Two months ago, the Bear Hunt Statue (BHS) was a symbol of 19th century racism. There were multiple layers of racism within and surrounding the Bear Hunt Statue. Today, because of Superintendent Sean Virnig’s decision to leave the statue as is without remedy, the statue has now been transformed into a symbol of 21st century racism.  Virnig’s treatment of race, racism, and the dialogue surrounding the statue has added another layer of racism to the multiple layers of oppression already inherent in the statue.

Mr. Moiwai,

I am writing to address your use of the term “Deaf militants” in the e-mail sent out to Z employees and associates. I have enclosed the text of the original e-mail below. I respect the intent behind your message that your employees refrain from reflecting poorly upon Zvrs by visibily participating in online dialogue, I take issue with only your use of the term “Deaf militants.”You tweeted to Erin Esposito that you “regretted” the use of the phrase and that the corrective action has been taken.
I sure hope you don’t mean disciplining employees for sharing internal memorandum or that you regret getting caught with your pants down. After all, that e-mail was authored by you and you were the one who chose to use the term “Deaf militants.” You seem to not understand the politics of the word “militant” so allow me to enlighten you. This will be posted as an open letter on my blog, shared on Facebook and Twitter, and shared with the NAD Board of Directors. I share this openly in hopes of educating the community about the term, “militant” and its historical use as a tool of oppression and suppression.
“I do not think it is appropriate ever to use the phrase “militant” in a figurative/non-literal manner, no matter what group you are talking about. My reasons for this are threefold: First, the original literal usage — meaning engaged in or favoring actual military action — is still quite common. Second, which usage of the word is intended is largely determined by the group to which it is attached. Third, and most importantly, it seems to me that when the group in question is advocating in favor of a historically oppressed classification, they are far more likely to get the figurative usage. And that to me sounds like an attempt to slander and squelch.”  (http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com/2011/11/why-i-oppose-figurative-use-of-term.html)
The term “militant” must be understood within its historical context. This term was primarily used to discredit feminists, civil rights activists, and other marginalized peoples who had the courage to speak up and act for change. This term is laden with historically racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic meaning. Others have written eloquently on the subject.
Here are excerpts I find most relevant: (from  http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2012/03/militant-atheists-and-uppity-niggers.html?m=1)
“Both terms were invented and popularized as a derogatory term by those with social power to denigrate and marginalize a potential challenger. They serve as an inoculation in the brain against the messenger of change. The instant the messenger starts talking, these memes spring forth to shut down the brain from listening. “This is just another one of those damned uppity niggers/militant atheists who doesn’t know his place.”

“What is needed to impliment this type of tactic is a dominant social group with an interest in preserving its status who read each others’ work, and who have the ability to use a particular term over and over again before various audiences. We do not need anybody making a plan in a back room somewhere. One person uses the term. Others like it (because they feel that it will be effective in preserving their status), so they adopt it, and the term spreads.”

“An important feature in both of these terms is that they are both descriptive and prescriptive – or, more precisely, pejorative. They are used to generate in the agent an immediate emotional reaction – a feeling of contempt – for those members of the target group that dare to challenge the status quo.”

“These emotional associations are important. They help to control the thinking of those afflicted with these memes. they help to make the brain unreceptive to the challenger’s message.”

