Thursday, September 14, 2006

343: what is deafhood? the original definition

Yesterday I sat behind my office on a metal stair with the Demon Queen and talked a little about Deafhood. I explained what's been going on in the Deaf blogosphere, with a ton of extremists taking over the discussion. "But," she exclaimed, "hasn't anyone read the book?"

No. Nor is anyone quoting. So, since I have the book, and I need something to take my mind off of things, here's Dr. Ladd's definition of Deafhood. I cite the complete paragraph:
...I found myself coining a new label of 'Deafhood.' Deafhood is not, however, a 'static' medical condition like 'deafness.' Instead, it represents a process - the struggle by each Deaf child, Deaf family and Deaf adult to explain to themselves and each other their own existence in the world. In sharing their lives with each other as a community, and enacting those explanations rather than writing books about them, Deaf people are engaged in a daily praxis, a continuing internal and external dialogue. (p.3, "Understanding Deaf Culture" by Ladd)

Go back and reread that. It's a pretty complicated statement! First, let's look at the first three sentences. Summarize: Deafhood is a new word. Deafhood doesn't describe a specific medical state. Deafhood describes a process. You can call yourself hard of hearing, be a CI user, be a hearing person who is involved with the Deaf community. Your Deafhood comes from analyzing your relationship to the world, from a proactive analysis instead of passive reception. When you start figuring things out for yourself, in short.

What about the second half of that statement? What about "the struggle to explain our own existence?" What does that mean? When I was a Master's student at Bristol University, Professor Jim Kyle asked our introduction to Deaf Studies class: "What is Deaf culture?" He proceeded to ask us for Deaf clothes, Deaf music. We had to find items to validate our culture. Was there a Deaf food? Deaf water? There's Deaf theater and some Deaf actors, but Deaf culture is not always what hearing people think of as culture. My response was, people continually create and re-create culture. (Most of the things Kyle asked about were cultural artifacts anyway; only a tiny percentage of people still walk around wearing klompen.) Also, there are other cultures which surprise expectations, and cross boundaries between the physical and cultural.

We should not be forced to struggle to explain and justify our existence all the time. But Deaf people know this struggle. Anyone who has been asked "What is it like to be a Deaf person," anyone who's had to explain about interpreters or work out ways to take control of a communication situation before it takes control of you, we all know this. We have all had to summon the courage to speak up, to stand up for ourselves and for others. A lot of this courage comes from each other. I was a lot more passive before I had the massive dose of MSSD exposure!

Now, some people might argue that the reason many people are concerned about CI is that, like the children of oralism or even mainstreaming, many people who are isolated from the community do not reach the point where they can constructively analyze their own deafhood because they are continually "trying to be" instead of "being" - and because, like Ladd states, it is important to have dialogue to achieve praxis (praxis is the academic word for understanding/enlightenment, without the frills.)

I would like to state that this is because of an old saw: "Others see us better than we see ourselves." We need to be able to exchange our ideas with people who have gone through the same experiences. Deafhood can be internal, but this is limited. We need to be able to speak to others and have them understand, and speak back. Don't always have to say the same things. Just have to have a much better awareness of the why and how of our reactions - it means a lot.

It may also be why a high percentage of Deaf people marry other Deaf people. (Something like 80%.)

This dialogue is the key to finding Deafhood. Not rigidity. Not being stuck in your own idea of what it means to be a Deaf person, because you can never be sure whether that idea is 100% of the truth. Artists know this: that's why they push boundaries. It's the reason I have this blog: almost every post here, in some way or another, concerns my quest to retain my Deafhood while living my life. And that's one reason I really like working with shows that involve both Deaf/hearing people. Check out my YouTube Archive for some recent projects. Off to get coffee... feel like colombian roast this morning.


merfz in da h00d said...

my question is!

there are a lot of Deaf people i dislike. they say part of Deaf culture is being rude scumbuckets (the words actually used are rude, honest, and blunt). is that a sign of Deafhood or the perpetual immaturity that springs from the need to continually deflect feelings of oppression? is it Deafhood's liberation of individuals to choose their method of merrymaking, Deaf culture, or that part of people still uncomfortable with accepting the world as it is without lashing out?

