Veiled Audism: How Paternalism and Condescension Control and Oppress the Deaf Community

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz


This blog is a response to a comment—the comment being riddled with audism—from a reader of a previous blog.  The intent is NOT to start a war with this commenter (in fact I will not publish her username or real name) but, rather, to educate others about How Paternalism and Condescension Control and Oppress the Deaf Community.

We, the ASL Deaf community, have spoken frequently about how audism hurts our people, but, to those who have never experienced it first hand, this concept seems unfeasible.  Why would someone ever wish to subjugate the Deaf?  Indeed, WHY would anyone intentionally injure our community?  In an earlier vlog, one of my first, I exposited a theory that there are two different kinds of audism: Deficit-Thinking-Audism, and Xenophobic-Audism.  The former being based on pity, the latter on a fear or distain for Deaf behaviors, language, noises, and culture. 

Below is the original comment posted on my previous blog, “Deaf Culture Hijacked: The Hearing-Minded Taking Advantage of the Word “Deaf” by a person, let’s call her Madam H:

Madam H. wrote, The word DEAF is simply a word, no-one owns it. There are inequalities in every section of society, many people are ‘broken’ (horrible term) but not deaf.

Your blog raises some excellent points but it still seems to class practically all of the hearing community as one enemy, regardless. We aren’t a collective any more than the deaf community are.

Deaf people exist in many forms, deaf from birth, by accident, and now by design .

If deaf people are so determined to exist within their particular exclusivity then they need to stop fighting each other and perhaps drop the hostility levels towards others outwith their circle. Being mocked by deaf people is just as crual as being mocked by hearing people.

Being ‘unbroken’ does not mean that you are not ‘flawed’ any more than being deaf makes you right.

Dear Madam H.;

1)  In my previous blog, “Deaf Culture Hijacked: The Hearing-Minded Taking Advantage of the Word “Deaf”, I did not classify a “community” of hearing persons.  In point of fact, I do not believe there IS one big culture of hearing persons.  But let me make this point clear.  Audism is not automatically found in all persons who hear.  Audism is defined as: The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears (Tom Humphreys, 1975).

Not all hearing people are audists.  I would never have even alluded to such a way of thinking.  However, ANY hearing person who has the hubris to join our community and take over/attempt to change/or think they need to “save us from silence” (i.e. Cochlear Implant factories churning our pseudo-hearing babies without thinking of the long term ramifications on the socio-emotional development of deaf children) is, simply put, audist.  It is wrong to think that someone outside a culture could, not just join, share with, learn from, but LEAD that culture toward something more like their own.  It is bigoted to do so and it hurts deaf people.  And THOSE kind of hearing people—the AUDIST people, not, as you claimed I said, all hearing people—that we are resisting. 

2)  I did not use the term enemy to describe hearing people and never would.  I did not even use the word enemy to define audists.  But, as I described above, it IS wrong to take over a community to which you do not belong and attempt to change it. 

Let’s look at some historical examples of this type of behavior:  Whites trying to westernize the Indians because they deemed Native Cultures to be “savage.”   The Catholic Church torturing and murdering recalcitrant Jews because of their belief system.  Male psychiatrists encouraging husbands and fathers to have their wives’ and daughters’ female organs removed so as to alleviate hysteria—hysterectomy was believed to remove “female hysterical mood swings—thereby making them more male, more normal.”  My point in this is that it is NOT hearing level that makes one abusive to the Deaf Community—not anymore than “all whites,” “all Catholics,” or “all males” are to blame for the aforementioned oppressions.  It is not the hearing; rather, it is hearing-mindedness!  It is AUDISM!  To take over a community-not-your-own is utter hubris and should be stopped… No, eradicated.

3)  The fact that you are telling the Deaf Community, a community-not-your-own, what to do “… they need to stop fighting each other and perhaps drop the hostility levels towards others out with their circle,” indicates that you fail to understand my article—the point of it being, we are sick and tired of hearing people telling us what to do and how to live!  We don’t need outside influences any more than Native Americans need Whites, than Jews need Catholics, or women need men to tell them what to do and how to behave! 

4)  Let me just say, I am sick and tired of the way some hearing people bitch and moan that Deaf people reject them.  We do NOT reject hearing people off hand.  But when we do, those hearing people who have been “rejected” consistently claim it is because of their hearing level.  That is, pardon my French, utter bull$#lt!   Why do we reject some hearing people and embrace others?  Simple; answer “hearing-minded-takeoverism,” better known as AUDISM!  I repeat: I do NOT, nor does anyone I know in my large circle of friends, “REJECT hearing people based on their hearingness.” 

