Life, Writing Challenge

Why it’s not OK to fight audism with racism

Two weeks ago, an article from The Limping Chicken— a Deaf news and blog site– got a lot of attention within my Facebook feed. It was about how a Deaf woman ended up sitting with a hearing Asian man on a plane and he encouraged her to get a Cochlear Implant. The woman retorted by making a racist comment. People applauded her for her quick wit and brilliant comeback. This made my stomach churn, but I wasn’t in a place where I could process it thoroughly at the time.

Today, I’m ready to talk about why this exchange was not okay. First, here’s the story, copied and pasted from the article:

“I’m here at Minneapolis Airport, a 3-hours layover.

I’ve a story to share.

On the flight from Dulles, a guy was sitting next to me. A casual wearing guy. He’s an Asian. We minded our business as I was engrossed into a “Yes Please” book by Amy Phoeler.

An excellent book, by the way.

When a stewardess came by for drinks, I mouthed ‘Sprite, no ice, please.’

The casual wearing guy ordered orange juice.

Then, he wrote something on a napkin. The note was then placed on my lap (it was strange, nevertheless).

The dialogue began:

Him: Hi, why aren’t you speaking? Use your voice.
Me: I’m deaf.
Him: Get a chochlear implant. Sad not able to hear.
Me: I’m fine with it. I’m good, thank you. (I was annoyed)
Him: You are deaf. Need cholear implant. Important. My deaf cousin have Colchester implant.

Okay. I was extremely annoyed.

Me: Do you work at a nail salon?
Him: (puzzled look) No, why do you say that?
Me: Well, not all deaf people have or get CI. So, not all Asians work at nail salons.

*silence* Then, he closed his eyes for the rest of flight.”

I saw that most of the people on my newsfeed read this through the lens of the Deaf woman. I saw only a couple of people who observed this through the lens of the Asian man. As a Deaf and Asian woman, I had the lens of both individuals involved and the ball of contempt that formed inside of me bounced both ways. That’s how I know when something isn’t right– when it makes me feel hate instead of love.

First of all, there is nothing clever about the Deaf woman using a racial stereotype as a rebuke. It’s called a stereotype for a reason; everyone knows said image of the stereotype and is quick to associate that image with a group of people. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it requires very little thought.

It also didn’t do anything more than just make that Asian man feel as uncomfortable as that Deaf woman felt. When you fight a stereotype with another stereotype, nobody wins. I felt the pain of both stereotypes. I was reminded that there will always be people who will think it’s unfortunate that I don’t have a cochlear implant and that there will always be people who look at me and think: “I wonder if she works at a nail salon.”

Yes, that Asian man was so clearly coming from a place of utter ignorance and while I completely understand how that can be frustrating and dehumanizing, his audist behavior still didn’t give the Deaf woman a pass to be racist.

He hurt her, so she hurt him back. And what was gained from that experience? Did either of them spend the time on their flights trying to understand where the other came from? I highly doubt that. It’s likely that they both sat in their seats next to each other, fuming about how their own identity was perceived by outsiders of a superior status (hearing people for the Deaf woman and white people for the Asian man).

That must have been one miserable flight for both of them, but it didn’t have to be. It’s a tragedy that the Deaf woman had a life full of firsthand experiences as a Deaf person that the Asian man knew nothing about and he walked off that plane still knowing nothing about them.

If she had told him that she had a community of Deaf people where she belonged, where she could use her natural language freely, where she was surrounded by people who shared her identity and culture… do you think it would have made a difference in how that exchange went? I do.

If she had asked him about his Deaf cousin with the cochlear implant, asked him if the cousin was really able to participate in group discussions, asked him if he felt he could communicate with the cousin equally as much as he could with other family members… do you think it would have made him think harder? I do.

If she had encouraged him to learn more about the Deaf community, encouraged him to learn sign language, encouraged him to talk with his cousin about what it’s like being Deaf… do you think it would have made a positive impact on him? I do.

