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Community (guest post by the hobbit)

Community > Culture

I hadn’t really taken a firm position on this debate before, but I have now. Noelle and I both endorse the following commentary that I’ve quoted below.

From now on I intend to emphasize the concept of community rather than culture when it comes to hearing impairment. And I will dispense with the lowercase/uppercase conventions of “deaf” and “Deaf.” Because I’d rather be unconventional. And because I can.

Editors’ comments:

While I am familiar with the concept of “Deaf culture,” I prefer to use the term “Deaf community” to describe us. I don’t believe that the term “culture” is appropriate, since it’s too strong a term, too restrictive, and too politically-slanted. Since deaf people come from a wide variety of backgrounds, communicatively, educationally, and socially, I prefer a term that reflects this diversity.

I don’t feel comfortable defining us as having a “culture,” since deaf people in the United States are already members of American culture. Certainly, it’s possible to hold membership in more than one culture, so to speak, but if you consider carefully, you’ll see that deaf people don’t really have a distinct, full-fledged culture. We don’t have a “Deaf God,” for example, although there are a number of ASL-affirmative churches. But these churches are simply outposts of existing denominations, such as Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic, or Reform Judaism. There is no distiinct “Deaf religion,” no “Deaf Bible,” no “Deaf food,” no “Deaf dress.” Deaf people are not recognizable as “deaf” at first glance.

Yes, we have ASL as the linguistic basis of our ethnic identity, but aside from that, we don’t have a distinct culture like Sikhs or Italian-Americans do, so the term “subculture” might be more appropriate. Still, I like the term “Deaf community,” since it defines us without limiting us.

“Deaf culture,” as a self-conscious political concept, is limiting rather than inclusive. It encourages a certain elitism, a snobbery. For example, in Deaf culture, a person is considered “strong-Deaf,” and is accorded respect, if s/he has Deaf parents. Since I am the child of hearing parents, and the only deaf person in my family, I’m not considered “strong-Deaf” enough by certain Deaf-culture purists. (Not strong-Deaf enough to be taken seriously, I imagine.) My status in Deaf culture is, in this view, lower than that of persons with Deaf parents and/or Deaf siblings. I’ve had a few encounters with gung-ho Deaf-culture types who have told me that they don’t consider me part of Deaf culture because I’m from a hearing family and didn’t attend Gallaudet University. Despite the fact that ASL is my first language, that I entered Indiana School for the Deaf when I was 3, began my ASL education immediately, was immersed in this environment until I graduated as valeductorian of my class, and that I participated actively in the ASL-using community of NTID/RIT—none of that cuts much ice with the Deaf-culture purists. I suppose that they consider me second-class, according to the strict Deaf Culture criteria. Or maybe third-class. Since the vast majority of deaf people have hearing parents, that would mean that only a mere handful of Deaf people can rightly be considered the “elite.” Not by one’s personal accomplishments, not by one’s contributions to the community, but simply by having the “right kind” of parents. To my view, this is as snobbish and restrictive as the views promulgated by the oralists, who excluded deaf people from the respect accorded to all other groups, communities, and societies. In defying the norms of Hearing culture, Deaf culture has set up a view that is, in its own way, just as exclusionary.

The term “community” indicates a group of people, or a segment of the population, that has shared goals, beliefs, experiences, or simply lives in proximity. Although most deaf people are geographically scattered, they do comprise a distinct community with ASL and the schools for the deaf as their socio-linguistic heart. Thus, “Deaf community” includes people from mainstreamed backgrounds, alumni of oral schools, persons with cochlear implants, and those whose first language in English—all of these disqualifying factors to membership in Deaf culture. The Deaf community also includes hearing families, friends, supporters, and advocates of Deaf people—even if they’re not native-ASL signers.