By using the term “Deaf militants,” how do you think your memorandum shaped the participation at the NAD conference, face to face dialogue, and influenced the result of the NAD election? After all, your memo only prohibited Z employees from using social media but did not prohibit discussion of the election or the issues at hand in face to face interactions, in lobbying efforts at the NAD conference and elsewhere, and since a number of your employees were directly involved in the elections, your use of this term likely influenced their thinking as they voted on proposals and new officers of the Board of the NAD.
“I would suggest using a similar tactic against the “militant atheist” meme. It is, as I said above, a term invented by those with social power for the purpose of marginalizing and denigrating those who challenge their supremacy. The use of such a term (except in certain contexts by members of the target group themselves) identifies the user as a bigot seeking to preserve a system of injustice by promoting a social aversion to the members of the target group.” (http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2012/03/militant-atheists-and-uppity-niggers.html?m=1)
Is this the position that Zvrs has adopted? That those who speak out against injustice must be put in their place because you want to preserve the status quo? Was it your intent to create a social aversion among your employees and the people they interacted with toward the marginalized folks who spoke up for equality and inclusion?
What is militant about our desire to speak openly about changes we believe in? What is militant about pointing out that people of color and lgbts feel excluded, marginalized, and deserve an equal place at the table? Are we bombing buildings or destroying property? Are we chaining ourselves to fences? Are we participating in hunger strikes? etc? No. We are asking for open, authentic dialogue with the dominant majority. Our issues were not about “D”eaf issues vs. “d”eaf issues but about race, gender, sexuality, class, and other aspects of our experiences that has been largely ignored in the past or has come up as issues in the recent discussions surrounding the NAD’s decision to invite Governor Daugaard which revealed long standing sentiments of marginalization and exclusion.
Mr. Moiwai, you owe us an apology. For using such a pejorative word. For participating in the marginalization and suppression of those who want to speak up. For influencing the thinking, perspective, and dialogue of those employees subjected to your memorandum who then attended the NAD conference and participated in the NAD processes. For marginalizing your employees who have chosen to speak up about their experiences of exclusion or inequalities- not only within the NAD or the deaf community, but in the larger world. Do you have any employees who spoke out against Proposition 8? Any employees who speak out against racism, sexism, and other forms of -isms outside of the deaf community? Are you calling them “militants” too? Are we all to remain silent in the face of oppression because the mere act of speaking up is considered “militant”- a pejorative word laden with historical meaning?
For Mr. Wagner, this is the first test of his presidency of the NAD. He has taken pains to include inclusion and diversity on his platform. As the new leader of the NAD, he has the task of healing the wounds that emerged from the discussion of recent months and the election last week. How will Mr. Wagner respond to his employee’s use of this term, “militant,” given its laden historical meaning often used to suppress those who are merely speaking openly about uncomfortable issues? Is this a reflection upon Zvrs’ company culture and does he participate in that thinking?
What is the appropriate course of action here? I look forward to your response as well as Mr. Wagner’s.
Best,
Tavian, an outspoken progressive liberal and white ally.

Team, please take a moment to read the important message below from Julian:


Good evening, Z employees and associates:

 

Greetings from Louisville, Kentucky! We have been busy engaging ourselves with the 2012 National Association of the Deaf Conference goers all week. However, it is not slowing us down!

 

You might be aware of the NAD Presidential elections. Chris Wagner – our Senior Vice President of Business Operations and Marketing – has been selected to serve as the NAD’s next president. Regardless of your support prior to and after the elections, I would like to ask you to do us a favor.

 

ZVRS is currently being bombarded on social media by Sheri supporters or so-called “Deaf militiants.” Please do not participate in any means of communication by putting gas into this flame.

 

If you come across something that appears offensive or defamatory toward ZVRS, please send a direct link to my attention, and it will be followed through.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

Julian Moiwai

Social Media Coordinator

The Z | CSDVRS, LLC.

  • Pardon my grammar errors here. I wrote in a hurry. Below is Alison Fargis’ response and my response to her.
    Alison Fargis · Vassar

    There are many books published that are basically lexicons of dirty words in other languages including Spanish, French, Korean, Italian, and, yes, even an existing title called DIRTY SIGN LANGUAGE, and none of them degrade the languages or cultures they include.
    Reply · Like · 15 minutes ago
     
  • Octavian · Works at Currently Unemployed

    And your point is, Alison? Those books are at least accurate. This is not. And we also have to examine who the authors/creators are and what they understand about the language and the cultural politics that surrounds the language. You are clearly not paying attention to the issues being raised. This is NOT about dirty language. This is about cultural appropriation, sexism/misogyny/racism, and a boatload of issues that others have gone to great lengths to explain. If you’re going to defend this, especially as the literary agent involved, it would be wise to take the time to read through all of this and undertake some education about what African-Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups have said regarding cultural appropriation. This is mockery and exploitation.
    Reply · Like · 2 seconds ago
  • Octavian · Works at Currently Unemployed

    Alison Fargis Furthermore, your response shows that you know absolutely nothing about sign language, deaf people, or cultural issues. It is irresponsible, as an literary agent, to try to peddle a work without being at minimum aware of the potential fallout. Would you try to peddle a book written by a white man mocking black women and making caricatures out of black women? There’s a reason why that’s no longer acceptable- because African Americans and their allies have spent the last century or so fighting racism and we all know racism is not cool, not acceptable, and basically political suicide. At least when it’s overt. You know what this is called, Alison? AUDISM. ABLEISM. And one day, we will all realize it’s equally uncool, unacceptable, and political suicide. Especially when it’s as overt as this book/Henson is being. But because disabled people and deaf people’s struggles are more recent and because scholars have not given much thought to disability studies and the disabled experience, people can’t equate that to racism and sexism.
    Reply · Like · 2 seconds ago

Sign this petition to St. Martin’s Press regarding the publication of Kristin Henson’s book.

