Internalized Oppression: Especially in the Deaf Community Where We Believe in UNITY.

Written by Katherine Lees. Published 10/29/2015.

SNIPPET (Video Transliteration/Translation will be posted shortly) FULL VIDEO

**Deaf** the term means all of the participants in the community: Deaf, Hard of hearing, Deaf-Blind, Interpreters, and allies/advocates.

Every young girl’s dream is to find a place where she is accepted, where she can grow and thrive as a person and most importantly to find a place where she can find support from within her new surroundings. This was one of many dreams that I had moving to Massachusetts from California. It was my experience that almost every Deaf person from outside the state of Massachusetts knew that the Deaf community in Massachusetts was perceived as a cohesive group, a strong-knitted community, and a community that knows the importance of the sum of multiple efforts rather than the sum of one trying to act on their own. Now, allow me to share with you the reality of what I’ve seen within the Deaf community here, in Massachusetts, and other regions.

This might seem like just another article about the Deaf community, but hear me out.

On Thursday October 22, 2015 Partners Interpreting and I attended an event at Bristol Community College where National Association of the Deaf’s President, Chris Wagner, gave a presentation about his perspective on the Deaf community as a whole, shared his concerns about the path that we all are taking, and shared the vision and mission of NAD for the future.

In viewing the Deaf community from a broader perspective, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has compiled a list of their top 5 priorities for the next few years. These include in no particular order: Preservation and advocacy of Relay Services, increasing FEMA Communication to Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Preservation of Mental Health Services that meet the needs of Deaf people, Defining and supporting the Educational Strategy Team’s focus, and last but not least aggressive outreaching to Deaf youth including those in mainstream schools.

The 5 priorities that NAD has outlined are all great causes/reforms that need to happen, but they are for the community as a whole from SOCIETY’s perspective. NAD is trying to rise above society to deliver facts and arguments about these different areas that need improvement….but what do Deaf individuals think are the most important challenges in the Deaf community?

Presently, according to Chris Wagner; the president of NAD, the biggest complaint from Deaf individuals would be “Internalized Oppression”. What is that you may ask? This is when people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize…(begin to believe and make part of their self-image, the view of themselves formed internally) the myths, incorrect information, and assumptions that society communicates to a particular community. This leads people in the same cultural group to believe the misinformation and stereotypes that society has decided for us, the Deaf community. Which in turn can lead the Deaf community to turn oppression on one another, instead of addressing the much larger issue, the perception of society.

The solution that humans have resorted to and this is a natural reaction, and often unconsciously, is to isolate ourselves from other similar members in the community. When we isolate ourselves it becomes easier and less ruthless to treat one another in ways that are disrespectful and hurtful. As you read further there will be some examples of how we undermine, criticize, mistrust, and fight with our fellow Deaf community members.

One of the example that Chris Wagner shared during his Town Hall, was the difference of how people from outside the Deaf community perceives us. He shared that he encountered a hearing mother whom just gave a birth to a deaf child and she was torn in selecting the best route to raise her child. President Wagner did his best to explain the different avenues that Deaf children now have available by using examples like enriching the child’s educational journey by building a strong foundation of language with American Sign Language (ASL). The mother brought up the possibly of proceeding with the Cochlear Implant (CI) for the deaf child and President Wagner did his best to lay out the facts to sway her decision to not raise the child oral and only relying on the CI. After several back and forth exchanges, the mother made it clear that it was not the decision of how to communicate with the deaf child, it was the issue of which culture to allow her deaf child thrive in.

The mother shared that she had resorted to forums, social media, and questioning any persons she knew who were involved in the Deaf community to offer their perspectives. After all of her research she discovered that when she explored further into the cochlear implant community or the deaf community who were raised oral, she only saw positivity, warm fuzzy feelings, and encouragement of support amongst the members of those communities.

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BUT.

When she explored into the Deaf community she shared that she only saw members undermine, criticize, mistrust, and fight with their fellow Deaf community members. The mother of a deaf child, whose fate is being decided at such an early age is not heading in the best direction solely because of YOU and ME. Together we are fostering a community and culture that is not ideal for parents to have confidence in us, the Deaf community, to guide their deaf child’s future into the right direction.

This is a shame, on me, on you, on every single Deaf community member. We have created turmoil and a culture that it is not appealing to anyone who has the desire and energy to contribute their expertise, their journey, and their ideas to become a positive, warm fuzzy feeling, and innovative community.

