Today’s post started with a Facebook message from a fellow CODA by the name of Norma, who has agreed to let me share this experience with you. Here is her initial message:
Hi Fraser!!! How are you??? Sorry to bother you, I know you’re a busy guy, but I think I need your input on something. I was reading a book and twice the term “deaf and dumb” was used. Not as a reference to a Deaf person, but referring to an emotional state (rendered deaf and dumb). Even though I knew what the author meant, it still bothered me. (The book was published last year, and the setting is modern day-cell phones, tablet computers, etc). Then I find out the author has a child that wears hearing aids, so now I’m even more stunned she would use that term---even in an emotional context…Am I over reacting???
My response was a follows:
nope, not at all. I'm offended by that. Its likely that the author meant it in the same vein as someone using the word "retarded" to describe an idiot. However, the fact this author has a hard of hearing child may suggest they are straight up oralist. Its a likely dynamic with a HoH child, even more so than with a deaf child. I think it stuns most of us who have a clue about Deaf, because we have a clue about Deaf. I think our problem is that sometimes we don't remember that most people out there don't have any experience with Deaf, and when we see that they might have had some and still say things like that, it seems to us to be unfathomable. Either way, it's Audism, and how offended you are should be influenced by whether it was inherently hateful or just said out of a lack of awareness and sensitivity. Do you mind if I use this in a blog post?
Norma later filled me in a bit more about the details of this incident that I would like to share with you, so here you go:
Here’s part of the sentence I read in the book “…was on the verge of being rendered deaf and dumb by the paralyzing…” It definitely triggered something in me, even in that context. I contacted the author thru her website. I wanted to take the opportunity to share Deaf awareness and educate her on audism. We exchanged several emails (that’s how I found out about one of her kids has 30% hearing, and I too picked up on the vibe that she’s probably raising the child orally). She was extremely sweet and kind, she apologized profusely from the bottom of her heart, she agreed with all of my viewpoints, she does NOT believe deaf=dumb.... she talks about being in the head of this particular character. In one of her emails she said “I agree, I think there are certain words or sayings that trigger certain responses in everyone. And you are right, the term “deaf and dumb” does not bother me – in the context in which I meant it. I can absolutely see it coming across as something else, which I promise you, I didn’t mean. Yes, I would completely take offense if the words were used together to describe a deaf person as being dumb. I took a step back when you emailed and completely understood how that would sound if you weren’t right there in my head witnessing how I felt Tag was feeling. He was completely overwhelmed which affected his cognitive abilities because of his reaction. Like I said, I completely understand…
smh, WHAT!!!! I was blown away by this, but at the same time this was the email from her that finally put the puzzle pieces together for me. You said “Its likely that the author meant it in the same vein as someone using the word "retarded" to describe an idiot” …that makes sense to me. The conclusion I came up with was she’s comparing the traits of an overwhelmed hearing person to the traits of a deaf and dumb person. In my last email to her I stated this to her and attached the following two pics…she has not replied back to me. HA!! If you are ok with this and think it’s appropriate, I would love to send her your blog when you finish it. I told her (twice), that I was anxious to discuss this topic with other Codas.
Looking foward to your thoughts on this!!! YOU ARE AWESOME!!!
Again, my response:
oh wow, it's mainly out of ignorance, but also carries little regard to how offensive it can truly be. It's a typical reaction to first finding out you offended someone, or a group of people, I think.... Thank you for this Norma, this is awesome stuff, and kudos to you on confronting her in a non offensive way. That takes a lot of guts, and it hopefully plants a seed in her mind the next time she intends to use that phrase...
Norma’s next email to me was this:
“kudos to you on confronting her in a non offensive way. That takes a lot of guts”…hahaha, actually it’s the exact opposite for me, I fear confrontations!!! and I was totally shocked when she replied to me, I honestly thought my email would just sit somewhere or get deleted. My goal was to try to get her in a calm and respectful discussion and fortunately she responded the same way. She has absolutely no control over how I react to words in her book, that’s on me. Does that make sense???? I was trying to figure out why this was a trigger for me, and she helped me figure it out, even though I don’t think she liked my results. *smile* I want to share some more of her words with you.
“… I want to clarify something. These words in my term do not go together as in deaf = dumb, but rather their senses were completely overwhelmed…I completely understand your response to the terminology and I want to apologize if in any way it was expressed that the two words related to one another. I definitely agree with your entire email and I apologize from the bottom of my heart if you believe I was referring to the hearing impaired in a negative way. I assure you that I was not. Thank you so much for taking the time to send me the email…
Thank you Fraser for validating my feelings. It makes me feel better. Not sure if offended is the right word for me personally, but I’m sad that she doesn’t “get it”, or maybe she does now, and that’s why she hasn’t replied back to me. I hope the pics I sent her didn’t offend her; I chose them very carefully for a reason. I wanted to show her the Deaf part in me. The word “peace” for her- regardless of our difference of opinion, and the robot for her child. Surely, even oralists can’t be offended by the ILY handshape, right??!!
My response to this:
true, but she may only be an unwitting oralist (she is and she doesn't know it). Either way, it does boil the whole thing down to ignorance a lack of awareness, and thats enough for me to blog about. I put her in the category of people who would likely benefit from Deaf awareness education, and not just a hateful person who will never get it....
To sum this up, ignorance leads to not so good things. In this case, it led to Audism, and Norma spoke out against it. I am proud of her for doing so. I know many CODAs who spend their entire lives frustrated with all the hearing people that ask the same questions and make the same comments over and over about being Deaf, sign language, etc. It’s tedious for most of us, I think. I know it certainly has been for me, and thankfully ELF tends to take up the rebuttal (if you will) when I am asked those things now. That’s her contribution to helping end Audism. It’s too frustrating for me to go that route at times, but I find it much easier to talk about in these blog posts.
I believe we all (Deaf, CODAs, Interpreters) have a responsibility to educate and spread awareness about Audism, and what it means to be Deaf. There are plenty of ways to do so that all vary in the amount of involvement. Norma, for example, chose to confront the author of the book she’d read. I write blogs. Many interpreters do answer questions from hearing people regarding Deaf culture. Many Deaf people are politically active, or perform for hearing audiences about their lives and their observances. Some of us just perform what we think is entertaining, and through that the world gets to see how normal and equal Deaf people truly are.
My point is this -- I don’t mean that all of us as CODAs need to do these great big things in order to achieve this, but I want all of you reading this to understand that if you do feel a responsibility to do something, please find an avenue to do so which works for you, no matter how little or how great the amount of your life you give to it. It’s how we can give back to our parents, and help squash out most of the ignorance that leads to Audism.
Norma, here’s to you and your effort! Cheers!
Until next time,
P. S., I need to add one more thing. Norma, you saw an incidence of Audism and you went right and challenged that person. Wow that was brave! You know what you did means? Yea, you’ve become an Audism fighter! So now you can join the roster. Just so you know, you can come up with your own name, you know, like a good nickname, kind of like a wrestling name. You think about it and let me know, and I’ll add it to the blog roster. Congratulations, and thank you!