M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz
There is a great challenge that we in the Deaf Community now face. It is the challenge to fend off the horde—the overwhelming number of those who would rather our young suffer in a pseudo-hearing, quasi-normal body than thrive as a full, healthy, and happy Deaf body—when we are so few, and they are so many. We are so poor, and they are so wealthy. We are so small, and they are so great. We are so marginalized, and they are so empowered.
But it may not be those powerful, wealthy, and numerous corporations which we see as the aggressors that are the real stumbling blocks to our independence. . .
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the [Deaf Community’s] great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the [hearing-minded sponsor] or [A.G. Bell], but the [hearing moderate], who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the [Deaf Community] to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection (M. L. King, “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” 1963) .
How do we motivate those who are lukewarm? How do we reach those who know better yet do not act? How do we rally numbers great enough to affect change when there are so many who would rather sweep audism under the proverbial rug than help us clean house? To whom do we turn when those of us speaking out are so few, those who would silence us so many, and the moderates so conspicously absent?
Though we are actively fighting audism on all fronts, I have come to the sad realization, much as the great Reverend Doctor King did about moderate whites from his jail cell in Birmingham (above), that the worst oppression committed against the Deaf Community is the failure of those who KNOW BETTER to stand up for what is right. In “Conspirators and Collaborators Among Us,” Ella Mae Lentz compares those who do not stand up against injustice to those who are actively committing injustices (www.youtube.com/aslella “Conspirators and Collaborators Among Us). In “Neutrality: A Dirt Word” Nikki Horrell-Schmitz also expounds on the concept that those, both hearing and Deaf who see wrong and do nothing are guilty of the wrong themselves (www.youtube.com/aslnikki “Neutrality: A Dirty Word.”).
Is it fair to say that a silent participant in audism makes one an audist? Is it implied consent to bigotry to stand idly by while one oppresses another? Is all this just angry rhetoric? Is all this talk of guilty by implied consent a new idea that the Deaf Community is using to scare moderates? In fact, this line of thinking is quite old. Edmund Burk, (January 12, 1729 – July 9, 1797) said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This can be rephrased—all that is necessary for audism to triumph is for well-meaning moderates to do nothing. What will you do to ensure audism does not triumph?
This line of thought is older still. In the Christian Bible, in the Book of Luke, Jesus tells the story of the “Good Samaritan,” who fulfills a civic, spiritual, and moral duty to help a fellow human being in trouble. More telling, the man in trouble was a “lowly Jew,” who was looked down on by the Samaritan Community. Yet the one person who was willing to stand up for what was right, to help this man who was beaten and left for dead on the road, was a Samaritan, a member of the community who had beaten the poor Jew.
How does this apply to us? Read on to see my Parable of the Good Hearing.
There was a Deaf child whose hearing parents implanted her with a cochlear implant and left her without ASL, many Deaf people in her community said nothing as they watched her struggle day after day without whole language. Her world was closing in on her, and this poor child was languishing in a life without…without community… without language… without a sense of wholeness… without hope… She was, truly, dying. And still, Deaf people in her community saw this and cared, but said nothing, for it was not their child, not their fight. Until one day, a hearing person saw what was happening with this child. This teacher knew, as did so many before him, that this child deserved ASL. He took it upon himself to speak up for the child and find a way to get her ASL in her life.
Gandhi, a wealthy and providential lawyer did not NEED to stand up against British Imperialism. He had it made under that system—but he KNEW it was wrong and he had a duty—a moral obligation—to stand up and speak truth to power. He gave up his life of privilege and nearly died for his people. His quote, “Be the change that you want to see in the world,” is as true for us as it was for him (1869 – 1948).
I challenge you Deaf moderates and hearing moderates—who are you waiting for? Who are you hoping will come along and fix this system? Why are we waiting and hoping that someone out there—someone else—will stand up against audism and make this a world that sees Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Gays, Lesbians, Heterosexuals, Men, Women, Blacks, Whites, Hearing and Deaf and any other human being as equal?
Do not be a stumbling block to freedom—speak truth to power.