• Susan Seligson

    Susan Seligson has written for many publications and websites, including the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Yankee, Outside, Redbook, the Times of London, Salon.com, Radar.com, and Nerve.com. Profile

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There are 16 comments on Should the Deaf Be Considered an Ethnic Group?

  1. My initial reaction was no thinking that such isn’t a passed down trait or culture. But in thinking about it for just a few seconds realized indeed it CAN be genetically passed down, and DOES have its own culture. In the same way that I and many others that are gay have our own sub culture in the US (and indeed the world) so too do those who cannot hear. Once you know you’re a part of something like that, with traditions and culture and ways of life, you feel stronger, more whole; there’s a sense of camaraderie that means a great deal.

  2. I’m inclined to agree with Lennard J. Davis on this issue. To define those who are deaf or experience hearing loss as a separate ethnicity would pigeon-hole everyone who experiences a form of deafness regardless of their own personal identity.
    While it is true that the deaf community possesses its own unique culture, language and, in some cases, ancestry, attempting to define it or label it will only serve to alienate or exclude those who don’t match the criteria. This trend to emphasize and underline the things that make us different from each other seems to only lead to further division.

    1. …”would pigeon-hole everyone who experiences a form of deafness regardless of their own personal identity”…

      No, that’s not it at all… Deaf culture/Deaf ethnicity is certainly not automatically attained simply by being physically deaf. You have to voluntarily opt in.

  3. Recently our church underwent a HUGE merger with a MUCH larger church..in that process practically EVERYTHING was transformed to mirror the larger church…and unfortunately, so was our ministry. We USED to be on stage with the singers for the signed music..we USED to be center-right stage on a platform for our interpreters. NOW, we are shoved in a CORNER!!! with poor lighting and now our music signers are on the floor platform, where our deaf have to sit sideways practically to see us, and POORLY see us at that, the lighting stinks. We will be appealing these changes, in the beginning of this merger/takeover we were told that our ministry would not be effected..but on the grand opening day (the day before at rehearsal) we had the bad news dropped on us. Discussing the changes with the NEW leader was futile..the LEADERS above him made the decision based on what they thought was best..I told him that I understood the majority of the changes in the church,,,they all had PURPOSE..when asked what the PURPOSE was to changing our situation…it “DISTRACTS” the hearing
    AHHHHH!!! i wanted to scream!! there is alot of stuff that hearing do that distracts me but it does not get “REMOVED” to accommodate me! thanks for letting me vent.

  4. I’d sooner define it as a subculture rather than an ethnicity. Deafness can be passed down genetically but often isn’t, one could just as easily come from deaf parents and have your hearing or get it through unnatural causes. An ethnic group is typically defined by a common geographic origin rather than the cultural traits that its members may or may not share.

    It seems like this is an attempt to force a categorization that doesn’t quite fit in order to replace the stigma of being categorized as handicapped. It seems well intentioned but misses the mark.

    1. Actually speaking sociologically, an ethnicity can be a shared culture or religion rather than geographical location, like how Jews are often considered an ethnicity even though they are not all from the same geographical area. Though perhaps there are different subgroups to the deaf ethnicity, as sign language differs from country to country, a BSL user would find it very hard to communicate with an ASL user

  5. Disabilities are not ethnicities. We are living in an absurd society. Politicians have succeeded in dividing us up into groups that can be manipulated and victimized in the name of equality and diversity. Make sure to thank a liberal today for such dehumanizing ideas.

  6. It would be much better off if your def cousin thought of herself as just “human” instead of “Australian” or “deaf”.

    We need to find less ways of keeping ourselves apart as human beings. Making everyone into some part of a minority, so that we can fight over our little corner of something, or little piece of the pie, just creates problems and misunderstandings.

    There is nothing wrong with seeing differences in those around you, but I rather look for similarities and ways that bind than ways that differentiate.

