Let’s play identity

Uh oh.

[I]t might be useful to examine what deaf identity might be and how that identity fits in with current notions of other identities based on race, gender, sexual orientation…[T]he status of deaf people has changed in important ways, as deaf activists and scholars have reshaped the idea of deafness, using the civil-rights movement as a model for the struggle to form a deaf identity. Deaf people came to be seen not just as hearing-impaired, but as a linguistic minority, isolated from the dominant culture because that culture didn’t recognize or use ASL…Harlan Lane, a professor of psychology and linguistics…drew on the ideas of Edward Said and Michel Foucault to suggest that the deaf were like a colonized people. Lane was instrumental in defining deaf identity based on the notion that deaf people were a linguistic and even an ethnic minority…The definition of the deaf as a colonized, ethnic, linguistic minority has in turn been widely accepted in deaf circles and taught for more than a decade in deaf-studies programs…

A colonized, ethnic, linguistic minority – I can certainly see the linguistic and minority, but colonized? Ethnic? Well – no doubt that’s exactly why words like that tend to make me come over all suspicious. It’s because I think there may be some conning going on. Who, may I ask, colonized ‘the deaf’, and what the hell for? To corner all their minerals? To force them to find ivory? To disappoint and confound The International Commonist* Conspiracy? Because it was a way to employ younger sons? Why? And as for ethnic – well I always knew that was a stupid meaningless elastic word that people use to make themselves feel special, and that just puts it beyond doubt.

[I]s a deaf person excluded from his ethnic identity of deafness if he or she chooses not to act deaf?…African-Americans who speak standard English and do not code-switch are sometimes accused of being “Oreos” — black on the outside and white on the inside. Do we really want to go down the road of thinking of some people as deaf “Oreos”?

Hey, I don’t even want to go down the road of thinking of African-Americans who speak standard English and do not code-switch as Oreos, let alone thinking of deaf people that way. That is precisely one of the chief reasons I despise the whole identity mess – this business of telling people they’re not [whateveritis] enough, not authentic enough; this business of expecting them to code-switch whether they want to or not. It’s coercive and parochial and stifling and I hate it.

The problem with such concepts is that they exclude people, reduce their rights, and create marginalized communities. And then there is the question of who gets to set up the barriers and checkpoints. In the past, it was hearing people who did; now segments of the deaf community have declared themselves the gatekeepers, by defining deafness in the narrowest possible terms.

What I said. Parochial and stifling. I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.

*McCarthy always pronounced it Commonist.

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