Qs and Reflection on Audism and Peacebuilding

This really caught my attention tonight:

“Audism Free America (AFA), a grassroots Deaf activist organization, will stage a one-day protest rally on April 3rd 2009 in front of the Volta Bureau at 1537 35th St., NW in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area.

The purpose of the rally is to call attention to the denial of linguistic and human rights of Deaf citizens and to highlight how the Volta Bureau/AG Bell Association has worked to perpetuate the denial of these rights.

The newly formed AFA organization serves to expose AUDISM–practices and attitudes based on the assumption that the behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is best and desired. Audism manifests itself as stigma, bias, discrimination, and prejudice–in overt or covert ways–against Deaf culture, American Sign Language and Deaf people from all walks of life…”  Read More…

First, I want to congratulate and wish a great action for Audism Free America. I will promptly begin researching to better understand the specific challenges AFA has with the procedures and actions of AG Bell in advocating for the deaf community.

I did not grow up in a community that addressed audism, the societal behavior that discriminates based ones hearing ability . One of three deaf people I’ve ever met was Linda Bove from Sesame Street when I was five years old. Linda portrayed the longest running deaf actor in a television history on Sesame Street from 1971-2003  In educational resources and social justice inclined environments I am apart of, when the ever growing interconnected tangles of sexism, classism, racism, heterosexim, and ableism come up, how we intake information, learning differences and the bias and privileges enacted in society is not mentioned. Even when speaking about limitations of language and the needs for bilingual education programs for second language learners the needs of the deaf community is never mentioned.  Recognizing my position of having full body mobility, sight and hearing, I can only go with my experience that society is set up to benefit people with these abilities. I don’t believe in the language of “handicapped” because it problematizes people and normalizes a fixed center of people.

I don’t know enough about the deaf community and how to be an ally.  Until I saw this protest press release I honestly didn’t think about the full frame of linguistic birthrights – a phrase I emphasize because I realize how beautiful that is. We talk about freedom of speech but just exactly how fully do we support that in a variety of expressions?

I can so easily call out short comings of others who don’t stand as an ally for me when they hear homophobic, sexist or racist language and I admit like most of us I filter information to see how it affects where I am marginalized and where I have power and privilege, as I feel we all hold both simultaneously. I want to be more mindful with my own assumptions and notice bias when people assume default ability and language resources. A few years ago I saw an interesting documentary called Sound and Fury. It’s about one deaf family’s struggle over deciding if cochlear implants were a benefit to navigate both the deaf and hearing worlds or ultimately slow step towards assimilation. I’ve read that some people compare cochlear implants to getting any medically necessary device such as a pace maker or prosthetics. The difference that I can completely understand is that it can easily make the ability to hear as better rather than just different than non-hearing people. It was interesting and painful to see a family be split about how it might unite or separate them with various communities.The loss of culture and assimilation is so often talked about in regards to race, colonization, religious freedom and spoken language.  I don’t want anyone to feel forced to be something else to make others comfortable so I certainly get what the Audism Free America group is standing for with AG Bell, though I don’t know enough about either to speak on it. I’m curious what discussions took place to negotiate and suggest alternatives before this action but really, go you!  It’s hard to stand with a voice of dissent in your own community. I feel that way in the LGBT community.

So what does this have to do with peacebuilding? Well – it seems everything. Our work is based largely in communication. It occured to me that I have an incredible blur around assuming (so generally that I don’t even notice it) all victims of war and genocide are hearing people. That everyone in Gaza/Israel/Democratic Republic of the Congo can hear, has an an audio warning of the impeding violence. What if you are the only deaf person in your community that is going into a war? What if your access to learning/signing is limited because of a third party or social stigma? What if you are a deaf woman in prison who can sign/read lips but the system itself does not support you?  Maybe I also assume all oppressive government regimes are hearing people?  These are things to think about.

I  realized I have been assuming that all UN peacekeepers or mediators or in Darfur can hear and see.  How many abilities do I not even consider because my own privilege is so wrapped around everything? While at first it seems logical (or maybe this is still the problem that I say that? Please call me out if I am wrong…) that peacekeepers in conflict zones would be hearing people but suddenly these thoughts made me have 100 questions.

Are there deaf mediator teams dealing with local, international conflicts? Where is deaf activism today? How does audism play into how we facilitate our work as peacebuilders and are we, in our own practice, marginalizing others? What about deaf women’s rights? Feminisms is so often about voicing. How are deaf women addressing being seen? I wonder how the ability and right to be understood connects to the Declaration of Human Rights. I wonder so many things right now.

I don’t really have any answers. I just wanted to share that I was thinking about this all. Perhaps this also all sounds very ignorant and if so I am completely open to feedback. I just wanted to open a dialogue space.  Of course I understand that deaf peope are completely capable of doing everything hearing people can do. I am more focusing here on how unknowledgable environments could drain and create conflicts on an deaf individual to bridge themselves to fix what the hearing don’t know. It would be great if as Americans we were all required to learn four or more languages for every quarter stage of our life but that”s another discussion.

