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Deaf Culture (6)
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Deaf Culture

Jennifer E. Brown
4/29/03

            Culture comes in many forms and is located in many different parts of the world. Culture is defined as “social and intellectual formation; the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population” (Ed. Morris, pg 321).  Being from southern Louisiana, the true south, outsiders tend to over generalize what my culture consists of based on hearsay or poor depictions from movies.  For example, I have heard being from Louisiana I should be able to cook and clean. However, my favorite question I am asked without failure, “are you a coon ass”?  Nothing makes me more upset than the ignorance people display when they do not take the time to find out about different cultures and how they operate.  The term, “coon ass” is a racist over generalization of my culture and a demeaning label.  In turn if I feel like this about my culture, then I can only imagine how persons from another culture may react to this lack of knowledge. 

            As a hearing person, I can only report on Deaf culture from research I have collected through reading and what I have observed from the few deaf friends I have made over the years.  “D” in Deaf not only represents a culture, but also communities of people who live all over the world.  The Deaf culture was born and currently thrives from shared experiences and a shared language—American Sign Language:  “Mastery of ASL and skillful storytelling are highly valued in Deaf Culture.  Through ASL Literature, one generation passes on to the next its wisdom, values, and its pride and thus reinforces the bonds that unite the younger generation” (ASLinfo.com).  This community has its own organizations for the betterment of themselves, such as National Association of the Deaf.  They also participate in athletics, theater, and competitions such as Miss Deaf America pageant.  Unlike most cultures where the members of the family pass down its patterns and beliefs to further its heritage, the deaf community utilizes each member to pass down the essential richness needed to be a strong person within this community.  However, this is not a traditional practice to those children born to hearing parents. 

Marriage is also a part of the cultural traditions within the Deaf community.  In America, nine out of ten deaf persons marry other persons from the same community.  Furthermore, deaf parents would prefer that their children be born deaf so the child may be able to identify with his cultural heritage (ASLinfor.com).  Persons born to a hearing world, though they may learn ASL and aspects of the Deaf culture after loss of hearing, may never acquire the full identity of being “Deaf”, nor become a full member of the Deaf community.  To this community the “D” is not awarded to the person unless they are born without hearing.  They have the ability to say they never heard or experienced hearing as we know in the hearing world.

Unfortunately, ugly labels have a history within this culture just as mine.  Aristotle (as wise as he was supposed to be) tended to call deaf people “deaf and dumb” because he thought they could not be taught, or that they were incapable of learning.  Later, “dumb” moved out and “silent” moved in as a descriptor because of how the majority of the world may have viewed deaf people.  Just as “coon ass,” any and all labels are demeaning over generalizations, especially about a community of people who really are not silent.  As mentioned before, ASL is the preferred use of communication in America, which is not only signing but also includes lip-reading and some individuals who may actually vocalize. 

            During my educational experience in graduate school at Lamar University, I would like to think I have learned a great deal about the Deaf world.  Although, I have previously explored other cultures I would like to think my expedition through the Deaf culture is just beginning.  Unlike some people, I do like to know what to wear to dinner, who is the dominant mate, or what the protocol for funerals are before I open my mouth.  Personally, I am hungry for knowledge and willing to teach others what experiences I have gained from that knowledge.  Currently, I am two weeks away from becoming a gainfully employed Audiologist, and I am more than happy I took the time to learn about Deaf culture, especially in my field.  As a hearing person, you tend to think you know everything and what is best for others, but nothing is best for a community of people who thrive better than we as hearing do in the world.  This is one culture anyone can sit down and take an enormous amount of notes about, yet still know nothing.

Resources

“Culture.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Ed. William Morris.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978. 321.

 

“Deaf Culture.”  ASLinfo. ASLinfo.com. 1996. Houston Community College. 10 Apr.

2003. <http://www.aslinfo.com/deafculture.cfm>.

 

Orsi, Terri.  “Deaf Culture and Deaf Community.”  Deaf Education: A Parents’ Guide. 

May 2001.  Houston Community College.  10 Apr. 2003.

<http://home.inreach.com/torsi/culture.html>.

 

“What is Wrong with the Use of these Terms: ‘Deaf-mute’, ‘Deaf and dumb’, or

‘Hearing-impaired’”? National Association of the Deaf.  Houston Community

College. 10 Apr. 2003. <http://www.nad.org/infocenter/infotogo/dcc/terms.html>.


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