Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

samedi 28 octobre 2006

Elitism, Deafhood & the Current Protest

This is the first time I’ve signed into my Blogger account since early this month. There is so much I want to talk about, because so much has happened in the last two months. But those posts will have to remain simply nuggets and partially-written snippets in a word processing file for the time being. On to the topic.

As we all know, the Deaf community is in the midst of an uproar because of what is happening on a 99-acre college campus in the northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. My heart, mind, and soul have been consumed by this situation. I’m so heartbroken by what is occurring at my beloved alma mater that no words can describe what I’m feeling.

There is so much I could say about the Gallaudet protest, so much of what I am thinking and feeling, that I could probably write a rather weighty tome. But right now my thoughts are focused on one question: Why are we in this situation? There are many auxiliary questions, such as: Are they hiding something? Why aren’t faculty members and staff members handing over evidence I KNOW for a fact that is there to the media? Why cannot some people see that this is not a bunch of kids whining that they didn’t get their way? Why do some people insist on believing the lies that the Gallaudet PR machine is spewing left and right? What is keeping Fernandes going like the Energizer Bunny? Why is Jordan willing to destroy his legacy to support a woman that has alienated most of her constitutency? Why are people on the Board of Trustees not openly breaking away from the party line? Etc, etc. However, one auxiliary question to “Why are we in this situation” that seems very important and that requires closer examination is the “not deaf enough” issue.

Confession: I would very much like to swat the student who first said this protest is about JK’s not being deaf enough. Now that I’ve confessed that, I must note that I’m furious with Jordan, Fernandes, and the PR machine for perpetuating this fallacy.

But is it truly a fallacy? Yes and no. The truth is that there is a small number of people who would have been dissatisfied with this selection because of a pre conceived notion about what a deaf person is. Some of these people may have initiated a protest. But this protest is about so much more than that. This protest is about a questionable search process and about the inappropriate selection of a person who has proved time after time that she is incapable of leading a group of people. It is about the marginalization of the most important people on a college campus; namely, the students and faculty, and to a smaller extent, the staff members and the alumni. It is about administrative mismanagement and manipulation to the point that there are questions about Gallaudet’s accounting and where people are working and living in a climate of palapable fear. However, there is a kernel of truth to the “not deaf enough” card.

This is where elitism and Deafhood come in. One key idea posited in the book is that deaf people have been colonized. I talked about this in one of my posts on the NAD conference, and I've copied and pasted the relevant passage, shown here in italics.

The Deafhood workshops were amazing. The first one encapsulated the concept and previewed what the next three would cover. The second one, presented by Ella Mae Lentz, focused on the language aspect of Deafhood. A brief history lesson occurred first, focusing on European colonization and how they subjugated native peoples. The colonists (called missioners in the book) systematically destroyed governing systems, traditions, ways of life, and banned native languages. They installed white governments and forced the children to go to white schools and be educated in the colonists’ language, to learn the values and traditions of the colonists, and so forth. Eventually the colonists installed native people that were best able to speak their language and function much like the colonists in positions of power. These native people became the force which kept the natives subjugated. Paddy Ladd’s book posits that this is what has happened to deaf people. Oralists colonized us too by destroying our education systems, outlawing our language, and forcing us to use their language. Our values and traditions were discarded in favor of hearing mores. As a result, we have been divided and we act against each other. We even argue about our identity amongst ourselves. We disagree about the best way to educate our youth. Many of us genuinely believe that those who can speak are lucky, those who have some hearing are lucky, and that English is superior to ASL. Many of us gladly participate in our own oppression. This is known as colonialism of the mind, because our hearts, minds, and souls have been colonized to the point where many of us believe English is superior, we need to worry about fitting in with hearing people, and to speak and hear is better than not to speak and hear. This is a powerful and mind blowing concept, and I was glad of the reminder. The workshop made me think of how sick and tired I am of the phrase “can’t hear.” I’ve been railing against that phrase for years because “can’t hear” implies that hearing is an ability or a skill. Granted, in some contexts, it is. But we deaf people cannot practice and practice to develop a greater ability to hear. Our being deaf is simply a state of being. I’ve been advocating changing from “can’t hear” to “don’t hear” and changing “can hear” to simply “hear,” because language and perception are inextricably entwined. Genie Gertz focused on identity related to deafhood and David Eberwein focused on the politics of deafhood. Somewhere in there, the phrase “deficit thinking” was discussed. It is basically the idea that deaf people lack something; that we are flawed. This is an example of how thoroughly we have been colonized. For example, (the following is simply my own musings) we often say “hearing loss,” which is predicated upon the assumption that hearing is special and valuable. Is it? Well, depends on your paradigm, really. There are so many unpleasant sounds that hearing people are subjected to on a daily basis. I know I hear a lot that I really would rather not have to put up with. (back to the workshops) A few links that discuss the Deafhood workshops are NAD's, Ridor's, and Sandman's. It remains to be seen how much impact these workshops have on the general discourse, if they clear up the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that have circulated in the past few months, and if they help heal the damage that the Gallaudet situation has wrought on the community, but I believe they will go a long way.