For more information, see previous post.

Spread the petition far and wide.

 

So some hearing woman thought it’d be cool to borrow our language and make money off it while being misogynistic, sexist, racist, what have you.  She even got a book deal. She’s making money off us. Our language. Our culture. In a really uncool, totally inappropriate way.  Others have spoken so eloquently, I’ll keep their comments here but am redacting names as I do not have everyone’s permission.
I have submitted comments and emails to Stonesong Press and  St. Martin’s Press.
UPDATE: E-mail the Publicist for the book directly. Kimberly Hanson. 
UPDATE: E-mail the editor of the book directly. Daniella Rapp. 
UPDATE: Please sign this Petition: ask your friends to sign, tweet the petition, Facebook, e-mail, and get the word out!
Post your comments on Facebook, click on the links in this post to contact editors and producers to protest the promotion of a hearing person using OUR language to perpetuate sexism, racism, and make money off it while misrepresenting our language and our culture.
Dear Editors:
I am writing to share my extreme disgust and displeasure at your agency’s decision to publish Kristin Henson’s book: Super Smutty Sign Language. I am a deaf white man. American Sign Language is my language. I find Henson’s videos and view of ASL to be sexist and racist. Her use of my language is cultural appropriation. You, by publishing this book, are exploiting deaf people and our language. For profit. You are exploiting racism and sexism for profit. I am copying and pasting a few comments from others regarding Henson’s book. We suggest you rethink publishing this book. Doing so only affirms that it’s okay for hearing people to steal our language, dirty it, use it in ways that is wrong,  perpetuate oppression of minority groups, and make money off that.
Person 1 · 
I’m a [cultural-linguistic] deaf woman of color, and american sign language is one of my languages. I didn’t want to play any of the videos above. I immediately catched the at once subversive/overt racism and misogynism in some of kristin’s ‘instructional’ video, which was enough for me to abstain from clicking ‘play’ on any of them. by her ‘teaching’ us how to ‘be’/ sign ‘gangsta’ and ‘bitch, please’ I i see a simultaneous exoticification and minimization of sign language, appropriated and packaged for [white, patriarchal] entertainment value. I don’t think it is okay to reduce any language to ‘dirty words’ and even more, use a person who is just learning the language to showcase such phrases. upholding the power structure much?
kristin– you have 11,500 subscribers to your videos, which ironically have completely shoddy closed-captioning. I can get that you’re amped to learn sign language. that’s nice. but language is never removed from cultural politics, especially if you go on to commodify it. quite frankly, you’re doing it wrong. wrong wrong wrong. youre teetering the line of contributing to the cultural-linguistic appropriation of ASL and consequently u.s. deaf culture as a whole. you do even more injustice to us deaf people of color with ‘damn it feels good to be a gangsta.’ I’m not sure who gave you a misguided ‘in’ with the community so that you went forth with this disillusioned and completely offensive project. chances are, you will continue to do this project because ‘omgz it’s so cool, and like, my friends and like, all these people love it’ but I hope my comment plants a politically-conscious seed in this mind of yours, however buried it might be for awhile.
Person 2 · Washington, District of Columbia
An American Sign Language novice with 90 tutorials under her belt is “translating crude and bizarre phrases and slowly defining a universal language of sex and strife.” Oh really? Hipster racism is never cool.
Totally racist, sexist, offensive, and narrow-minded of you, Kristin, to do those incredibly tasteless vlogs. Most of the signs are inaccurate thus sorry they are not beneficial and useful like you may think. I can go on more but I can’t stand to be on this webpage any longer.
Person 3 ·
I’ve quickly scanned your psychobabble…and as a Deaf person I can tell you that what you have complied in all these videos is definitely an insult to the likes of us (Deaf community). You should start considering removing all of your videos as they show ignorance and disrespect toward the signing community. I dare you take American Sign Language (ASL) courses because I doubt you’ll last long, not because of your inability to learn, but because of your inability to realize its richness and complexity of the language. It’s sad to see how someone can take the language apart and destroy it like this.
Person 4·
Thank you so much for contributing to the commodification of one of my languages and one of my cultures. /endsarcasm I am offended and appalled by these videos and your *nerve* in thinking it’s OK to do this. You wouldn’t dare do it to Spanish, Chinese, Thai, or any other language, I bet. Why is it OK to do this to ASL? Daily Dot, shame on you for highlighting this example of racism, misogynism, ethnocentrism, minimization of ASL, etc.
Person 5- This is reprehensible. On the behalf of my community, the community of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and ASL users, I cry foul of the most malicious kind. This is wrong on so many levels. Appropriating a language you aren’t fluent in, appropriating a culture you clearly do not interact with, and propagating racism and sexism and audism in the name of “humor” and “knowledge”. I will do everything I can to see this book never gets off the presses.
Person 5, Part 2- I posted THIS directly to Stonesong: SUPER SMUTTY SIGN LANGUAGE is a huge slap in the face of the collective Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and American Sign Langauge (ASL) community. This is extremely offensive, not only in the subject matter, because yes, we swear and use slang, and talk dirty, but that is the point- WE do. Kristin is not a fluent signer, she is not a member of the community, and is therefore misrepresenting an entire community, an entire language, a culture, a people. This book should not be published. Yes, there is freedom of the press, but there is also libel, cultural appropriation, and theft of a language. I am a Deaf professor of ASL and Linguistics who also teaches Deaf Culture, and this has just stunned me beyond measure. This is a tragic example of a poorly researched project and endorsement of audism- which is behavior based on the notion that people who hear, or the manner of acting like those who can hear, are superior to those who do not.
Person 6- I wholeheartedly concur with what everyone said below (Octavian, [redacted], [redacted], etc). You should be -so- ashamed of yourself, putting videos of yourself butchering MY language on the internet. I was hoping everyone who commented below was being oversensitive, but it only took one video to realize their objections to what you’re doing are completely and utterly justified. If you had any shred of self-respect, and respect for the Deaf community, you’d take this down — immediately.

