucky thing I’m good at pretending.
The teacher, Miss Whitson, comes in as the final bell rings. She stands in the doorway for a long minute, gazing around the classroom. I can’t tell what she’s thinking.
She comes over to my desk and whispers, so low only I can hear, “What’s your name?”
“Sarah Dunbar,” I whisper back.
She makes a note on her roll and goes to the chalkboard. The room is still quiet. Everyone must already know you don’t mess around in Miss Whitson’s class.
“This is French II.” She gives us all a hard look. “I expect you to have the fundamentals of the language down. We’re getting a late start this year and we have a lot of makeup work to do, but I’m not lowering my expectations of how you’ll perform on your end-of-year exams. So if you want to pass you’ll have to work hard.”
Everyone looks worried. Good. If they’re nervous about passing the class maybe they won’t have time to yell at me.
“We’ll start off with a refresher on conversation,” Miss Whitson goes on. “I’ll pair you off. You and your partner will talk about what you did over Christmas. Then you’ll drill each other on the irregular verbs on pages fourteen through eighteen. I’ll be listening closely and grading you on your participation. If I hear one word of English it’s an automatic failure.”
There’s low grumbling from the back of the class. A girl raises her hand. “Miss Whitson?”
“Oui?” Miss Whitson says.
The girl replies in English. “Miss Whitson, you’re not going to pair anyone with her, are you?”
“That’s enough,” Miss Whitson says in French. She begins to read the pairs off from her roll book. “Abner, Baker.”
I suppose it doesn’t matter who I’m paired with. None of these people want anything to do with me. My partner will probably go sit as far from me as he can get, even if it means we both get a failing grade. Maybe Miss Whitson will let me do a makeup assignment instead.
“Campbell, Dunbar,” Miss Whitson says.
I have no idea who “Campbell” is. No one remembers my last name, either, so there’s no reaction until Miss Whitson finishes the list, claps her hands and tells us all to go sit with our partners.
I don’t move. I expect everyone to ignore me. So it’s a surprise when the frizzy-haired girl from this morning puts her books down on the empty desk next to mine.
“You got the nigger, Judy?” a boy says behind us. He’s part of the gang who tried to charge at Chuck in the hall this morning. “You better watch out if you don’t want to get any of that black on you! You don’t want to wind up even uglier than you already are!”
“You leave Judy alone, Bo!” the red-haired girl says. She looks furious.
“Bo Nash!” Miss Whitson says. “You heard me. One more English word out of anyone in this class and it’s an F.”
I keep my gaze fixed straight ahead. What does this girl Judy think she’s doing, sitting down next to me? She moved away from my desk in Math, so I don’t know why she thinks it’s safe to be near me now. Well, whatever she tries to do to me, I won’t give her the satisfaction of reacting.
“Um,” Judy says. “Bonjour?”
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