My political views are based on my own experiences, observations, and interactions with other Deaf /deaf people—and I’ve met a large number of them. When I’m asked about my feelings about Deaf culture, or if I see myself as being part of Deaf culture, I propose that we use the term “Deaf community.” Deaf culture excludes; Deaf community includes. I prefer an inclusive approach here.


If you’re a friend of the deaf or deafblind community, you’re welcome to drop by and be friendly.

Namaste, +Sam

About Noelle Campbell

This blog is about my life and how I see things. I write, I think, I dream, I do. I used to write a lot of fantasy until I realized I was living one. I was married to a deaf-blind Hobbit in a realm we created together. He passed away in 2014, but our life was interesting enough I think you might like it too.

10 responses to “Community (guest post by the hobbit)

  1. Cliff Poe ⋅

    Someone informed me of your blog, and I feel compelled to respond.
    Ms Campbell, I think you miss a very important point. I know you are aware of the disempowerment that so many Deaf people suffer at the hands of Hearing people, as well as from those Deaf individuals who are able to speak/lipread well and look down their noses at those Deaf who do not.
    You know, as a deaf person, there is a pride assdociated with successes, at any levels, and for you to try to take away that small pleasure that Deaf people get from pride at having something you characterize as a nonissue, is totally without regard for those perceived successes.
    Most codas that I know, counting myself, have a distinct understanding of “d” and “D”eaf identity, and for you to discount that is sounding like you discount them.
    You know, also,(or should know) that many “d” or “D”eaf tend to dislike interpretyers, Codas or not. My opinion, and it is only my opinion, is that it comes across that way because some Deaf are angry at their Deafness, and resent interpreters, because we can hear, and they are angry that they need to use our skills at communication.
    Your post does a real injustice to the Deaf community, and Deaf culture, by doing exactly the same thing, ie: disempowering their pride in their Deafness. You even want to take away the capital D, for Christ’s sake.
    In my opinion, I am proud when a Deaf person tells me I sign like strong Deaf. You were raised with ASL since you were 3yrs old, but I have met many Deaf who are not the best signers. You infer that other Deaf refer to you in this fashion. I don’t know why, nor is it important for me to know why. Everyone signs a little different, I will grant you, but maybe you sign in a more “Englishy” fashion, and other Deaf see that and judge you for that. I, as an interpreter, just tend go with the flow, and adjust my signing style to match theirs, without any judgements.
    I believe you just need to get over yourself, Ms Campbell, and stop trying to take away something from a group that has had just about enough persecution, from Hearing, to Late Deafened (who haven’t a clue), to highly educated Deaf who look down their noses at grassroots Deaf, hmmm? What is wrong with Deaf Pride, or Strong Deaf, I wonder? I would suggest that we ALL have our biases and judgements of others.

  2. Gerdinand Wagenaar ⋅

    Feel free to dismiss this post, just like you deleted so many other responses. I am a first -generation hearing man from another country (Holland), after all…
    Having said that, I am not sure you have any understanding of the depth of Deaf culture. It is certainly not limited to the USA. In fact, I feel culturally closer and can relate more easily to a deaf person from any other continent than to a random hearing person I don’t know but who happens to live in my street…

    I am not sure about who you mean when you write “we”, or “us”, either…

    Would you mind clarifying?
    Thanks in advance.

    • If you want clarification, you should read more than one post–

      “Start at the beginning. And when you get to the end–stop “. Alice in Wonderland.

  3. Gerdinand Wagenaar ⋅

    I did read more than one post, even a meanwhile deleted one:)

    How witty, that you prefer the term community over culture when it comes to Deaf/deaf people, but describe your own partnership as a ‘Campbell’s culture’!

    I’m not that much of a voyeur, so I’ll refrain from peeping into your marital issues…

    Wishing you all the best, I’ll go have some good ole Real World Campbell soup.

  4. Gerdinand Wagenaar ⋅

    You’re leaving me utterly confused indeed! Please, could you post a clear link to ‘Babylon5’?
    Thanks in advance!

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