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.
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.
Social Media Coordinator
The Z | CSDVRS, LLC.