Hearing people who hang with us, sign with us, marry into our community, become teachers of the Deaf, interpreters, ASL students, neighbors, people-at-the-local-gym, our CODA children, etc. and respect a Deaf Centered philosophy while addressing Deaf issues are sacred and beloved in our community!  Many, many, many, many, of our closest friends and allies are hearing and wholly and deeply welcomed in our community.  (On a personal note, my very best friend is hearing, my wife’s closest local friend is hearing, and my daughter’s “BFF” is a hearing girl—these hearing people are NOT AUDISTS and, their hearing levels mean NOTHING to us!).   

However, those who try to change us (forcing SEE, TC and oralism on children) those who bastardize our values (teaching ASL as non-native signers themselves) and judge our behaviors, norms, customs (as in the case of the person who posted: “deaf people are retarded.  You sound like WHAAAAOOOO OURRRRR” on my wife’s vlog—judging her for not having “intelligible speech”) and mocking our fears and reactions to oppression (as in this case), there is NO welcome.  The ASL Deaf Community does not need or want those kinds of hearing people—AUDIST people—within our circle and will let them know it.

5) That we have infighting is a result of dysconcious audism—meaning, some of us grow up under a yoke of oppression and internalize a sense of inferiority—is because those who feel inferior come upon someone speaking out about our strengths, abilities, and “wholeness” those who have dysconcious audism don’t feel strong, able, and whole, due to their educational, familial, and cultural deprivation (having been deprived of a feeling of normality in a Deaf Way) feel that hearing ways are inherently better or superior.  Again, it is a product of hearing-minded-takeoverism, or audism.  Left alone, there is much more cohesion in our community.  In fact, there is far more cohesion in the Deaf world, than there is in the “religious world” the “sports world” and the “political world.”  You assume I am talking about “all people who can’t hear.”  When, in fact, I was referring to D (capital D) Deaf Culture.  You say we are infighting because you lumped all “hearing impaired” persons into one group.  That is irresponsible argumentation as much as it is irresponsible to lump all religious people into one group.  Of COURSE there is division!  Of COURSE there is disagreement.  But in the DEAF WORLD, the ASL DEAF world, there is a SUBSTANTIAL sense of cohesion.

6)  “The word Deaf is just a word…”  This is just silly.  All words are “just words” until someone attaches emotional ties thereto.  i.e. The words Nazi, hatred, murder, and jealousy are just words, but they are powerful symbols of the worst parts of humanity.  They are powerful words because we, as humans, have attached powerful meanings thereto.  The words mother, love, beauty, and peace are, too, just words, but they are evocative of harmonious, joyful times for many people.  The word Deaf is “just a word” to you because you are not.  It is beautiful, powerful, and sacred to many who understand the connotations of what(capital D) Deaf means.

7)  Finally, “Being ‘unbroken’ does not mean that you are not ‘flawed’ any more than being deaf makes you right.”  Wow…  What a slap in the face. Your sentence assumes that I believe I am right simply because of my deafness and that you are not looking for the content of my character.  Implying that there is NO validity to my experiences, my research, my community involvement, my years of teaching, or even my graduate degree—that “just because i am Deaf, I think I am right.”  That is a very telling statement.  That is pure audism. 

Madam H., try to examine your presuppositional thinking and then ask yourself why you feel rejected in the Deaf community–because of your hearing, or because of your audism?  Because you are a hearing person, or because of your paternalism and condescention? 

In closing, Madam H. please DO analyze your presuppositional thinking and examine your behaviors and words before assuming it is your hearing level that is being judged. It may well be that your ears have nothing to do with the sense of rejection you mentioned and, in fact, may be purely based on the content of your character.




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9 responses to “Veiled Audism: How Paternalism and Condescension Control and Oppress the Deaf Community

  1. RLM

    Wow! Wow! Wow! That’s exactly I previously experienced lately with the SFRAD and other audist individuals, especially last April 2010 meeting.

    I am really glad that you and other deaf-centric people take up and do something about the dysfunctional audism among the deaf community.

    I love how you write this blog! It is pretty breathtaking!

    Wanna see more of your stuff (blog, thoughts)!!!

