A Reactive Version of Deafhood as a Legacy of Audism and Racism
Originating the concept of Deafhood and introducing it in his book, Understanding Deaf culture: In Search of Deafhood, Ladd (2003) defined Deafhood so as to contrast it with the medical diagnosis of deafness as a loss of hearing and with negative social constructions of deafness such as the idea that it is better to hear and speak. In contrast, the concept of Deafhood promulgates the information that deaf people can and do use Sign Language as their native language and thus have the ability to speak and be intelligent. Rather than being an undesirable physical condition of loss, then, being deaf is a source of pride and affirmation. Achieving this healthy outcome—a fully realized Deafhood— involves a deaf person’s constant introspection and long process to reconcile being deaf in positive terms. Ladd posits that every deaf child, every hearing family with a deaf child, and every deaf adult make this Deafhood journey. On the one hand, Ladd seems to suggest that various kinds of deaf people, whether they sign or speak English, may make a journey to reconcile themselves to being deaf and being proud of it. Yet, there also seems to be the suggestion that the best circumstance for adopting such a positive self-conception is when a deaf child is surrounded by other deaf people who use sign language. In contrast, if surrounded by hearing family and hearing people in school and community, there is the suggestion that a deaf child often internalizes hearing people’s negative views of deaf people—which equates with an unrealized Deafhood. Whether Deafhood is an open process resulting in a variety of ways to be deaf or in a single outcome has confused many. However, two examples make apparent this confusion in the U.S. version of Deafhood. The first one makes clear issues of race and exclusion intertwining with Deafhood in the 2006 positions of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) board on Deafhood and diversity. The second one reveals division and confusion that came to the fore in 2008 concerning a U.S. organization called Deaf Bilingual Coalition (DBC).Let me interrupt here for a moment. In the bold above is quite true. I outlined this very confusion when Genie Gertz made her statement in her attempt to clarify what "deafhood" is about but only managed to further confuse people on the constant changing of the little "d" and big "D" back in May of 2006 when I blogged about it. It's still true today but this "deafhood" agenda has become more and more solidified as their sine non qua becomes obviously clearer despite their attempts to appear otherwise.
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As a result of the NAD’s maintenance of the status quo focus on the concerns, understanding, and interests of its White Deaf traditional base, deaf people of color are now considering withdrawing from the NAD and forming a separate coalition of minority deaf organizations that will address the needs of many other deaf people with diverse life style choices deemed deficient by NAD’s brand of Deafhood (Anonymous, personal communications, various between July 1,2008, and April 26, 2009). Although the splintering of NAD into identity groups (National Asian Deaf Congress, National Black Deaf Advocates, National Council of Hispano Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Intertribal Council) is not new, what is new is the notion that all of these marginalized people might form a new organization inclusive of all.The key word is "marginalization" and uses NAD as an example of how those things happened.
Deafhood and Diversity at the NAD
At the 2006 NAD conference in Palm Desert, California,a strong movement emerged to acknowledge deaf people’s racial and ethnic identities, particularly those of people of color who experience exclusion and marginalization within this national advocacy community. In part a consequence of heightened racial awareness generated by the 2006 protest at Gallaudet University that same year, a panel of presidents of national deaf organizations of color was one of the most talked about panels during and after the conference. Moreover, because the traditional process of electing the NAD Board of Directors invariably leads to an all-White Board, the NAD decided to appoint two deaf women of color to the NAD Board of Directors to represent the views of deaf people of color. The inclusion of the deaf women of color on the Board was well intentioned but nevertheless fraught with difficulty. For instance, a request for the two women of color to pay their own way like other directors awkwardly assumed a camaraderie that did not exist for everyone equally: The White Board members frequently acted as if the appointed members of color were not even present—talking over and around them and not acknowledging their contributions or presence in follow-up written communications (Anonymous, personal communication, February 19, 2007).
The Board also dealt inadequately with recommendations for diversity policies and activities, created with painstaking care over a 2-year period, by their own Diversity Strategic Team (DST). One of the DST recommendations involved the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy against racism within the NAD. Unfortunately, the NAD rejected the "zero tolerance" policy toward racism substituting instead the more subtle goal of striving for "higher standards of diversity and inclusion." Another recommendation the DST made was that DST members provide direct diversity training to the NAD Board and at NAD regional conferences. This recommendation summarizing 2 years of work failed to get support, whereas a relatively more last-minute motion that all state association members receive Deafhood training passed. Not coincidentally, Deafhood is the foremost interest of the traditional, White Deaf members. The NAD’s rejection of the DST’s recommendations although supporting Deafhood training left many deaf people of color skeptical about whether the NAD is serious about addressing racism within its own ranks (Anonymous, personal communication, July 1, 2008). Furthermore, the 2008 NAD conference did not include a single workshop or activity on racism.Now, remember. This was submitted probably in May 2009 and her papers were eventually published in July of 2009. Submitting papers for publication in peer reviewed publications normally have a long lull wait until they are accepted and finally published. But contrary to what JKF said above NAD did discuss racism in the July of 2008 on "Diversity Focus at the NAD Conference." Although it appears they did address racism within its own ranks, to a degree I suppose, but unsure whether any "zero tolerance" on racism was ever met with any seriousness consideration or not. The current 15 NAD Board of Directors as it appears to the naked eye may appear overwhelmingly white with the exception of two directors (African American/Black) and one Latino of a Peruvian descent. For the two African American/Black they make up 13.3% of the diversity compared to African American/Blacks U.S. population of 12.9%. A good representative for the NAD BoD's ethnic plurality make-up. But if there are issues of subtle racism still within the ranks of the BoDs perhaps consider electing the first black president on the National Association of the Deaf to help quell this image problem? That is, if there is in fact a continuing image or internal problem on ethnic plurality.