Greetings NAD Delegates,

I wish you all a productive and enjoyable week at the NAD Conference in Louisville. You have an important burden facing you as you vote for the new Board of Directors and for proposals. You are determining the direction of the NAD for the next two years and the effectiveness of the NAD in its fight to preserve deaf schools, ASL, accessibility, and the various civil, human, and linguistic rights that concern deaf Americans. I offer a few thoughts today before you depart for the conference.

First, I endorse Sheri Ann Farinha for President of the NAD. She is a proven passionate advocate for ASL and for the rights of deaf children to education. Farinha also has a keen understanding of inclusion, diversity, and coalition building. It is important that we have a leader that can mobilize many people under a single banner and carry on the good fight. I believe Farinha is capable of aggressively pushing the NAD forward in a positive direction. She has many testimonials of her leadership abilities from many prominent leaders and figures within the deaf community. She has gotten the “ear” of the California legislature. Farinha has my full confidence.

Second, I would like to speak to Chris Wagner and CSD. I do NOT suggest that the CSD is some sort of evil entity or that CSD is a poor model of governance. I appreciate those affiliated with CSD who have given their time, energy, and fiscal support to the NAD and its objective to improve life for deaf Americans.   Rather, I suggest that stagnant leadership in itself is problematic. It does not matter if it is CSD or Gallaudet or what not. The specific individuals have changed over the years but the fact remains that for 14 of the last 19 years, the President of the NAD has been closely affiliated with CSD, serving in executive positions. 25% of the current Board has a relationship with CSD.

This presents many potential problems. For one, stagnant leadership. CSD has its own culture, its own way of doing things, its own philosophy. Those who work at CSD and rise up in its ranks are bound to inherit and practice that culture, that way of doing things, that philosophy. Then they carry that thinking and way of doing over into the NAD. When we have the same way of thinking, same way of doing, same way of seeing, for so long, it can be hard to adapt. It can be hard to react to new pressures and situations. With all of the complaints and issues that have emerged as of late, especially with the NAD’s poor use of public relations and new media (slight improvement as of late but much more can and needs to be done if we want to be effective in the 21st century as advocates for schools for the deaf and ASL), it is perhaps time to flush out old ways of thinking and doing and bring in a new way of thinking and doing.