The most important result of being colonized is that we have been set against each other. We tear each other down. We pull each other apart. This is exactly what is happening, as we debate the protest. There is a kernel of truth to the “not deaf enough card,” but by and large it is a fallacy, seized upon by the administration and parroted in every single public relations move the administration makes.

This is exactly why I, and many others, have called for elitism and acting superior to end. As we all know, some people who speak exclude those who don’t speak, some who went to deaf schools exclude those who didn’t, and so on. All of us need to stop it, as I discussed in length in this post. We all play a role in this and our individual actions are more powerful than we know. Some of us, myself included, already practice collectivism and acceptance of all types of backgrounds, and I strongly urge those who don’t to begin doing so. It’s amazing the types of people one meets, once one is open to others. This is why I love Deafhood. It promises to unify us all, if we can stop our infighting and examine the history of our own colonization then unify to defeat colonialism. We have begun the necessary dialogue about how to bring us all together. Let’s continue this dialogue, all of us, without resorting to personal attacks, no matter what happens at the Board of Trustees meeting tomorrow.


  • At 19:58, Anonymous Dianrez said…

    Moi, down with elitism!!! I agree completely and would like to add you to my regular correspondent list. Drop me a line,

  • At 20:00, Blogger Jamie said…

    It was not a student who first said "not deaf enough." It all started with Fernandes herself. I had done a search and analysis of the origins of not deaf enough.

  • At 20:15, Anonymous Brian Riley said…

    It was not a student who originated the "not deaf enough" ploy. It was plucked from a book by Gallaudet sociology professor John Christiansen called "Deaf President Now"--

    Jordan cooperated with this book, and you can assume of course that he read it and knew about the "not deaf enough" idea that the book discussed as being used against him in 1988.

  • At 20:41, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    I often wonder if we had selected Ron Stern, would this protest be about flawed process? I doubt it since it was the People of Color organization who barked in the beginning. If Ron Stern had been selected, this protest would never had happened regardless. Jane K Fernandes would still be provost since she is tenured if she was not selected to be president designated? Just my 2 cents worth to your discussion.

  • At 23:25, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    wow! Good post, and angree with you, Moi, let's all work together...its time.

    this whole thing has reunite so many of us all over the world. Time to put aside differences and personal opinions and aim for the bigger picture...

    Thanks for sharing. :-)

  • At 23:38, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Well, this is a hard subject for me to deal with.

    At first during my middle/high school years, I fought hard to be "hearing" as much as I could. I achieved that, but it was at the expense of loosing my friends who weren't able to hear/speak well as I did. Also this was at an expense of "still" not accepted by the hearing people.

