Wednesday, March 22, 2006

News and Deaf Culture Thoughts Tuesdays

Ouch. Bad tooth pain today - off to the dentist. But before I take my fated trip down the hallowed halls wherein was invented the Dental Damn, Fixodent, and Donna Dentista The Tooth Fairy, some thoughts on today:

Deaf man sentenced in prison affair: Something to consider. I've noticed a lot of Deaf people when they are in hospitals or prisons get into a serious amount of trouble with other residents and ward staff. Most of the time it seems to be that people are trying to talk to them. Now, when hearing people try to talk to Deaf people, they don't do the normal things like make eye contact, tap you on the shoulder, rest at a comfortable viewing distance. They prefer to try spitting in your ears or eyes. I'm not sure why. Maybe there's some sort of Morse spit code. I suppose I've always thought people who invent an entire code based on tapping noises which they themselves admit are annoying, just can't be quite sane.

So you're sick, depressed, in hospital or prison. And this guy or girl comes up to you and spits in your eye. When you look at them, offended, they try spitting in your ear. At this point your dignity is entirely outraged.

At this point it is necessary to remind oneself that when someone talks to one, that person is likely going to talk about a very different subject than that which one is currently musing over... so the Deaf guy in the hospital who just microwaved something probably isn't going to understand the hearing guy who wants to use the microwave. He's standing there, a little tense, maybe very tense; he wants this situation over. He wants to eat his food. But there's this guy in front of him spitting in his eyes and ears and any move could be the wrong one. And finally the hearing guy gets sick of waiting and starts to move to go to the microwave.

A tense Deaf person WOULD take that as a move to attack, especially if the Hearing person, frustrated, added facial expressions and rolling eyes as it became clear that this retard didn't understand nothin'.

That's why I'm in social services... and that's why I chose not to reply to that bitch Ridor mentioned on his webpage. That bitch wrote a long essay about how she believes Deaf people have no common sense - starting with Tara McAvoy's death and expanding to include everything from SSI to personal ambition in a long-drawn-out, patronizing, and totally uninformed rant which, due to Ridor's link to her (scroll down to "crazy woman") got a lot more attention than it should. I hadn't seen anything like it since the day when at the age of 16 I saw a prominent Deaf actress in the Lincoln Center implore people to save Deaf individuals from the welfare drain.

I'm sorry, but I refuse to link directly to that bitch. She obviously knows shit, child of privilege that she is - in all ways. I spit on her and her ilk. People like her do not understand what, for example, a lifetime of true psychological damage to an individual can do. I was lucky enough to have parents who tried to understand me - and, I admit, maybe not as much as they could have, but after a lifetime we've overcome our differences as Deaf and hearing parents and child and reached understanding with each other. This lets me see the world as it is. This is why I do the work I do. Most Deaf people don't have this privilege. Of the 90% of Deaf people born to Hearing parents, how many really get to communicate with them?

What that bitch sees is through a rose-colored glass... and the danger with seeing things behind glass, rose or not, is that when it breaks the glass goes into your eyes. You either come out from behind the glass or you run the risk of seeing things the wrong color for the rest of your life - or never seeing them at all, if that glass goes into your eyes. Beth suggested I reply to that bitch on her website; I chose not to. I wish I could write her some sort of statement, based on a lifetime of cultural studies and literature, to open up the box of this her soul and make her realize how high the seat is from which she sees those she languidly calls ants. How high, and how protected. It's easy to be that bitch when you're on the tall side of the wall.

But I haven't found anything that can break through pride. Maybe one day she'll go through some of the experiences friends of mine have gone through which put them in a place where they're grateful for the support of public welfare. Being beaten until they're in a coma, for example, or being molested by their families, or being locked in a closet and then a mental institution for most of their lives, because they are Deaf, being rejected from their families and homes, being isolated and made a target in mainstreaming programs, being prevented from joining various programs, being told they can't be in the army, the police, be firemen, be astronauts, be president, having to go to classes and be put at the same level as people with severe mental disabilities, having to ride the little magical yellow bus without the kind lady teacher on it, watching the bus matron beat the crap out of the poor kid with Down's syndrome who would never be able to report it and whose parents are probably crack addicts and wouldn't do anything ANYWAY -

And none of that is anything to the weight of the big old feeling that the hearing people are all smarter than you, can do anything better and faster than you (or are lying about it but there's more than them and that's pretty much IT), the feeling that no matter how good you get (and here I really am talking to that bitch), it'll always be your head first on the chopping block. It'll always be you who loses your freedom first. (This is why Deaf Studies is so important: it helps you understand that you're not inferior. Just a downtrodden mass. It lets you know you can fight back.) You will always be the first to lose, because They can afford your discomfort more easily than your involvement. When They come for you nobody will speak up. That has a lot more to do with the social conditions in the Deaf community which that bitch complains about than laziness. (Lazy was what they called the slaves when they dropped dead in the fields, and what they still call all those who get on welfare, as if there were no such thing as unemployment and labor discrimination, as if women weren't once forbidden to work or get paid.)

My father went through that experience as a Puerto Rican who looks even more Italian than I do. I went through it as a Deaf man. My grandmother went through it as the child of refugees from religious oppression in Syria. From my family I know discrimination and the associated depression and despair have nothing to do with simply being deaf or being Deaf: it has to do with being in a place where people in power want them and their children to continue being people in power. Because my family understood that, they helped me understand how to deal with it.

That bitch is in a place of power and safety now. We all have our moments of pride. I had mine. I thought I was better than some Deaf people. I knew how to write and read really well. But once it became clear to me my knowledge was limited to my own spheres, I fell. Proud and smug in my knowledge and my ability with the pen, I fell flat on my face. I had to learn that there were many other people with different types of skills who would always be better than I. So will all those who base their lives on pride. The question is whether you can get back up from the pain of your fall and, as Bernice Johnson Reagon put it, coalesce with each other to form a coalition with everyone and let go of the pride that falsely separates you from other people. Because the truth is, in the end, my Deaf brothers and sisters may be all I got. Gay men and women feel the same way. So do Latinos, Native Americans... I dream of expanding that to include all people who face different kinds and shades of oppression but for now, getting more than one person to agree on that, and getting Deaf people to agree to stop blaming each other for reacting to terrible situations in our lives, would be good enough. And a good place to start might be with that bitch's mouth. Because the more we put each other down and cut each other off, the less chance we have to make an impact for real change. If change is what they really want. If they look around them and realize how uncomfortable it can be, being so high up and so alone.

Yeah, there's those who take advantage of the welfare system. I haven't met too many of them yet, because in New York there's no way in hell you can survive on SSI without being in a residential program which means you need help taking care of yourself anyway. Those I know who are on welfare, are trying like hell to get off, yes, even those without education or the patronizing "psychological sophistication." Sounds a bit like those black welfare queens Republicans talk about all the time who don't seem to exist. Almost every Deaf person I know depended on SSI at one time or another. I've had to counsel friends who feel tremendous guilt about it and don't want anyone to know. I don't think anyone should. The fact that discrimination is built into the system, should not affect anyone's pride. The fact that there is a safety valve in the system - SSI - to keep people from totally imploding under the pressure of the world - should not be a big dark secret. It shouldn't be comfortable, entirely... but it shouldn't be a big old source of shame.

Now if that person is giving into despair and apathy, that's another story. But even then, the answer should be: that person needs help. Not: I'm much better than them. None of us know what lies in the caves of tomorrow. We barely understand the caves of today.

Just my two cents. Feel free to comment. And since I used the word bitch so much, a free fun link.

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