    Robert L. Mason (RLM)

  2. Michelle

    Those people like Madam H. disappoints me. I have zero tolerance at trying to educate and correct any “audist” with presuppositional thinkings yet they accuse us for not welcoming them to our ASL Deaf community. They should analyze their unwanted behaviors first before challenging us. Body language conveys 80% of communication, we can read.
    anyway. great writing here!

  3. Laura

    Another powerful blog, keep it up!

    Currently one of my favorite songs Find Your Love by Drake says “you hear, but you don’t listen”. This seems to apply the majority of the population, who have “an ability” to hear, but they choose not to listen. Who knows if they ever will? It is a choice to have an open-mind.


  4. Pingback: Pick of the Litter – Sun 18 July 2010 « DeaFreed

  5. Fiver

    Your ideas should be to enlighten, educate and inform. Sadly, there has been nothing about this so-called “Deafhood” and other movements that is positive or constructive. Before you go about pointing fingers at other people regarding how YOU perceive them treating you, TAKE A GOOD HARD LOOK AT YOURSELF AND STOP OPPRESSING PEOPLE THAT DO NOT FIT YOUR “IDEA” OF HOW A DEAF PERSON IS DEFINED!

  6. Laurann

    Hi there,
    I am new to the blog and this one got me thinking. I had never really heard the term “audism” before reading this blog. Reading it I was reminded of a time when I got into a “discussion” with my husband a few years ago when one of his cousins gave birth to a deaf son. When he was born it was, “Oh my gosh, he was born deaf.” Everyone was so devestated at this news. His parents decided to do a double cochlear implant. I had voiced my opinions of this and shared with them research I had done for a class at the time, but in the end, it was not my decision to make as it was not my child. The “discussion” I had with my husband was what if we had a deaf child? This was early in my education at Ohlone and I had already learned to really appreciate the Deaf community and Deaf culture. I have always found ASL fascinating, which drew me to Ohlone and to an AA degree in Deaf Studies. My husband’s stance was that we would “fix” our deaf child. I felt the exact opposite saying there would be nothing wrong with having a deaf child. Needless to say, more “discussing” followed. Reading this blog reminded me of how close minded he was and how angry that had made me. To avoid raising 2 “audist” sons, I try to get them involved in to going to events in the deaf community from time to time. My oldest son saw a play at CSD and he LOVED it and I don’t think it was even voice interpreted! My youngest son has had less exposure to the deaf community, but that will definitely change 🙂

  7. Michael Basaldua

    Very well said. I love the way that you make your point(s). I wonder if you have any experience in debate because you really outdebated her on the issue of defining the word “Deaf.” It’s fascinating to me how people can have two total different perceptions over just one word. I also loved the way that you didn’t give her real name. Hopefully, Madame H. does some research next time before she says what she feels.

  8. Deaf is beautiful – love to watch those flying hands and body gestures as they weave a story of intrique.

  9. Kortney

    Hi, I am a college student going to be an interpreter of the Deaf. I am hearing, but I understand to an extent what being oppressed is. My Christian life is very important to me, and I have been mocked by family members and non-family members all my life since I accepted Christ. They judge harshly because I am different.
    I am not going to be an interpreter so that I can ‘fix’ anything. There is nothing to fix in the Deaf community. NOTHING AT ALL! It is beautiful and Deaf people are perfectly normal. Why should someone discriminate because of ones skin tone, eye color, race, position in life, or a physical feature.
    My closest cousin was born with down syndrome and is the center of our family, He loves everyone he meets equally, he doesn’t judge, and he is NORMAL, because we did not treat him unjustly, because we have never treated him as inferior, but as an equal, he has a job, and is absolutely, the most amazing person you will ever meet.
    I CAN NOT stand it when anyone claims to be more privileged than another human being, simply because one is different than another person. I am a mixture of cultures, Cherokee on both sides, German on both sides, a bit of Irish, and a bit of Dutch… Does that make me less of a person? I think not! Neither does not being able to hear make someone less of a person, or less capable, or less able to do anything anyone else can do.
    I am a girl and I have constantly had to put up with guys telling me they are better than me, that I should have to stay at home all the time and never pursue my dreams. That is so wrong. No one should be limited because of anything about them.
    When you dare to look at someone as less of a person remember this. ALL MEN AND WOMEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!
    When you demean anyone you are doing so to make yourself look better, but in reality you make yourself look bad and cruel…
    Just wanted to say that this is an amazing blog and to show a positive feedback…

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