The Deaf community needs less labels.

Right now there is a vigorous debate raging about the term ‘grassroots’.

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grass roots
noun
plural noun: grassroots
  1. the most basic level of an activity or organization.
    “improving the game at grass-roots level
    • ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization’s membership.
      “you have lost touch with the grass roots of the party”

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Before I delve further into this quagmire of opinions, a bit of background first. This was sparked off by Deaf Children Australia (DCA) announcing that they were looking for a new CEO. This immediately caused an outcry in the community asking for them to finally consider a Deaf person to take the role and guide them into the 21st century properly.

Personally, I’m all for that. With one exception. Where are the experienced Deaf leaders that fully understand the implications of being a CEO? This does not mean I don’t believe we, as a community, have anyone with the skillset to be a CEO. We do. Unfortunately virtually all these Deaf people with that skillset are not exactly representative of what I believe the grassroots debate is fundamentally about. Hence this blog post focusing on the grassroots debate rather than just screaming “DEAF CEO NOW!”

When it comes to the usage of the term ‘grassroots’… To be quite frank, I think we should reject that term. Aren’t we already labelled enough? It’s bad enough that we have the following:
* Hard of Hearing (HoH)
* Hearing Impaired
* deaf
* Deaf
* DeafBlind
* Visually Impaired (yes, this is part of the Deaf community because it impacts Deaf people who use sign language and cannot see properly)
And god knows how many other labels. When is enough going to be enough? I strongly advocate respect and equality but there is such a thing as political correctness gone mad. Why is it such an important thing to have a label to go “Ahhhh. I have found my own niche! Now I can relax and become that!”?!
I suggest we get rid of all these labels and rally behind one goal – a better future for all of us based on our collective similarity, our Deafness – and remember it.

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The ever-delightful Stef Linder at a dinner party, around Christmas, 2013.

Let’s face facts. We are being exploited subtly here. You can only apply for certain things if you are X% deaf. You are only allowed to get Y% if you are this ‘disabled’. This is pure segregation in a classic ‘divide and conquer’ way. Why are we allowing this to happen? Our pride is getting in the way of common sense.

Academics have their place in this world but this ideology of ‘labelism’ is actually backwards thinking and disempowering.

What happened to the simple, powerful symbol and phrase that was once ‘the Deaf community’? It seems to have died around the same time our fundamental meeting places – the Deaf clubs – did. We allowed the labels to slowly break us apart and the vultures set in, either selling us out or cutting our funds because we did not ‘meet the proper criteria’ or simply exploiting the final few that were too overwhelmed and tired to fight any longer. Then many of us turned in and started viciously ripping down these very people that tried to fight against us losing these important, vital and cultural areas. I’ve watched with dismay at this happen to Sydney (twice), Christchurch, Wellington (twice), Melbourne and Adelaide in the last twenty years.

***************
community
noun

  1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
    “Montreal’s Italian community”
  2. the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.
    “the sense of community that organized religion can provide”

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And now it is happening to DCA. This term of ‘grassroots’ seems a deliberate tactic, an obfuscation thrown in our midst so we can start fighting over who of us is the most fundamentally important in the overall scheme while the ‘elite’ simply laugh and continue to focus on what they think is the best way for the future.

2012_06_19_1634-Large-1024x683
The famous Blue Stone Building can be seen in the back of this photo.

DCA took over responsibility of the famous Blue Stone Building from VCD in the Victorian College for the Deaf grounds several decades ago and through lack of vision did not factor in natural erosion of the building. As of four years ago, the official quote for repairs was $9 million. Which they do not have. So they decided to sell off the car park behind the building. This was repeatedly and angrily protested against by the general Deaf community but recently I heard that the sale finally went through (for however much it was) which is the single largest red flag I can think of possible.
This land was given to us, the people, and VCD under the proviso that it would be used for Deaf education and Deaf education only.
Take Christchurch for example. Years ago, while living there for six months in my twenties, my jaw dropped to the ground when I was told that the Deaf society used to own the ENTIRE CITY BLOCK where their Deaf club is. But over the years, they ran out of money and persuaded the community that selling off one building would be beneficial in the long term. Guess what happened? Rinse and repeat until now, there is only one tiny alley and a flight of stairs and there you are, a small bar with a bit of ground to sit around and play darts in.

Where were the ‘grassroots’ there? We are not an organisation. We are a people united by a common interest and characteristics. We are a community. We are not paid, nor should we pay for the privilege of being a part of this. This does not mean I do not support the Deaf associations or any organisation that advocates for us but I do get the uneasy feeling that somehow we have become lost in the consumerism mentality and confused the difference between the two.

