Thursday, April 21, 2011

My name keeps fucking up my whiteness

Scully & I were chatting about the events of the day and I said "but *I am* white for all intents & purposes. Its just that my name keeps fucking up my whiteness." She insisted that was the title of my next blogpost and here we are.

It seems like too much to explain but the boat now tips towards public school rather than homeschool. So she is enrolled for the fall. I have filled out the piles of paperwork to document her age & existence.

Then I get a phone call from the school district. They want Khubz to come in for a language assessment to see if she speaks english.
Yep. English.

Of course we think first of her race and name. In defense of the school district I did fill out a form that indicates I speak English, Scully speaks English and Spanish and Khubz speaks English with some receptive Spanish. So, in their defense, the word "Spanish" did appear on the language survey.

I get a call from a woman and she starts by saying "oh. you sound like you speak very good english." Thanks, I reply. I would be pretty lost without it as it is the *only* language I speak. She tells me that because I indicated another language exists in our home (beyond what is spoken by Dora the Explorer) we need to come in for an assessment.

It was a little funny. No, really. She's English speaking. I don't want to waste your time. Really.

But she insisted that we have to do an assessment simply because the wheels were in motion. Then it was less funny but still frivolous. So we set up a time to drop by the school so Khubz could speak.

Thumper is hanging out with Grandma. Khubz and I head off to the school. She is awed by the big-ness of the big-kid school. Awed into silence.
I am not kidding. Absolute & total silence.

The assessment starts with some challenging questions.
"what is your name?"
Khubz looks at me.
Can you tell them your name? I prod her. She shrugs. I look at her. Then she replies in her most heavily accented "G**********" ever. Then I ask her which nickname she prefers, Khubz or Khubzita. "KhubzITA" she offers, also in her best accent.

And that was pretty much it.

They'd show her a picture of a foot and ask what is it.
"foot" she'd mutter without moving her lips or looking at them.
"Can you use it in a sentence,honey? Can you say 'this is a foot'?" the woman asked.
"foot." she replied.

At some point (in about the first 3 minutes) she wouldn't even look at the woman. She turned to me, pulled my skirt around her and hid. Every once in a while she would make eye contact with me. The woman would try to engage her and Khubz would look up at me and say (in her best 2 year old voice) "mmmmommmmy!"

They started talking to me about ESL classes. I am not kidding.

Of course I support ESL and she would likely have met some fabulous friends and maybe her spanish would have even improved. (as might her Croatian, Swedish and Urdu--this university attracts a lot of international students due to a low cost of living.) But she speaks English.

I also never envisioned myself having to defend my kid's english. It is super weird to say "she speaks fluent english! put her in her proper place!!" But at the end of the day it is more weird to have my english-speaking child in an ESL class simply because she is shy and brown.

It was a bit unbelievable. "She is reading! Books! And I read her chapter books--not picture books! She is verbose, for fuck's sake!"

It was a good try on our part. Trying to sneak her in with the mainstream kids. But like a dash of coffee in the milk they spotted her right away.

She walked out of the school grinning at me like she was a little uncomfortable and a little giddy to see what I might do to her. As we left the building we spotted the library's bookmobile. "Look, Mom, the bookmobile! Can we please go borrow a book? I'll get one for Thumper too so he doesn't feel left out."

I stared at her. Sure, honey. Go ahead into the bookmobile. I'm going to stay out here and set myself on fire but I'll see you in a few minutes.

The next day the woman came by our house to attempt another assessment. We were in the middle of reading a book (in english.) Khubz introduced everyone (grandma, baby V, Maj and Thumper--all speaking english with a thick iowa accent.) She chatted about nocturnal creatures, whether or not they were primarily carnivorous, what kinds of magic school bus books we've read that explored these ideas. . .

To her credit, this woman seemed apologetic. The administration, she told me, said they had to go with the data they had. They could not take my word for it that my daughter speaks english, I could not fill out another form. So she simply wrote down every word Khubz said in the 10 minute visit. That was apparently enough to make her hand cramp up. She seemed to think this new data would be enough to get Khubz placed correctly.

Some of it was funny--because I know my kid speaks english and *a lot* of english

Some of it was creepy--because I'm sure in a parallel life my daughter "Betty Cathers" would not have garnered such attention
Some of it was sad--seeing Khubz get so small and shrink into the floor when the woman was speaking to her in Spanish especially. It made me want to scoop her up and yell "SO WHAT?! SHE DOESN'T SPEAK ARABIC AND NEITHER DO I BUT IT DOESN'T MAKE HER LESS WHO SHE IS! FUCK OFF ALREADY! AND I **DO** KNOW HOW TO SAY THAT IN ARABIC!". . . .ooooh. we're talking about me again. (uncomfortable grimace.) how did that happen exactly?

Some of it was just Khubz through and through. She is determined and stubborn and willful and enormously powerful when it comes to her own labor. She is self-possessed. And (at the risk of fucking up my whiteness even more) I would like to add a masha'allah.