What Is “Deaf Culture”?

E. Adamson Hoebel’s book of Anthropology: Study of Man. “describes culture as an integrated system of learned behaviour patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.”

Ask a British person “What is British Culture?” and they may struggle for the very first few minutes before trying to answer with possibly the majority using examples due to characteristics based on tradition, customs, habits, cuisine and environment they live in. Ask a deaf British person and most likely he will give the same answer as a British person who happens to be hearing. My question is as deaf people do we actually have a separate set of customs and traditions to the British who are hearing?

How did the deaf community start using the term “Deaf culture” when it is actually a subculture – a particular social group within a national culture? If “Culture” is not supposed to be applied to biological or genetic inheritance – is there such a thing as a hearing culture?

Are we making it hard for ourselves if we are excluding ourselves from the world around us by creating this “Deaf Culture” or is it a positive thing that should be celebrated?

Being deaf makes those of us unique in the sense that it is a hidden disability but there is a percentage who corner themselves even more so expecting the hearing world to understand them, to learn sign language and come totally their way. Those who think that, do so because they believe there is nothing wrong with them – that the negative lies within the hearing world and so they should make that effort. This again is sometimes not of their own doing when they have been so immersed with their own surroundings and peers for so long. But there are those who may go to an extreme when so proud to say “Deaf Power!” – Even several hope their children will be deaf too. They have on occasion been branded as Fascists. Yet with that kind of mentality nothing will be achieved in terms of improving services and access for deaf people in general.

Those who are able to wear hearing aid(s), have a cochlear implant or learn/choose to speak do so in order to improve the quality of their lives and in an attempt to be able to engage with the hearing world better. This is not a bad thing to want to do. To meet half way and for this reason I believe parts of the deaf community should not be looking down on these people as some sort of traitors who in their eyes are betraying the so called “Deaf culture”. The hypocrisy of these people is very clear when they rely on a hearing person or their own hearing children to be their interpreter and will not accept anything less when they can make the effort to meet half way. My point is, the more we isolate ourselves from the hearing world – the harder it will become for the hearing people to make any effort to understand us.

Extreme views are never a positive thing in any walk of life so you can only imagine (for some to an extent) my utter disbelief when someone arrogantly once said “Interpreters should be grateful to the deaf community for providing them with a job”. Some may also say that providing interpreters, and the time it takes to get one is drainage on the tax we all pay.

Just because we happen to be deaf, deafened, HoH, deaf-blind and so on, it does not mean certain attitudes, chips on shoulders etc. exist only in one part of the world that we are in – this behaviour will manifest regardless, wherever one may be. Except that it does not give anyone the right to disrespect, degrade and/or humiliate another.

There are also those who dictate to us still that we should be using the “big D or little d” to identify and potentially divide within the deaf community – once again, would you use a big H to identify and describe certain hearing people or their world? I do not even feel comfortable using the term “hearing world“ because this is everyone’s world supposedly united – for each and every single one of us. So why impose that onto our own? Or accept it even especially when it is not grammatically correct?

Sadly, people are far too easily influenced by others around them. People have for so long been telling others what to do and/or who to be and it is high time for that to stop. For people to think for themselves and stand on their own two feet, to not follow the flock just because of peer pressure. To be true to yourselves and do what you feel is right – ask questions and seek knowledge, for knowledge is power whilst striving for equality – as equals.

“The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people”

“The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people”

Now ask yourselves wherever you may be, what is “deaf culture”?

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

Many thanks to SLFirst for publishing this article in their magazine.

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4 thoughts on “What Is “Deaf Culture”?

  1. (D)deaf Culture for me is the shared experience of hearing loss and the collective methods that we all have to put into action on a daily basis throughout our lives to negotiate living in a predominantly hearing world. It is not owned by one particular Deaf minority such as those for whom ‘signing’ is their first or only language. Culture by it’s very nature is or at least should be ‘inclusive’. Which is why the biggest festival of Deaf culture in UK is called incloodu, pronounced orally, “Include you.” https://vimeo.com/83501272

  2. Deaf culture is hard sell at present, statistically they are less than .1% of the population with born deafness, albeit they can sell snow to eskimos. In Wales they have less than 6 clubs of note for 340,00 with hearing loss, and a BSL Zone found none of them watched BSL TV,which suggests at least Wales has no part in a global community of deaf as such. Increasingly it looks like a digital not real-time community, if you adjudge a community by how many strangers you meet online you will never ever communicate in person with, then that’s your community it isn’t mine. People need people. ‘Deaf’ culture isn’t a popular one with deaf people, it is neither inclusive or accepting and many still see the way they utilize sign as a deliberate barrier to prevent inclusions. But for the fact us Brits would support ANY underdog regardless how obscure, As Charlie Swinbourne at the BBC found out, deaf people don’t sign and those that do were having to justify it, and not succeeding in convincing the feedback it got, who also wanted sign removed their TV screens.. We’re all too secular despite the social media, they just attract like-minded and nothing happens.

  3. Pingback: The Deaf. | The Tree House.

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