Saturday, June 16, 2012

30: Is this a Daugaard I see before me?: Thoughts on NAD

(I hate starting essays. So pretend you've joined us in the middle of the conversation, because you have.) why do you think that the Deaf community is so supportive of the Queer community? It is, in a way not true of every population, and I'm grateful to my luck. Some say there's a higher percentage of gays and lesbians in the Deaf community. I don't think so; I think a community which depends on micro-movements for meaning (the same sort of movements boxers use, sadly invisible to many in the hearing population, I've found, especially the non-signing) quite naturally picks up on certain tells and behaviors. Not weird gender-obsessive stereotypical hetero-normative tells, but something less quantifiable and more interesting and real. So it's a little harder to "pass" in the Deaf world; it would be like someone with short hair trying to convince people they had long, luscious curls. So that's one reason; it's more visible and thus less abnormal and there seem to be more.

And the second reason? 90+% of us are born to loving hearing parents, just as 90+% of queerfolk are born to loving, heterosexual parents. We know what it is to be an unexpected surprise, and to have the nature of that surprise - and our families and their reaction to it - be a guiding principle in our lives. In a way the coming out story of self-realization, understanding, and passion has its echoes in what I think of as the Deafhood story, where Deaf individuals come to realize who they are and what their situation is in the world and consciously try to affect that world, whatever their particular beliefs. It's even in that painting in the Gallaudet cafeteria (is it still there?) where the adult and the youth are pointing at each other and exclaiming in what Keats calls "the ecstasy of perfect recognition." In many ways our communities are reflections of each other, and gay and lesbian writers have spoken of a powerful sense of community that has its own mirror in the Deaf community, and which has powerful effects, also, on those whom the community touches. There are reasons we are drawn together.

We also have echoes of the majority in our community, just as we echo other minorities. We have the reverberations of hierarchy and patriarchy which have both formed and stained our nation and our heritage (but oh, what an interesting pattern it has made.) And just as we rejoice in the similarities, so too must we guard against the poisons, because it's only in vampire stories that we can't see evil in mirrors. In many ways, too, good and evil only exist in stories. In our world we have to make decisions about what will make things better or worse. Only historians and novelists, really, have the luxury of talking about good and evil, right and wrong: they don't have to deal with consequences, only papercuts. Besides all that, Deafhood is supposed to be a reflective process, isn't it? Not the sort with easy yes-es and noes.

So reflect. And the question becomes: did asking Daugaard at this point in time to speak at NAD make things better or worse? What do you decide? For myself I think it showed startling lack of thought and foresight. I looked up Daugaard's actual voting record. It was kind of mixed, in liberal/conservative terms; he voted against racial profiling, it seems, but pretty conservatively in other areas. As a Deaf man I believe we need to follow a liberal agenda if we want recognition as a linguistic and cultural minority. Personally I'd prefer to have had him speak after a Deaf person with a more open-minded agenda. Why not? Put ignorance in context, and you can see it's ignorance.

As a member of a whole bunch of other minorities I noticed that several minority groups including the NAACP sent out press releases supporting gay marriage the very week this discussion erupted. And they also have their own issues, I notice, with other minority groups and other agendas, but they seem to have found a way - and it's always just a sort of way - to actually have the necessary dialogue to continue as a coalition. They all want to work together, despite the challenges. Bernice Jonson Reagon wrote in "Coalition Politics" that if you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you're not in a broad enough coalition. We can expect some discomfort. What needs to stay open are avenues of communication and discussion. Using patronizing, smarmy paint-it-pink-and-call-it-
Somebody-Else's-Problemitiveness (thank you, Douglas Adams) to respond to the sincere concerns of a caucus certainly part of the population of your organization - not to mention of a sizable chunk of other members - is guaranteed to break or damage that coalition. And it is one of the Master's tools, and Audre Lorde warns, in "Sister/Outsider", that "the Master's tools can never dismantle the Master's house."

Just like the NAACP (and pretty much everything and everywhere else in the world) we are becoming more and more diverse as a community, and these discussions and clashes are part of our coalition building. I'm troubled by the responses of the NAD to the Daugaard issue because it does seem very much as if they are trying to paint the elephant pink and allow it to hide in the living room while saying "Nothing's here!" and hoping to hell nobody senses the smell. They invited to speak someone they had had a long association with in a generation which no longer values that person's ideals. Daugaard's parents are not a magical gateway or a free pass, any more than royal parentage is in a democracy. Daugaard ought to realize the kind of diversity in our community and speak to that. In fact, it disturbs me that someone whose career and life has so clearly been affected by his own parents, could so publicly, through his voting record and public messages, show that he fails to understand the previously-mentioned comparison and metaphor for, say, the experiences of gay and lesbian youth. He too was born into another world. He has seen how differences of the body have affected his parents. The same differences in a different iteration affect other minorities. There is reason to build this coalition and to make that narrative clear to the world.

Okay, so I'm a little troubled by Daugaard too, and all others who persist in maintaining stereotypical fears and outright misstatements. Life's scary enough without inventing bugaboos and tripping up each other on the way. Daugaard doesn't want coalition building; he's too focused on ideology at the moment (unless he chooses to change, and then, hurry up, help us keep building this coalition!) The truth is that there's something deeper there, in the history of a man who's somehow angry at every population except Deaf people, and it makes me wonder if his motivation for the "services" he's done for the Deaf community come from a place of true caring and support–or patronization and charity. You don't demean women and black people but leave Deaf people alone unless you're motivated by pity, right? I'm not saying this is so; I'm saying these are the questions raised by his voting record, and Deaf people recognize these questions, and activists queer and otherwise need NAD to acknowledge these questions exist.

And the fact that NAD doesn't acknowledge the deeper, probing questions this raises - doesn't want to deal with them or acknowledge them - makes me want to quote more Reagon:

So everybody who thinks they’re an X comes running to get into the room. And because you trying to take care of everything in this room, and you know you’re not racist, you get pressed to let us all in. The first thing that happens is that the room don’t feel like the room anymore. And it ain’t home no more. It is not a womb no more. And you can’t feel comfortable no more. And what happens at that point has to do with trying to do too much in it. You don’t do no coalition building in a womb. It’s just like trying to get a baby used to taking a drink when they’re in your womb. It just don’t work too well. Inside the womb you generally are very soft and unshelled. You have no covering. And you have no ability to handle what happens if you start to let folks in who are not like you.
Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition. You don’t get a lot of food in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from your home. You can’t stay there all the time. You go to the coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce some more.(Reagon, 1981)

Right now, candidates are reaching out on Twitter for support from the Deaf population. I wonder who's asking the hard questions about their thoughts on the Daugaard issue. I want us to continue this discussion, and I want to see NAD with leadership that finds a way to master the discussion and lead it, not avoid it. I realize it might be an awkward time to begin this discussion, what with the NAD changing leadership. In the same vein - it might just be the perfect time, and we should make sure we keep those hands weaving complicated discussions.

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