Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

The national ‘forgiven’ summit… part 1

Some people complain that Deafhood is unncessarily contestatory.

Why? Because they suggest that it plays on fear to establish an identity that isn’t ‘really real’… that it refuses to accept the modern day situation of the Deaf community… that it unnecessarily separates Deaf people from the wider hearing world.

That they do it in clearly written English (and Welsh) gives some indication as to the end of the Deaf language spectrum that they occupy…

I’ve even argued that Deafhood is problematically contestatory. But ‘unncessary’… No.


Because, without contestation – you have no recognition.

And without recognition – you have no rights.

And without rights – you have no way to get what you want on your terms… including the space to thrash out your identity with others who insist on being fuzzily associated with you for some reason…

This is something that Aboriginal People the world over have understood…

A few years ago, I was at a conference in Tasmania… A key part of that conference (on senses of place) was a welcome to the land, given by a representative of the remainder of the Aboriginal population of that state… remainder, because the Whites were so effective in ‘culling’ the Aborigines that there were few left alive and none that were pure-blood…

Key to the policy of the Whites at the time was to ‘remove any trace of the Aboriginal from the Aborigines’… anyone in doubt of the horror of how that policy was put into practice should watch ‘Rabbit proof fence’ for a easy starter…

Clearly the pain of that time is something that is still present – and something that I don’t wish to sweep under the carpet – However, at the time I was there, a seismic shift was going on in the attitudes of the Aboriginals, and many of the Whites…

In the welcome, the Aboriginal spokesman – Greg Lehman, a representative of the Trawulwuy people – said…

“In the beginning, when the Whites arrived, we just wanted to you to leave… Most of our history with you is about waiting for you to leave… Now, we realise that you’re not going to leave… and we realise that you shouldn’t. Once we were the Aboriginal people of Tasmania… now, the whites who live here are also the Aboriginal people of Tasmania…”

A shift of this type (forgiveness, reconciliation, recognition… call it what you may…  not resignation, it’s more positive than that) has been going on in other places too… the use by self-referencing Pekeha (Whites) of the twin names of Aotearoa New-Zealand is an example…

And now… in Canada. Take a look at what’s been recently going on with the National Forgiven Summit.

With Paddy Ladd and Sarah Batterbury, I’ve written on the parallels between the Aboriginal situation and the Deaf situation – on the direct comparison that is possible between the ways that people have tried to remove the Aboriginal from the Aboriginal… and the Deaf person from the deaf person…

So is it time, now, for Deaf people to simply ‘suck it up’ and forgive the Oralists as some would suggest they should do? Accept that a time of ‘postdeafness’ is coming, that they can’t avoid it, and that they should take up their place within a fuller designation of valid humanity?

I don’t think so…

I’ll unpick this in a couple of future posts… but there’s a key difference to the situation of Aboriginal peoples and the Deaf community and, however the former construct their identity (and it is constructed…) as somehow self-evidently distinct, important, valid in a way that forces non-Aboriginals to recognise it as they work towards establishing a situation of parity with them… At least Aboriginal people have that recognition…

Deaf people, on the other hand, have no recognition… They are still ultimately best served, in the eyes of the mainstream, by not being ‘Deaf’ at all…

The Aboriginal identity might be constructed… but it’s one construction within a world of identities where everything is constructed… and it’s a construction that has been built on their own term – that has allowed them to define themselves without looking over their shoulders all the time.

Until this is also available to Deaf people… then Deafhood should (and will, I think) remain contestatory.

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This entry was posted on June 14, 2010 by in DEAF and tagged , , , , , .
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