Do you know what I love about that Sesame Street clip above? When she is done writing her letter she doesn’t say it would be easier for her to buy a hat if she could hear but rather “if the sales women knew how to sign.” Often times people feel that they have to pick up all the slack to make their difference go away for someone else and I love that even when addressing children it pointed to what we all must do to bridge what we don’t know and not just make all marginalized people teach everyone or blame themselves. In that very small way it said that often it’s the norms of the world that need to change and not you in your very special self and the wonderful way you came into it no matter your abilities.

As a hearing person I cannot claim to understand what the experience of a non-hearing person is but I imagine it takes great skill to handle all the human judgements, conflicts, issues we all have and then feel that the world is not set up to fully “hear” you. I’m wondering about the lives of deaf activists and intersectionality.  Does the peacebuilding field address, advocate, voice, haveleadership from/advocating /support deaf communities?  What does communication in every sense mean to us?  How can hearing activists  step up and be allies to deaf community and the rights of signing culture? How can we make sure we’re not marginalizing people, even with our good intentions?

Just thinking aloud. Please do join me. Comment or blog back. Let’s think together.

Check out the Audism Free America blog here


3 thoughts on “Qs and Reflection on Audism and Peacebuilding

  1. i think you pose some really great questions. i’m currently in a beginning ASL class, and a large element of that has been deaf culture so far. i think some of the students are trying really hard to work on their own preconceived ideas, but many seem so steeped in norms of hearing, they are not fully learning the language (culture and language are often strongly interconnected), as well as distracting others from doing so in what is supposed to be a deaf immersion environment.

    i’m really glad you made this post and i’ll be thinking about some of your questions further. i might even be able to get you in touch with some folks i know who might self-identify as activists who are deaf/hard of hearing. and i’ll be contemplating this—as i have been—in terms of my teaching career. maybe i can even go to that rally… hmmm…

    ♥ & peace to you, dear

  2. Hey Martine. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue and for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your naming of your lenses, and what we might call “biases,” and your willingness to ask questions we might not have answers to.

    Reading this post what I am questioning is they way we question.

    I have been trained to mine for specific questions for specific marginalized groups — for example, women, people of color, LGBTQI, etc. Not only does this all too often result in the unfortunate mishap of missing the intersections of oppression and privilege, but ulitmately it will ignore and leave out many peoples needs. Is this making sense?

    I am not arguing that we stop this form of questioning, or that we somehow “switch” it…what I am questioning, and, I suppose, suggesting, is the need for some more ANDS. I hear you calling for awareness and allyship for the deaf community, I also hear you calling for a change in paradigm of allyship.

    I am existing in ignorance — which results in exclusion and silencing of people — because I have not learned how to go “farther upstream” with my questioning…

    While as an exercising ally I will always question the specific needs of a person or community, understanding that I am not that person nor will I ever share their experience, and that within a “community” there are as many diverse needs and qualities and characteristics as there are people, I also need to challenge myself and my peers to begin to question the way we question.

    I really don’t have any answers for this. And, I am thinking that the “and(s)” I am talking about are what could be considered the “roots of the roots”…Is this making any sense…We have to look at the leaves, the branches, the trunk, the bugs on the leaves, the roots, the dirt, the animals in the branches, the…why is it that our eyes can handle the majestic complexity of complexity and yet our minds can only seem to process one element at a time?

    What I hear you writing about, Martin, is assumptions…how can we energize our questions to question assumption, in adition to person- and people-specific assumptions.

    What, then, could we learn?

    You are right, it is my responsibility as a hearing person to spend time not only questioning what it would be like if I couldn’t hear (knowing that I can never truly know or understand), but to also work to challenge operating systems that don’t consider these questions. At the same time, I need to be challenging my understanding of questioning all together (what are the questions underneath the questions)…If not, will allyship, peace, and justice continue to be a (sometimes, not always) reactive force?

    Let’s continue this discussion, and begin to think critically about how the Peace Studies program at Naropa may be perpetuating audisim, and, how, then, we can incorporate these questions (and changes?) into the curriculum. We will inevitably evolve our limited capacities…voicing, as you mentioned, takes on a deeper meaning than speaking with throat sounds (which is still an accessible form if we, hearing people, could only learn how to listen differently..). This is not to say a hearing person should or will use compassion for non-hearing people for her or his own benefit. And, my understanding of allyship — and peace and justice work — is that it is truth telling, for all…It is working to transform ideas of “the exception” into what I understand to be “the truth(s)”… Yeah?

    Okay…that’s enough for now. Peace, Em

  3. I know this blog was posted 3 or 4 years ago, but if anyone sees this, please check out my FB page DEGAN: Deaf Ethical Group for Animals and Nonviolence. We aim to connect audism with speciesism, racism, sexism and homophobism. I was a Peace Studies major at Earlham College, am in both the hearing and Deaf worlds, and teach ASL. 🙂

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