Anonymous said...

The World of C.A. Fanara

"The second speaker was Dr. Paddy Ladd, none other than Mr. Deafhood himself! His lecture was entitled, "Deafhood and Future Directions of Deaf History Research". He made a dramatic entrance: wearing a suit, but with long hair and earrings, a blue ribbon in the name of Deaf like the red ribbon for AIDS and announced he was lighting a candle in the memory of the late Bernard Mottez. So very Paddy indeed. He then proceeded with his lecture by stating what he will discuss: review the past 25 years of Deaf History research, identify its weakness and propose future direction of Deaf History research. He identified the past 25 years as the first wave of Deaf History research titled "Deaf Resurgence". He thanked Jack Gannon and Harlan Lane for spearheading the start of Deaf History research to new heights. He basically believes that this period of research covered histories of Deaf individuals, institutions, national history and so forth. However, he said there were weaknesses in this period: Deaf communities, Deaf thoughts/beliefs, Deaf philosophy and more about Deaf women - all of which were seldom mentioned. So in the next second wave of Deaf History research, he stated, we should cover these topics plus sign language patterns over the ages, variety of Deaf peoples and so forth - this would be called Deaf Reconstruction, he said. The next part of his speech was quite enthralling: why we should have "Deafhood" readings. He pointed out the 19th century Deaf French banquets where the Deaf French would discuss their own Deaf philosophy. Paddy gave a good example of this Deaf French thought: "Massieu and Clerc felt that there were two groups of languages - natural and artificial. Natural languages belonged to the Deaf and the savages. Artificial languages belonged to the hearing people. They believed that language was linked to Deaf biology. This was why Deaf people were more of a global group; they were the Sign Language peoples. Therefore, they were among the First Nation people, those who believed that they belonged to Earth, not vice versa." These are mind-boggling as well as thought-provoking, eh? I could see that most people in the auditorium were grinning. Only Paddy could go off on a tangent like this and have people smile. He ended his lecture with this quote, "Deafhood History is within us all."

Joseph Rainmound said...

It's important to note that Massieu was probably not the typical Deaf Culture man. He was nuts. He had an obsession with watches which translated into a name sign that lasted forever. He was also, I believe, not quite a "Deaf Culture" person - he liked to push boundaries.

It is true that the men at the Deaf banquets called themselves Men of Nature (mostly to excuse their uncontrollable hands which may have been on every ass in the room...)

Anonymous said...

Government recognition of BSL as language in own right coincides with publication of Understanding Deaf Culture by Paddy Ladd

Secretary of State Andrew Smith and Minister for Disabled People Maria Eagle announced that the Government will recognise British Sign Language (BSL) as a language in its own right and will give 1 million in funding to support the move. This coincides with publication of Understanding Deaf Culture by Paddy Ladd

“Ladd writes powerfully of Deaf pride. But he also records the 19th- century perception of the Deaf as "savages", an inferior people who needed to be "cured" of their condition, often by crude experimental methods. He details its ongoing effects on an education system in which the average Deaf child now leaves school with a reading age of eight.”

Understanding Deaf Culture : In Search of Deafhood

“Chapter 1 presents an overview of Deaf communities, from an insider
perspective. Such an overview moves beyond the medical and disability-
related criteria of deafness (loss of hearing, 'need' for various forms
of rehabilitation, etc.) to a cultural definition of the community as
made up of Deaf with their own language (sign language), their own
membership criteria (endogamous marriage, socialization in special
residential schools, etc), their own community practices (further
socialization in Deaf clubs, Deaf sports, etc.). Ladd then goes on to
discuss such complications of the overview as the participation of
minority Deaf in the majority culture (at work, in higher education,
etc.), the presence of Deaf minority groups, and Deaf organization and
political activities. In closing the Introduction Ladd once again
emphasizes that the features of Deaf communities resemble most closely
the colonial situation”