Truth hurts, and that perhaps is why we often avoid focusing its piercing beams on ourselves. Yet the truth that sets men free is for the most part the truth men do not want to hear. What are we saying here? It is this: until we tell ourselves some unpleasant truths, we may never be free.
And so we have it that the controversial part of this writer saw reason to approach the general trend from a different slant during this Deaf Awareness Month of September.
Traditionally, the purpose of this occasion of Deaf Awareness is to advocate, to enlighten, and to educate society on the subject of deafness and deaf persons. The period is characterized by an avalanche of speeches, articles, homilies, and preachments, directed at a hearing society on just about everything deaf and deaf persons do as we strive towards a more just and inclusive society. Good enough.
But then, there’s another side to the coin. One too often ignored. In our excited passion to create awareness on the outside, we have abandoned the awareness that turns inward – directed towards enlightening and educating ourselves as a people (deaf community). We have failed to wean ourselves off flawed notions, attitudes, beliefs, etc, that draw those unpleasant reactions from a society that we accuse of discriminatory tendencies and the like.
Listen, deaf folks, not everything is discrimination. I’d be among the first to say stereotypes and discrimination are real. And by the same token, I’d also be the first to admit that a sizeable portion of these stereotypes and discrimination arise from factors of our own making, again as a people. Quote me on this.
I like how Olawale Alade, a Dear nurse based in the UK, puts it: “in the instance of an obvious discrimination, I try to analyze what has happened and how I have presented myself in that situation”. Now, that’s one statement packed with meaning. How often do we pause to ask ourselves a question like when faced with unsavoury attitudes from society before crying wolf? So we have here the heart of the matter.
As someone who likes to consider the other side of an argument, I find it rather intriguing how this September month of deaf awareness is inundated with finger-pointing, fault-finding, mudslinging, pontification and accusations that have society on the receiving end. Meanwhile, we the people in the eye of the storm consciously and subconsciously cut a one-sided picture of persecuted saints for ourselves. We cry wolf, we allege discrimination, we lament exclusion and all kinds of undignified treatments.
May I ask, are we all that innocent? I beg to differ – strongly.
Deaf folks, we need to pause and ask ourselves why we encounter certain discriminations.
Deeper thinking reveals that the roots of our troubles do not run a one-way route. A proverb says: He who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him.
Over time, I have come to notice within this small community the pervasive influence of what is clearly a culture of “mediocrity and the slovenly”. It is dubbed “deaf way” (erroneously or correctly, either way). The unsettling thing is that it has (consciously and unconsciously) become an entrenched norm.
Pray, what is Deaf way? While on this piece, I again had the opportunity to discuss this subject with a well-known, older member of the community. I wasn’t surprised when the jolly fellow tried to explain around the bitter truth: “a good number of these things referred to as deaf way” run against the grain of polite manners. But no, some people (even those we expect to know better) will rather justify these things with elevated sophistry.
So whether we want to hear it or not, the bitter truth is that this obnoxious notion of a ‘deaf way” is characterized by behaviours far removed from the pursuit of higher virtues. Why, within this small group, the concept of the deaf way is strongly linked to vulgarity, gossip, the entitlement mindset, mediocrity, indiscipline, the grabby predisposition, grovelling and what have you.
Let’s be clear, these vices permeate all society and are repugnant to refined tastes anywhere. So how we as people have devised a way to excuse them under pretext of deafness still baffles me. Yes, believing that these things are normal because a person is deaf is most irritating. It is another way of using deafness as leeway to the substandard. Beliefs are powerful! And these erroneous beliefs, like the destructive self-fulfilling prophecies that they are, have become our discomforting realities.
As I mulled over this overweening concept of a “Deaf way”, I came away with this home truth: “it is this normalization of mediocrity and the slovenly that stands at the root of much of the stereotypic backlashes we experience from society”.
It is important to draw attention to my choice of the qualifier “much” in the preceding statement. Perhaps we have failed to realize that in every civilization, mediocrity and slovenliness are readily unsavory consequences for the deaf or hearing. We seem to have conveniently forgotten that we will be addressed by the way we present ourselves.
At this point, Wale’s words again come to a reckoning: “in the instance of obvious discrimination, I try to analyze what has happened and how I have presented myself in that situation.”
Often, I get indignant at the shoddy and disrespectful treatment my fellow deaf folks receive in society. One occasion, (in a church) I couldn’t take it any longer and voiced my indignation with a strong logic which the offender couldn’t refute. Unfortunately, at that very moment when I appeared to be gaining ground the very people I held brief for would put on some very embarrassing attitudes that ended up rubbishing my effort. I tried remonstrating with my people on the link between respect and comportment but my words seemed wasted. In fact, I was considered arrogant, bigoted for not conforming to crude behaviour. Pardon, how will a person not be discriminated against when the majority of them put on such a crude front? I was both livid and embarrassed.
At this point, I will emphasize that we still have a minority who represent excellence and refined mannerisms – albeit they come rather too few and far between. Ironically, this handful of the pack is often seen as proud, haughty, arrogant – in other words, “un-deafly”, their only offence being that they chose not to go by the low standards and banalities of the pack. Of course, there is always a place for humor and lightness as opposed to the suffocating constraints of polite bearing. Yet wisdom dictates that we know the set boundaries and abide by them. In my observation, those who have distinguished themselves in this have always fared better in meeting society’s stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
So here’s the gist: Amidst the angst over society’s stereotypes, prejudice and discriminating tendencies, we ourselves do well to pause and think about it: “Could it be that we (knowingly or unknowingly) are attracting these things?” We must remember that respect, in the long run, is earned, not a given.
It’s time we as people, starting with the various stakeholders, take a long, hard look at the idea of pursuing excellence, personal development and refined behaviour. Agreed, we can’t all be people with refined manners, but we work towards a reduction in the disproportionate ratio between our crude population to the refined.
The time is now to consciously and conscientiously introduce the teaching and learning of ethics of polite behaviour and refined mannerisms to our deaf kids at home and in schools.
This strategy of earning respect through cultured comportment holds good promise as we continue the crusade towards a more just and egalitarian society.
Alexander Ogheneruemu is a Deaf writer