Saturday, January 27, 2007

There are none so deaf as those who will not hear

Brian was kind enough to alert me to this recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by I. King Jordan, President Emeritus of Gallaudet University, on the furore surrounding Jane Fernandes' hiring as his successor, and then removal after sustained and angry protests at the college, as well as on Deaf culture's issues with inclusion and exclusivity. (See my thoughts on the protests and the outcome.)

Brian, who is a brighter-than-average person, commented that "[n]ot being immersed in the issue, I thought he sounded sensible and reasonable". Yes, well, he would think that, as would anyone who is smart and fair. And not Deaf. But Dr. Jordan speaks some hard truths, to some prickly people, which is doubtless why the Deaf blogroll has been savaging him for the piece all over the net. Some of the words I've read describing Dr. Jordan in general and the piece in particular include "hostile", "patronizing", "bitter", "absolute propaganda", a "smear campaign", "absolute bullshit" - and worse.

The Deaf community has a long, long way to go to understanding its own hard-headedness and culture of "cultural superiority" (within which, the community's faint protests to the contrary, the deafer you are, the Deafer, hence better, you are, and ASL absolutely trumps all other communication methods). It is certainly their right to take this position; I have the luxury of having artificial hearing and of only having a small degree of identification with Deaf culture, so I don't feel particularly hurt at the understanding that I am culturally inferior in their eyes. What does pain me is the fact that if the Deaf could get past their cultural biases, they could create a true coalition and community that is many times larger than their current political base, and our power - and ability to effect change - as a group of people would be increased by several orders of magnitude.

(Why couldn't I have acquired a disability that threw me in with a gentler group of people? Blind people, say? Blind people are nice. I never met a single blind person I didn't like. You don't see them freaking out in the streets and throwing mud at each other in blogs. No, they're at home petting their seeing-dogs in front of the fire and listening to Descriptive-Audio-Enhanced versions of Masterpiece Theatre.)

ronnie

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5 Comments:

Blogger Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues said...

Ronnie,

Jordan's article really *is* a farce. There is no such thing as a group of people trying to redefine who is deaf.

Jordan is afraid of being investigated and prosecuted for his misdeeds, so he wrote this propaganda piece.

BR

9:58 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

You remember, I think, how horrified I was by the "cause deafness" movement as described in Seeing Voices. I wonder if you're expressing the same kind of emotion here.

3:02 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

As an outsider to both communities, this reminds me of what young African Americans went through, particularly on college campuses, in the late 60s. It wasn't just the dashikis and giant Afros, but a reaction to "if you're brown, stick around, if you're black, move on back" that branded lighter-skinned blacks as somehow complicit and darker skinned blacks as more authentic. And there were the cries of "Uncle Tom" leveled at any African-American who didn't adopt a separatist, hard-core line.

It was a painful time that, to some extent, has self-corrected, but the ability of those with the loudest voices and the most intense emotional baggage to dominate the discussion was evident there, as it was in most movements of the era.

There are differences, of course. But one major difference is that, even if Howard (as the pre-eminent black university) had been bullied by its students into naming a hardliner as president, driving off moderate, inclusivist support, other black colleges would have taken up the slack.

If Gallaudet puts itself in a situation to lose support from all but the hardliners, what schools will step forward? Or, to ask it another way, can the hardline community support a college of the quality of Gallaudet -- given that the school would continue to get support from sources open to all schools, can the hardline community provide the level of support that comes from individuals?

Given the number of African-Americans in the United States, and the number of colleges serving them, the black community never had to answer that question. I don't think the deaf community has that luxury.

8:45 AM  
Blogger ronnie said...

BR, I want to thank you warmly for commenting. I can't tell you how much I appreciate dialogue with the Deaf on this.

I know that there are a lot of people who are blogging that Dr. Jordan is hiding behind the Jane Fernandes affair because he himself has skeletons in his closet that he does not want exposed. What I never hear is solid evidence of these misdeeds, nor even clear articulations of them. I have read vague allegations of financial mismanagement; of taking credit for fundraising that others did (hardly a novelty in academia); and of general poor management of the university; but never a solid accusation, much less a collection of associated evidence to support them.

I have no stake in what happens to Dr. Jordan, or whether people have issues with him. I am no defender of him, indeed, I have no feelings about him whatsoever. It may in fact be true that he mismanaged money, or took credit for others' work, or managed the university poorly. It doesn't matter in this context, because what he said in the op-ed piece is separate from those allegations, is separate from Gallaudet; it is much larger than that, it is about the D/deaf community at large and whether a culture of exclusion is damaging it.

Even a scoundrel may be correct. I doubt Dr. Jordan is quite the scoundrel that he is painted to be; but even if he were, he does limn a truth that I, as a late-deafened adult, know to be true, because I have experienced it. Not universally true, certainly. But periodically true, maybe - and I believe this - systemically true.

Again, thank you for taking the time to comment. I have started reading your blog and look forward to hearing your ongoing thoughts on things - with an open mind. I trust, given the politeness of your comment, that you will do me the same courtesy.

All the best,
ronnie

8:26 PM  
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1:59 AM  

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