“Deafness and the Riddle of Identity” review

Wow! Go read this!

I thought this was a very well laid out overview. In particular, he addresses the inherent problems behind the whole definition of Deaf Culture — problems that are readily apparent to me as an outsider but a yes-I-am-deaf solitaire. I do have some quibbles; at one point he says:

The idea of an ethnic group or minority is tinged with the brutal history of racial politics. There is a sense in which slavery, apartheid, miscegenation laws, and medical experiments have forged the apartness of the racialized minority and in which the oppressor group has created the oppressed. Is that the best model on which deafness should base its existence?

Well these things have happened to deaf people. We get misdiagnosed as low level IQ, we are forcibly isolated from other signing people, mis- and under- educated, and unnecessarily medicalized. I agree that other models are better for us to use, but we also need to make it clear this kind of stuff happens, because we need to make it stop happening.

Also, he states

Further complicating definitions of deafness are all things digital. Deafness “disappears” in cyberspace. While using the Internet or pagers, for example, deaf people do not use language much differently from anyone else. In the blogosphere, we are all bloggers, whether we are deaf or not.

I disagree with this analysis as well; it was true at first when I got on the internet back in the late 80’s (yes, you read that right). But there are two major differences now: the proliferation of audio materials on the net has started excluding me again from things: I cannot understand any of the available podcasts or audio-only videos, and most of them do not provide transcripts. Conversely, the rise of vlogging material in ASL has created wonderful opportunities for further deaf networking, making deaf folks visible on the internet (and hence informing hearing people that there is much more to deafness than they think). Not to mention drawing in more solitaires such as myself.

And while philosophically I agree with his general conclusion in one sense, in another I think there is something unique about groups of deaf people, especially groups who share a communications mode. I think the general notion of Deaf Culture will always be there, but perhaps constructed more in a deafhood manner, and with more acceptance of the possible variation — an awareness that it’s not either Deaf or deaf, but a spectrum.

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