Yes, it takes time and energy to come up with a thoughtful approach.

No, it’s not easy biting our tongue when someone makes a painful assumption about our culture and who we are.

Yes, it’s okay to not feel up for educating ignorant people.

No, it’s not okay to fight an -ism with another -ism.

We did not grow up in a culture that promotes the type of thoughtful approach that really focuses on the issue at hand instead of just sinking to the other person’s level and hurting them back. But we can start now. And I think we should.

Edit: One thing I didn’t originally mention in this blog post that I think is worth addressing is the type of response that would be appropriate when we don’t feel like having a conversation to educate someone. What I would suggest is simply to say, “Please educate yourself about Deaf culture before making that kind of comment again.”

It’s okay to be snarky, but it’s not okay to be racist.


limping chicken

limping chicken 2

Photos from The Limping Chicken

Writing Prompt 10/30: Talk about a controversial situation. 



5 thoughts on “Why it’s not OK to fight audism with racism

  1. Taylor says:

    You make a lovely point, and I agree with your article. However, the conversation referred to is almost definitely fake. Look at the photo – the “man’s” handwriting is just a smaller version than the “woman’s” handwriting. The same person wrote all of it.

    • Could be.. Still, this blog post was addressing the community’s support for the nail salon analogy so the point stands even if there was no Asian man. Thanks for mentioning that, though!

  2. This is brilliant! I get so tired of the average Joe presuming that all Deaf people want to hear! Deaf people are as varied as all of the other human population. In addition, cochlear implant’s are portrayed as the end all and be all. It’s far from the truth. I have a lot of Deaf Family and hearing family. No one in our family believes that are non-hearing family members should drill a hole in their head !!! American sign language is a beautiful language and it does not need to be validated by the hearing community !!!!

  3. Tina Jo says:

    I’m sorry for coming in this late, and I want to say my piece. I’m tired reading about us being told how we should handle situations. Right, we can’t please everyone and we all need to come to grips with/about our ISMS. I know u mean well, Lelia, and in my case when it comes to dealing with “laymen” it is easier that I give an example or two, which is more of an analogy just like what Dawn did. The question of whether people have an intrinsic sense of right and wrong, I personally feel nothing is bad about the concept of isms when giving examples. It will often demonstrate how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are similar in other ways as well. There are times when I’m just tired of describing my position especially to ignorants but I’m polite like when one apologized for not being ASL skilled then I respond that I’m sorry for not having speech skills; or when one says I don’t look Deaf and I respond that we don’t even smell Deaf. Perhaps it is ok to explain ourselves…yet was it wrong of me to put this in place with intention? No, I stand by this even when using headlines, openings, themes, calls to action, punchlines and more that I find many can benefit from the use of analogies. We frequently use such comparisons simply to express or explain what we try to mean.

    Every minute counts, now with the extra hour we have, hope this won’t stop Dawn from using her time to explain as she really nailed this guy to make him realize –for insisting on her to use her voice. Who does he think he is?!? So Dawn, please don’t change 🙂

    • Some notes in response:

      -Yes, it’s easier to use analogies. Some of them are effective, but some are not. Some do more harm than good. Analogies are very a gray area and I think it’s an area we should be more thoughtful about. This blog post was a suggestion of a different approach to take and I wrote it because I personally found the nail salon analogy harmful and not effective.

      -I understand that it’s not our responsibility to educate every ignorant person that we come across. What bothered me was the overwhelmingly positive response to the nail salon analogy. Our Deaf community seemed to accept and support that analogy without question. In fact, it could have even become a model response for the Deaf community. As a member of the Deaf community and an Asian person, I mulled on it and offered a different solution. It bothers me that your response to that is to defend Dawn and tell her not to change, in a comment addressed to me.

      -We are clearly coming from different places and you’re not obliged to agree with me. The bottom line here is that I don’t believe that the Asian man actually understood why his comments were so problematic after his exchange with Dawn.

      -My name is spelled Leila.

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