Elisa’s “What Rejection Does to the Deaf Community”
Thanks to Elisa for granting permission to crosspost this here. Most of you probably know she has her own blog over at http://www.elisawrites.com
I was wandering in the halls of books at the Gallaudet library, looking for books related to deaf education for one of my classes. I was taking my sweet time, as I always do in libraries – there’s just too many books to look at. I came to two books about Miss America Heather Whitestone, remember her? One of them was written by her mother and one by Whitestone herself.
Mildly curious, I skimmed the one by the mother. It had some cute pictures in it and some sad but cute stories about her and her deaf daughter. It talked about her “hard choices”, such as choosing oral education for her daughter and later letting her take Signed Exact English classes. It was what I expected. I put it back and decided I would look at Whitestone’s book. I flipped the pages, looking at the pictures in the middle first (you know you do that, too) and then moving through the book, glancing at chapter titles. One caught my eye – “Miss Deaf Alabama Pagent.”
Whitestone talked about how many people at the deaf school didn’t understand her because she signed in SEE. She talked about how one deaf girl was angry that Whitestone brought her hearing mother. She talked about how other deaf girls also danced to music in their talent competitions, but their motions were “simple.” She said that her ballet dancing didn’t “hit” the deaf audience because “they didn’t hear the music or felt it in their hearts.” She said that she couldn’t understand the judges who signed in ASL, because “the vocabulary of American Sign Language is very limited and they communicate thoughts, rather than complete sentences.” She explained that the judges couldn’t understand her because she signed in English, which had “a rich vocabulary and grammatically complete sentences.”
By that time, I was boiling inside. How many people have read this book and murmured at the limitations of ASL? They would think, it must be true, since Heather’s deaf, so she should know. I glowered with anger – but I read on.
Whitestone went on to say that she was completely rejected by the other deaf girls in the pageant because she spoke to the waiter at the restaurant that they went to — the deaf girls were being immature (this is my word) and signing ASL to the waiter and Whitestone got tired and just spoke the other girls’ orders. Whitestone drove back home with her mother, wondering, she was rejected by the hearing world and now she had just been rejected by the deaf world. Where did she belong to?
Now I wasn’t mad at Heather anymore. I was mad at the deaf girls. If they had accepted Heather and welcomed her — became her friends, taught her ASL and its rich vocabulary and structure, introduced her to the deaf community — who knows what Heather could have given back to the deaf world.
This is one of the reasons why the Unity for Gallaudet movement is so important. Some people have said that it should be called Unity for the Deaf. I agree. Rejection does nobody good. This is why so many reacted with anger at what Fernandes and Jordan and Coogan said to the media, that the protestors were rejecting Fernandes because of her being not deaf enough. The deaf community has been trying to get together, to unite, to be more accepting of each other, and now it was being divided all over again by misinformation.
The deaf community then came together for real, all kinds of deaf people, and became united towards a single goal. Now that the protest activities are over, we must never forget the ultimate goal. Unity.