The Beginning of a Community Evolution: A Reflection

I’m still reeling over yesterday’s controversy over DeafNation’s published artwork and the movement on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to call DeafNation and its CEO Joel Barish out for blindly showcasing a racist drawing. My mind is all over the place this morning. I have a few thoughts to share with you.

Anyone else notice how much change has happened within the deaf community over the summer? I’m talking about community accountability (when a community steps up and takes responsibility to correct something that is wrong) and cultural sensitivity. No one has forgotten the Bear Hunt Statue debacle that was the highlight of my Facebook newsfeed for something like a month straight. I participated in the dialogue, as did many others, but mostly I observed. I admit it, although I had signed the petition to remove the statue, I was afraid to truly take a stand. The community was so divided. But, as days passed and better, healthier conversations took place, I saw the division gap get closer. People who wanted the statue to stay precisely where it was became capable to at least understand the position of the opponents, and the people on the other side who found it heartbreaking for the BHS to be such a symbol for a school began to refocus towards the goal of spreading awareness. Of course, some people stayed strictly where they were from day one, but the point is, at the end of the controversy, I was able to say that I witnessed some beautiful things happen. Humans being humane towards each other.

And then we had the racist and homophobic cartoon that Convo published. I’m not going to lie, I was one of those people who said, “Seriously? I don’t see anything wrong with it.” But, at that point, I began to understand that we have been living within this system for so long that we see things through the creator of the system’s lens, and that creator happens to be the white, heterosexual man. Just because I was a Deaf Woman of Color, it didn’t mean that I automatically felt the same discrimination or oppression as other Deaf People of Color did. It took me time to reevaluate my opinions and to read different articles and blogs by people who refused to live their lives abiding the system. Remember, one who creates the system has the system benefit him.

There were a few days of outcries on Facebook regarding the cartoon. During that time, I remained silent, unsure of what to say or how to feel. Convo, a deaf-owned company, listened to its deaf community and agreed that the cartoon was offensive and took it down. An apology followed. On top of that, Convo held a sensitivity training for its employees. Awareness was being spread like a wildfire.

And finally, we are here. It took no time at all for people to collectively agree that the artwork DN published was utterly offensive. DN posted the drawing on September 27th, asking us what we thought of it. Offended reactions and objections were censored by DN. A movement was created by the DPOC community (and when I refer to the DPOC community, I am always including our white allies). On September 28th, for one hour, we were to post as many objections and requests for removal of the image and an apology from DN on its Facebook page. Just as the hour began, the image was removed. So were the comments that followed regardless. Within that hour, countless people united through social media with the hashtag #donotexploitDPOC as our raised fists. An apology from DN was issued immediately. It was a beautiful day of activism, and– although DN’s artwork was much more blatantly racist and offensive than Convo’s cartoon or the BHS controversy– the deaf community had began to evolve.

It wasn’t all butterflies and vanilla cupcakes, though. It was really disheartening to see some of the defenses or oppression from other members of our community. One man I didn’t know (yes, he was white, too) shared my status and wrote: “Here’s the latest thing to get the deafies’ dander up. I swear, it’s a wonder we can’t see people’s skeletons the way everyone is so thin-skinned nowadays.” Others accused us of crab-theory, claiming that we should instead (blindly) show continuous support for our deaf leaders and companies. Some complained about how negative the deaf community was being lately.

Well, you know what the art of the soccer game is? It’s that the players can– and should– move backwards sometimes for a better strategy at a goal. Although a team wants to get the ball to the opposite side of the field, the players will pass the ball away from the goalie sometimes. That isn’t unproductive; rather, it’s a very effective way to make smarter plays.

And that, my friends, is why we should call out our deaf leaders, companies, and organizations for community accountability. Their backlash and bad publicity may seem like a step backwards for our deaf community’s collective success, but if they bounce back from it the way Convo did, we’ll progressively get further together. It’s as simple as that. A man chopping a tree with a dull ax, refusing to take a break to sharpen it for fear of losing chopping time, will lag behind the one who stops to sharpen her ax every now and then.

Another thing that I find sad is the instant reactions to the words: “racist”, “white man”, “oppression”, etc. These words are not as evil as many fear them to be. These words are a part of our reality. These words are simply the truths. We are all racists living with oppression under the white man’s system, period. Those who are not afraid of those words anymore will understand what they really mean.

When we say “white man”, I see white people cower in shame or rise in automatic defense. “White man” does not always literally mean the male that is of European ancestry. It can mean many things. It can mean those who benefit from our system. It can mean the Western philosophy that our society follows. “Racist” does not always mean that one is discriminating based on color. It can mean that someone is unknowingly benefiting from the unjust and unspoken rules we live with everyday. “Oppression” does not always mean the literal act of denying someone her rights. It can mean simply ignoring marginalized people’s cries.

It is amazing to see how differently I view the world after only a couple of months of educating myself, little by little. I ask of you to do the same. Leaders don’t defend; they listen. And so should all of us.


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