I also am concerned about potential gray areas developing. As a historian, I understand and have seen how past NAD presidents along with the NAD itself were influenced by the leadership’s personal biases, work, and experiences. Often, those influences are not intentional. Often, the leaders want to act in an ethical way (and do). Often, leaders believe strongly they are indeed carrying out the mandates/resolutions passed by the membership. But yet, influence creeps in. More weight is given to particular issues than others. The responses to pressure and crises are shaped by the individual’s worldview. Despite Wagner’s best intentions, or Scoggins’ for that matter, we cannot claim a complete divorce between their positions as Officers of the NAD and their employment/lived experience. What will Deaf Historians discover in 20 years’ time as we come back to the late 1990s and early 2000s to study deaf activism for equal access to citizenship? Biases are often difficult to uncover in the present but with historical analysis, they are rather obvious. I’d hate someday to see somehow, due to biases and influences now invisible to us, we failed to act as efficiently and expediently as possible to preserve deaf schools, ASL, and ensure access for all deaf people.

Third, last but not least. I love Kelby Brick’s proposal.  I think it’s necessary. And absolutely perfect. Some have described it as radical. But really. Over time, everything that has been progressive, just, and necessary was once labeled radical. Many progressive ideas considered “way out there radical” are now the standard. For example, educating girls? Teaching little girls how to read and write? Whoa, how radical! Now that’s standard. There are many examples out there, but you get the idea. So with 100% of my being, I endorse this and hope you will too!

Have a great time. I wish I could join you this year. Remember. The Future of the NAD and Deaf America is in your hands. That’s a huge responsibility. Treat that trust with care.

Cheers,

Tavian

I posed some questions to Alec McFarlane regarding the NAD’s response letter. Your thoughts on his response or any further questions?

From me to Alec McFarlane:

Alec, Some questions have come up regarding your letter. 1) What was Alice doing at the ALA conference on behalf of the NAD and the Deaf community that required her to be reimbursed by the LFS funds? 2) Was that a wise use of such a significant portion of the LFS funds (2,500 out of 4,000) which may have been used for other purposes that would have maximized the LFS/Deaf Culture section goals? 3) Are you satisfied with the NAD’s response to your questions about the donations? 4) Do you plan on a follow-up?

Alec’s Response:

To answer your questions… 1)Alice L. Hagemeyer and I were at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Dallas to push our agenda on the establishment of the DCDL (Deaf Cultural Digital Library) nationally. We gave a presentation to the ALA and a 2nd presentation to the deaf community at the Dallas Public Library. Our mission, our agenda, without fail is related to the Library and the Deaf community. People should understand that the American Library Association is a 60,000+ member organization that SUPPORTS the DCDL, and will be very important in the national implementation of this concept. 2) Over some 36 years Alice has traveled extensively promoting library issues on her own dime, and in particular the last 20 for the LFS and this is the first time ever that she has been reimbursed for travel expenses. Her “in kind’ donations, money spent on behalf of the deaf community, the LFS and others amount to tens of thousands of dollars. It is further notable that a few years ago her husband, Ted, resigned from the NAD in protest because the NAD had not reimbursed them for a series of rather minor expenses taken on behalf of the LFS and the NAD. 3) The NAD’s response is an outright denial that can be written only if they ignore the points we raise. 4) We plan a follow up, but first I will produce a vlog explaining my letter. I will probably have to make two or three volgs, each focusing on one thing at a time. I would like to add a note that Alice L. Hagemeyer and I are leaving this evening to go to the ALA Annual Convention in Anaheim, California and we will be doing what we always do; promote deaf related issues. We have 1) a resolution going before the ALA to recognize the 300th Birthday of Abbe l’Eppe, 2) a program scheduled in our SIG or Special Interest Group called “Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library” on the 23rd, and 3) we will be sharing the stage with the ALA president, Molly Raphael, who is an ardent supporter, 4) as the SIG leader I will be making a brief report to the ALA Board on our work, 4) we will NOT get reimbursement for this trip from the NAD LFS. Forgive the typos, I made 5 points up there…