Divide and conquer. We cannot stand united so singularly, we fall one by one. Based on the information of a select few that assume they know what is best for the rest of us based on their education levels and the ability to emulate larger, more corrupt and greedy corporation-organisations that use confidentiality agreements to hide the truth until it is far too late for us to provide our wishes and desires. They have turned into parasites, forgetting the fundamental truth that it is WE, the Deaf community, that they were created for in the first place to support and protect. A parasitic element, allowed to run rampant, eventually dies out because they have devoured their host.

The thing that is in our advantage here is the fact that our community is so small. It works exactly the same in the hearing community but their population is so massive it’s hard to gain some true perspective. Thanks to this smallness, we can easily see this happening and act accordingly to fix the situation.

One could argue that it is our fault for not being interested. For being too laissez-faire, too laid back and uncaring.

The one word I have for this is simple:

BULLSHIT!

All of academia is based on one thing. English. (Well, in Australia and New Zealand anyway.) Our native language is Auslan/NZSL. Only now, with the increasing ease of access to video blogging (vlogs) on platforms such as Facebook, are we finally starting to realise our power and I am starting to see us unite properly. We are finally passing on information properly in our native language. This is not ‘grassroots’ to me, this portrays perfectly the one simple beautiful thing we are:

A Deaf community.

2012_01_18_072
Just a smattering of the thousands of Deaf people at the 2012 Australian Deaf Games in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

Much love and hope,

Edan Chapman

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4 thoughts on “The Deaf community needs less labels.

  1. Unfortunately virtually all these Deaf people with that skillset are not exactly representative of what I believe the grassroots debate is fundamentally about.

    And so said you. We are all grassroots Edan just some tend to think they’re better than others, sadly.

    Then of course we have an opinion on everyone. For example for every person that thinks I am a strong advocate for deaf people there will be one that thinks I am nothing but a shit stirrer.

    And herein lies the problem … We allow our own prejudices and values to cloud our judgement. Even though we may never have worked with someone professionally we take this view that someone is not suitable based on idle gossip and opinions.

    I’ll say again … In the Deaf community … At the grassroots or in the so called elite .. All who are the same … Talent abounds and we are all quite capable of leading ourselves and showing the world what we are all about.

    BUT …to do that we have to put pur own prejudices aside and give ourselves a fair go. We often are our own worst enemy.

    Much love fella.

    1. I think you’ve misinterpreted what I said there.

      What I was alluding to was the fact that these Deaf people who will try to run for that position are nearly never truly inclusive people in the Deaf community. I’ve never taken much stock in gossip (which is why I am asking the questions I have been on Facebook, to get rid of the gossip and find the actual truth) and I don’t judge. I simply watch people and their actions which speak very loudly including what they don’t do. It’s surprisingly informative.

      The one thing I do notice is that the people in the “upper” circles simply do not mix with the working class people which are the vast majority of the Deaf community. Once you go into the corporate world, that seems to be a one way ticket. This is not spoken in spite or envy or even judgment, it simply is.

      I have often found myself in a strangely unique position because through my work I’ve had to work with every single category of the community and interact with them all on a fair, level basis. That’s easy for me to do because I love people, I love learning about their perspective and why they see things in their own ways. And for some reason people understand that I will not repeat what they say so they confide in me.

      What I detest is the mindset of those that have worked their way up to the top. They view everyone as competition because that is the conditioning they receive on that journey and anyone who doesn’t meet their standards is automatically inferior. One rare exception for me would be Brett – that man looks at us with clear eyes – and I have nothing but respect for him. But what do I know, maybe others have a different song to sing.

      Back to the point – what we truly need is a voice of the people, someone universally respected. They don’t need to be loved, no one can truly accomplish that feat, but there is too much elitism in the community. Everyone knows this is true.

      What I would like to see is the community bring itself back together and start supporting each other and working towards a common goal. But that will be covered in another blog. 🙂

      Thank you for the input. Much love right back at’cha, dude.

      1. You said … Deaf people who will try to run for that position are nearly never truly inclusive people ….

        But that is my point … A judgement has been made and even before anyone has been given a chance … That happens in a small community and we sub – consciously are denying opportunities to our own kind based on our own judgement and values .. Is that fair?

        Not taking a pop at you Edan … Just pointing out what happens in a community where everyone knows nearly everyone …

      2. I completely ‘hear’ you there.

        The irony of what you’ve said is that you’re now falling victim to your very own statement by assuming I’m judging. 😉 It never ends does it? I just want to see our leaders TRULY include everyone which I have yet to see. I do realise it’s difficult with such a vast demographic (due to different races and cultural upbringings and so on and forth) but I refuse to believe it’s impossible.

        *hugs* Xxx

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