I’m doing this because I care deeply for all my brethren. By brethren, I refer to all deaf, hard of hearing, and those who choose to identify as hearing impaired. I do not want to focus on “labels” because that veers into the territory of identity politics. Here’s a comment I saw earlier today…”I’m severely hard of hearing and all this deaf/hearing/asl competition over cultures and languages is really getting old. I’m tired of the Deafy Nazis..they can “Have” their culture.”
My heart breaks for people who see themselves as victims rather than as survivors of the existing systems of power, privilege, and oppression. This intracommunity division exists because some of us have internalized ideas from the dominant majority that we are objects to be “fixed,” that we are inherently bound for failure and limited lives, and that we are somehow lesser than others. So many have adopted the idea that the only way we can be “equal” is if we are normalized and assimilated into the majority- as in being able to communicate orally and achieve flawless English, at the expense of other aspects of our Selves.
This is not an experience unique to the deaf community. In other non-dominant population groups, we see similar processes of assimilation, internalized oppression, and intracommunity division. Some have so deeply internalized the message of the dominant majority that they turn on each other. A little snippet from another website:
“There are two ways that internalized oppression functions:
2. Internalized oppression occurs among members of the same cultural group. People in the same group believe (often unconsciously) the misinformation and stereotypes that society communicates about other members of their group. People turn the oppression on one another, instead of addressing larger problems in society. The results are that people treat one another in ways that are less than fully respectful. Often people from the same cultural group hurt, undermine, criticize, mistrust, fight with, or isolate themselves from one another.”
My message to those who feel they are marginalized by the “Deafy Nazis”: I see you as my brethren. I am fighting the fight for you too, not just those who are Deaf ASL-Users, but for all deaf and hard of hearing people who ultimately are affected by systematic audism and linguicism. I am determined to battle systems of oppression that has potential to limit our access to mainstream society and full citizenship. I am resisting systems of oppression that limits deaf children’s access to language, education, and ultimately economic opportunities. I am tired of seeing our language, our bodies, our culture being exploited for profit by colonizers. I am tired of seeing deaf children turn into bitter adults. I am saddened to see deaf adults not have a sense of belonging. My resistance is centered on those systems of power, not against my fellow deaf/hard of hearing brethren. I may disagree with your positions or your politics. My intent is to educate and raise consciousness but I do not have any interest in excluding you from this community, this culture, or American Sign Language.
I see some people in our community attacking each other rather than focus on the systems of power, especially the medical-industrial complex and clueless education policy-makers, for putting us in the position where we do not have first-class citizenship.
I suspect that those who are referred to as the “Deaf Nazis” or the “deaf militants” are those who feel passionately about advancing the place of deaf people in mainstream society. I cannot speak for everyone else but I can speak for myself and those with whom I work. We are not rejecting those who are not fluent in ASL or do not buy into deaf culture nor making claims on ASL and deaf culture as being exclusively ours. We feel passionately that all deaf children should have full access to language and education, to be seen as whole beings beyond their ears, and to have access to a community of people who share the deaf experience and share the challenges of audism. We are not attacking you for the decisions that were made by medical professionals interested in curing/fixing you or turning a profit, by education policy makers who do not understand our unique needs and challenges, and by well-meaning parents who made difficult decisions based on what they were told was best. When we attack those systems, we are not attacking you, the byproducts of that system. There is not a separate “you” and “us.” This is about all of us regardless of identity politics.
I can understand why some deaf/hard of hearing people feel personally attacked when deaf activists agitate against oral education, cochlear implants, and so on. We do not hold deaf/hard of hearing people responsible for decisions made by others when they were children. But we do hold deaf/hard of hearing people responsible for the decisions they make as adults. When consciousness has been raised, one can no longer avoid responsibility for the choices they make in being a victim or survivor, or their choice in victimizing their own brethren using the ideology of the systems in power.
What drives my passion? Here’s a little story I want to share with you excerpted from an older post.
I went to the Deaf Community Services center this afternoon for an employment-related interview. While in the waiting room, I watched a DCS produced video. This video asked the question: “why I love DCS.” The respondents were apparently selected at random, their responses unedited and unscripted.
At the end of this video, two little girls, about 8-10 years of age, appeared. One said, “DCS helps me get ready for school so that I can have a successful future.” Her friend responded, “heh, heh. If we can! Heh. Heh,” while shrugging.
Heartbreaking. Tragic. Illuminating.
I wonder. Does this little girl question her ability to be a successful adult because she is deaf and she has somehow internalized the idea that deaf adults are generally not successful? Is she, as a deaf pupil, told she will struggle because of literacy and linguistic acquisition?
Or is she, like the Dove commercial on television, one of the majority of girls who drop out of what they enjoy doing because they are insecure about themselves as girls growing into women? Is she, as a female pupil, told that she cannot succeed in the sciences and math because boys are simply better at those subjects?
Or is it all rolled into one as a deaf female? We cannot separate out precisely the moment, those experiences, those messages she received as a girl, as a deaf child, and as a deaf girl, that she had to question whether or not she would succeed. What disempowers this child? Her femalehood or her deafhood? How do those disempowerments nurture each other?
This illustrates why we cannot separate out the experience of being deaf from other facets of our existences.
This is why we must combat all forms of privilege and work for true equality for all. We cannot separate those threads out; we cannot empower an individual by empowering one aspect while neglecting to empower the whole.