  7. I’d have been more likely to consider the discussion more seriously if Pillard hadn’t undermined his own credibility by stating that cochlear implants work poorly. There are some people for whom they don’t provide the level of hearing hoped for, especially when implanted well after the critical first few years of language development, but the overwhelming majority of CI users find the technology to far surpass expectations.

    They work brilliantly for my profoundly deaf daughter, who is fluent in ASL, spoken English, is learning Mandarin, and practices Kung Fu, gymnastics, and piano with those two CIs “strapped on” her body.

    I think being Deaf is an important part of who she is — a subculture including a distinct language, common customs. But ethnically? She’s Chinese.

  8. What a great story. It is clear, from the comments, that it makes us all think about what makes our identity. Is it genetic? Is it lived experience? Is it driven by our context? Is it racial? Just as important, is it one thing? Finally, who gets to define our identity? This story makes us struggle to find answers for ourselves and to find a common ground. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. Fully agree with the article, we should be called ethnic or even cultural BUT it depends on what environment we are in. For example, while I’m at home, workplace or friends place where there is majority of Deaf people, I’d see that as ethnic or culture. If I am at someplace that is dominated by hearing, I.e- airport, shopping centre, cinema or train station where there is no accessibility for Deaf people, I consider myself disability and demand access and rights. Because in this situation, we will need some adjustment for either hearing or deaf like interpreter, captioning etc.

  10. Everything about the article implies that Deaf culture is a subculture rather than an ethnicity. Although there are genetic links, Deafness is not strictly genetic, meaning that Deaf parents will not necessarily have a Deaf child, and hearing parents may spontaneously have a Deaf child. This is contrary to true ethnicities; Armenian parents will, by the definition of ethnicity, necessarily have an Armenian child. On the flip side a child born to native-American parents who chooses to join a tribe and live on a reservation is not then eligible to receive benefits reserved for those ethnicities.

    Also, the fact that Deafness happens to older people shows that it is not related to heredity or location like other ethnicities. Putting emphasis on the “Martha’s Vineyard connection” in order to prove a Deaf lineage is a disservice to Deaf persons who are completely unrelated to that lineage. It implies that they may not actually be part of that Deaf ethnicity.

    Almost all of the criteria that they are using to suggest ethnicity fits better for subculture: shared history, language, humor, art, etc. Accepting the designation as a subculture clarifies the somewhat fluid boundaries. A Deaf person does not have to identify with Deaf culture in the same way that a gay person does not have to identify with gay culture; a person who comes from a hearing culture either at birth or later may choose to join the Deaf subculture even though they were not born into it.

    However, arguing that Deaf culture is a subculture does not imply that it not worth preserving. Some subcultures such as gay culture actually equal or surpass ethnicities in terms of self-identification and feelings of closeness (especially in pluralistic societies) and they allow for greater inclusiveness for individuals who choose to self-identify in that way.

  11. How does it benefit anyone to make this a binary political issue? The issue of Deaf identity is not a liberal or conservative issue, but a complex human one. Make sure to thank a television today for such reductionist thinking.

  12. Constantly seeking to divide our people into smaller and smaller groups based on a real or perceived difference was started by politicians as a divide and conquer technique that was very effective. It has been adopted by the left leaning academia and led to a culture of identity politics. This article just highlights the problem. Everyone wants to be a part of a special little interest group that is recognized and therefore officially esteemed and/or persecuted.

    We have lost all sense of what was best about us because of such nonsense.

  13. So, facilitating the exploration of complex cultural identity is a no-no? We should all just “toe the line” with the dominant culture? Whose culture, I wonder? And you blame politicians (and — surprise — members of the so-called “left-leaning academia”) for the fact that people identify as members of a certain group? Granted, politicians (and advertisers) exploit these identifications, or at the very least include them in their campaign strategies, but to say that they (or your liberal bogeymen) are responsible for the phenomenon of cultural diversity is a sloppy leap of thought. One can only wonder at where such ridiculous ideas were learned. Why, oh why, must folks oversimplify? Seriously, people — you can handle complexity if you give yourself the chance. Makes life more interesting, I promise.

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