338: breaking down audism
UPDATE: Some links to articles about Gallaudet protests here and here. In the process of looking for this I happened to find this about Gallaudet's volleyball team.
And now back to breaking down audism:
I occasionally have to educate doctors - and clients - about things Deaf people use. Not everyone realizes hearing aids run on batteries, for example; that they need to be cleaned; that walking up to a nervous person and shouting in their face may make the hearing person feel good, but often makes a nervous Deaf patient freak out (or think the hearing person is freaking out.)
But is this Audism? Is ignorance the same as prejudice? I would argue no - and I would argue we need to be very careful about such terms as Audism and "cyber bullying" if we want these terms to have any power.
So what is Audism? A term coined originally by Tom Humphries and later popularized by Harlan Lane. Jamie Berke has a good guide on some of the history and associations of Audism, including a mention of Lightkitchen, a group I'd like to work with one day.
A simple definition would be that it is a negative or oppressive attitude towards deaf people by either deaf or hearing people and organizations, and a failure to accomodate them. People who have audist attutides are considered to be audists. Under this definition, deaf people who will not use sign language and who will not identify with the deaf community and consider themselves to be "better" than others who use sign language and are part of deaf culture, meet the definition of audism.
Berke's definition is a great start, but a little circular. I would clarify. Why? Because when you are a minority living within the majority culture, pretty much everything is negative or oppressive for you as a distinct group. This is not intentional, but this is what laws like the ADA are for. They confront unintentional ignorance and discrimination.
Ignorance is very different from Audism. Ignorance can be excused and taught. Audism, and audist acts, show evidence of chosen and entrenched behaviors. What's a good example?
|Ignorance||Not putting captions on the TV|
|Audism||Refusing to put captions on the TV|
|Ignorance||Confusion at how to communicate with a Deaf child|
|Audism||Refusal to have a Deaf child in one's classroom|
Audism, in other words, is a choice, not simply a reactive or ignorant position but one chosen and maintained by an individual which guides them to active negative attitudes or oppression towards deaf people.
Notice I kept the D small. d. Why? Because, at this point, we're not talking about internal Audism - yet. Internal audism has a very different structure. I have received e-mails saying we should say FUCK YOU to everyone who is not a signing, proud DEAF person. Well, I disagree, based on my own experience.
Suppose you met a Deaf man who did not know ASL? Would you instantly call him an Audist? Suppose this man was raised orally by ignorant parents, which happens like 99 per cent of the time in America. He never met another Deaf person, nor did he have any prejudice about Deaf people. He tries in a friendly way to communicate with other Deaf. Some people today are with a very easy hand throwing people like this into the Audist pot. Same thing with people who use cochlear implants. Their personal choices are perceived to be oppression of the larger community.
Do I think this is so? No. I support the concept of Deafhood which includes the experiences of all Deaf people. Not every Deaf person comes from a position of knowledge instead of ignorance. Also, the experience of every Deaf person is important if we are to really understand American Deafhood. Would the Jews have kicked out Jews who had been through the holocaust? Yet we call cochlear implants our own holocaust, and kick out those who suffer through it, making their situation worse, no matter their own personal choices in the situation. I have friends who were forced to get implants, who chose to get implants... they are all still signing and they certainly don't preach Audist attitudes. But it seems, from what I read around Gallaudet news and other sorts of discussion board, that many people feel that CI users feel superior to them.
When I first went to MSSD, I was not an Audist - I was ignorant. I was raised by a family who was told ASL would poison my mind. They made a big deal out of it, and as a result I did not meet a Deaf adult really for 13 long years. Every once in a while I would be in school with a group of other Deaf people. But most of my childhood was spent alone.
I arrived at MSSD convinced, based on this, that my oral youth somehow made me better. It is true that it gave me wider access to the mainstream hearing cultures. It had left me with a lot of gaps in my knowledge, however, and I did not understand Deaf culture at all. Thanks to the support and education of several teachers who did not reject me despite my ignorance, I now proudly call myself a Deaf person. Why? I think it's better for us all to accept we can be diverse under one banner, instead of to split ourselves apart. Everyone has some Deafhood in their pants.
My conclusion? We must fight Audism and Audist behaviors - while recognizing that some of what feels "bad" to us as Deaf people is also ignorance. We have to work and teach those who don't know. Oh yeah, and some people are just mean little wankers.