    Ironically, when I attended MSSD during my last two years, I was heavily rejected because of my PSE upbringing. I fought hard to be accept espeically in the elite group. Eventually my persistance paid off and I got in the elitism group. You can imagine how horrified I was with what I saw. I had hard time dealing with the elitism people complaining about being oppressed by the hearing and yet those same people would oppress/reject those who are deaf -AND- are not able to sign fluently. With this kind of feeling, I did not realize this til many years later (like 15 years too late). I wonder why it took me so long to acknowledge how I felt. Perhaps its because I want to "feel" the sense of belonging with the Deaf.

    Ever since my days at MSSD and Gallaudet (early 1990s), Ive been pretty much turning my back with the Deaf. Yet, I still struggle with my comfort with my own people, the Deaf. To this day, I still choose not to interact with the deaf as much as possible, with an exception of my old friends whom I visit every now and then. Yet, I still struggle with how I feel regarding the Deafhood. I strongly feel good to be with the Deaf, but apparently Im not ever healed by the scars Ive been hurt with what I saw with the elitism. Oh yes, Im definitly guilty of that, myself as well. I wonder what I could do to heal this scar I have. It feels like this:

    Sudden Implosion
    of Silence Emotion
    Buried Underneath
    The Scared Heart
    For too Long
    My apocolaypse is near
    I can feel the End is coming near.

    My point is this: I really want to heal my scar and be able to go back with my people, the Deaf.


    MSSD 1991

  • At 00:01, Blogger moi said…

    Everyone, thanks for the comments! I appreciate your sharing your thoughts!

    Jamie and Brian, I've been told directly by an eyewitness that at least one student was very vocal about "she's not deaf enough" within an hour after people had walked out of the auditorium where Celia May Baldwin announced Fernandes' selection. I agree with your analysis, Jamie, that Fernandes was the first to say it and have it be printed by the media. Since I was not there, I acknowledge the possibility that a student never said it. But I think we three all agree that Fernandes picked it up and has continued to emphasize it, regardless of who started it. Whomever said it first, that's who I'd like to swat! *smile*

    Anonymous #1, I've often wondered about what would have happened if Stern or Weiner had been selected. I thank the people of color for pointing out that the process was flawed in the spring. That's a whole other discussion, and that's a very good question.

    dianrez and anonymous #2, thanks. *smile* I'm loving DeafBlogLand because of the ability to have this type of dialogue, much more than ever before.

    dianrez, I'd like to know more about the regular correspondent list. I'm flattered. Thank you!

    anonymous #3, wow. What a story. The sad thing is that you aren't alone in having this type of experience, and that bugs me. Deafhood isn't about "it feels good to be deaf." It's more about looking at our history, recognizing that we have been divided, being honest about what we do to each other (like you described), and realizing the best way to regain what we've lost is to not give in to colonialism by attacking or belittling other deaf people just because they've had different experiences from us. Your story was very moving. Thank you for sharing, and I hope you will eventually feel comfortable coming back to us and that you will find us more welcoming than you did before.

  • At 08:52, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Nice article, and thank you. It highlights many of the problems I've encountered.

    I'm a "solitary" which is to say, mainstreamed and never in contact with any other deaf people. I am extremely lucky, I think, that I did alright with oralist teaching -- I can't imagine what might have happened otherwise -- how do you learn ASL if you are not in contact with anyone else at all?

    The older I get, the more this kind of isolation appalls me, but that's done with. At this point, I'm hoping to learn some ASL at a community college near me, but the fact is I still don't know other deaf people. I happened to pick up on this protest and in following it, have been extremely disenheartened by what many folks have said in asides about deaf who don't sign. What kind of "choice" is it for a child who literally knows no one else who signs?

    In any case, I am looking forward to learning ASL, but apprehensive of rejection for not signing well enough, for being able to speak, for having HA and so on.

    Anyway, I appreciate your blog and will be following its rss feed.


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