As a California expat, I had hoped to see a different light being shined upon the Deaf community in Massachusetts and I found that, the Deaf community here is respected more by corporations, government workers, and other organizations. Please do not get me wrong, there’s still a long way to go to realize the justice, equal treatment, and access that we deserve, and while from the outside, the society here in Massachusetts is much more positive/supportive towards the Deaf community than California.

BUT…

Deep inside the Deaf community, it is very different and after hearing multiple comments on how great the Deaf community is in Massachusetts, it is the complete opposite as I’ve noticed that the community here is basically a dog eats dog world. After discussing with multiple Deaf members of the community, they are not fond of all of the government agencies, non-profit agencies, and also for-profit agencies. These agencies provide assistance to the Deaf community in many forms and shapes, such as, advocate services, monetary assistance for accommodations for houses, communication access services, and so much more. The primary concern is not really with the agency but the Deaf members that work inside within the agency. There have been several incidents where a Deaf community member could greatly benefit from the agencies but refuses to utilize the service because of one particular individual inside the agency. This promotes the self-image, myths, and stereotype that society has created for us by not thriving from all of the resources and assistance that was fought by a select few that rose above society.

This is the exact thing that allows society to oppress us because we refuse to utilize and support our fellow Deaf community members to thrive alongside with you and me.

This was a difficult thing for me to accept, for me to realize that with all I’ve heard about Massachusetts’ Deaf community it is actually the opposite from reality…this reality that I faced is actually the same reality that ALL of us as Deaf community participants should face and acknowledge. This problem is visible and documented throughout the United States and it needs to not be a reality anymore.

The harsh reality that I have realized after moving to Massachusetts and hearing President Wagner’s presentation is that we all are not embracing our strengths as it relates to the potential sum of individual unique contributions and we are more focused on becoming jealous, disgusted, or discouraged when ONE or a few of the Deaf community’s members seem to be succeeding. We should capitalize on that ONE or a few of members to build upon and become a collective force in adding ALL of the individual and unique contributions that we all can offer. When we capitalize and build upon the power of our collective efforts the overall effect will be enormous when we come together to battle against oppression and discrimination.

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The Deaf community is supposed to be a culture that gives us values, a sense of existence, and preserving our history. The Deaf culture also has so many aspects that is invaluable to our society in today’s time, where our humor, our identities, and our world views might be slightly different from the next person but if we take each single person’s contribution as a small thin thread and weave it in with other lengths of string. Imagine the strength in that rope and how it could tie us together and give us the tools to overcome society‘s preconceived notions. We could draw in more and more people that are fascinated by and lured into our culture because it is a safe, hopeful, and a bright reality to be a part of.

The Deaf community and culture in the past was a reality that provided us with a sense of community, a reference point, a home; the place where we all get our bearings and remember what was and is important to us and to the struggles we endured for the past 135 years in America.

Now, if you were hoping to find a definitive black and white answer on how to rise from this burnt situation that we have gotten ourselves into, I am sad to report that I don’t have it.

Although there have been many ideas and suggestions that we need to start within, and begin to wipe off the ashes from each other’s shoulders. We need to take the extra steps and efforts to instill confidence back into each other and back them up with full support to those who are trying to rise above the smoldering embers of failure. When a few of us rise, we are not rising above YOU, they are rising above society and in the long run, their efforts will help the entire community defeat society’s oppression and misconceptions. We have to collaborate, contribute whatever we can, and always support and encourage ourselves and each other to become the pillars for those who will come after us in the future.

We all just have to remember that Deaf people, whom society thinks are ordinary people, are as intelligent and completely capable as the “experts”. Each one of us has the capacity to contribute and figure out how to solve problems and push for transformation within our community to allow for everyone to live a full and successful life.

Internalized oppression holds people back, it makes us undermine our individual confidence and makes it difficult for us to work together. It is already painful that we experience discrimination and oppression from society and then to duplicate the pain onto one of our own is unconscionable!

If we accept and understand that we, the Deaf community, participate in this internalized oppression and understand how it develops, we can take the steps to stop and overcome it. When we heal and overcome, we can move forward to making our community successful in battling against oppression and discrimination from society.

We NEED to empower our own and start being a collective community where EVERY SINGLE PERSON matters and is valued.

#EmpowerOneAnother #DeafEmpowerment #DeafTriumphs #StrongerTogether #BostonStrong #DeafStrong #DeafCommunity #Partnership #DeafHeart #PITerp #PartnersTerp