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As a result of the NAD’s maintenance of the status quo focus on the concerns, understanding, and interests of its White Deaf traditional base, deaf people of color are now considering withdrawing from the NAD and forming a separate coalition of minority deaf organizations that will address the needs of many other deaf people with diverse life style choices deemed deficient by NAD’s brand of Deafhood (Anonymous, personal communications, various between July 1,2008, and April 26, 2009). Although the splintering of NAD into identity groups (National Asian Deaf Congress, National Black Deaf Advocates, National Council of Hispano Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Intertribal Council) is not new, what is new is the notion that all of these marginalized people might form a new organization inclusive of all.This exactly what happens when marginalization occurs such as the attempt to form a "deafhood" organization that caters specifically and overwhelmingly to a culturally deaf group. Their hypocrisy is noted when saying one thing on "inclusivity" and "diversity" such as Genie Gertz's explanation "It is not a measurement who is Deaf and who is not" which is fine. However, the problem reveals itself as to their true agenda becomes increasingly apparent through actions and attitudes in terms of the now current sine non qua of being "organic."
Such tripe it has become.
No wonder deaf and hard of hearing people do not take this so called "deafhood" seriously. It an ideological concept born of a culturally deaf person specifically and targeted to mostly a limited culturally deaf audience.
In the next sub-subsection of this publication JKF uses the Deaf Bilingual Coalition as example of how splintering happens when cultural needs are the actually the main agenda that drives it rather than the philosophy alone (although what I'm about to show you here JKF gets it wrong saying that DBC disbanded and reformed into another group called AFA but be mindful of the fact that JKF submitted her papers in 2009 at the time of that upheaval when DBC members quit or were pushed out -see here and read #25 on the links on who resigned or were pushed out in2008) on helping expose the positive side of ASL for deaf and hard of hearing kids but "deaf politics" ensured that it get top billings.
One organization with a number of members also presenting on Deafhood (Sewell, 2008) in the United States is DBC (2008). Mostly over the summer of 2008, reports in blogs and vlogs of communications from and within DBC indicate tense cultural processes at work that explain the fracturing of the coalition and eventual collapse (Recently, the group has resurrected the organization and renamed it Audism Free America). A well-known deaf blogger who goes by the name of Mishka (2008) reported contradictions among various public messages and blogs:
DBC stands by its mission and continues to promote a clear vision that we support ALL Deaf infants and children to have access to ASL from birth and to be fluent in ASL and English (bilingual). DBC is not against speech and listening training as long as it is partnered with ASL. . However, in the Milwaukee article, a DBC spokeperson [sic] indicates there is more to DBC than the promotion of ASL alone: "The two groups will bring their competing agendas to Milwaukee in separate national conferences this week: one that views cochlear implants and auditory-based therapies as a way to give children access to the wider world; and the other that sees them as unnecessary and an affront to who deaf people are as individuals. . We’re concerned about the audism behind the implants— this belief that hearing is more advantageous than being deaf. It’s the same as racism," she said. "You’re only learning how to speak, to regurgitate the words, and only a small percentage of deaf people are successful at that,"....
Mishka Zena concluded, "This contradicts with [sic] the mission statement at DBC website, promoting ASL while not opposing speech and listening training, as long as they are partnered with ASL." DBC originator John Egbert (2008) remonstrated in response to Mishka Zena’s blog, "And let me emphasize that DBC is not against ci [cochlear implants] or speech or hearing aids" (Msg. 95, para. 5). However, besides the statements Mishka Zena found that contradicted this position, Hokocan (2008) also verified rejection of this kind of technology (Msg. 94). Although some insisted the comments were taken out of context, another response (Florin, 2008, Msg. 192) stated that the media did not take the statements out of context: "She [the DBC spokesperson] did actually say those exact words in front of my eyes at a recent convention. They are bad news for promoting ASL/English bilingualism. They have their inner agendas." In addition, a former member of the core committee wrote: "...I was condemned by [a] DBC leader for discussing DBC business in details via . [written English].I was asked not to discuss anything on email because the leader could not process her thoughts in. [English]. She went on to instruct me to use e-mail only to set up VP appointments" (Sewell, 2008).Again, JFK observed this happening in 2008 and somewhat into 2009 prior to her submitting her papers for publication in 2009. It is a fact that fracturing and splintering did occur and that's well documented by numerous witnesses but it did not "collapse" as JKF said. She assumed or thought it regrouped and took the form of AFA. Not so. But the point that JKF (and even mine) is making hinges on actions of what some culturally deaf people or groups say such as CI or hearing aids do not matter, etc, etc, but their actions, attitudes and eventually their own words say an entirely different thing and paints a totally different picture about their organizations and agendas.
And so I say this. Cow patties are all organic, too, but I'm sure nobody wants to step on them and trudge their dirty shoes throughout their own house.
Will NAD "collapse"? No. But certainly there are competitions out there and for people who feel they are not being well represented and will look elsewhere for support and the opportunity offer their contributions to the cause. The majority of people with hearing loss in the United States are not even a part of the deaf culture or have very little association with those culturally deaf organizations and/or culturally deaf people. Roughly 2% of the 36 million people with hearing loss are people who are considered to be culturally deaf. This is primarily the group that NAD caters mostly to seeing that their BODs are entirely made up of culturally deaf people and their interests mostly revolve around culturally deaf people and ASL, and how issues affect them. They essentially made their own "glass ceiling."
Submitting papers to Deaf Studies publications are a powerful way for issues and questions to get noticed, spotlighted and shined upon and be widely read and accessed by interested parties and researchers who will take those questions and issues a step further in their own analyses.