“Once upon a time there was a society of priests who built a Celestial City with gates secured by word combination locks. The priests were masters of the Word and, within the City, ascending levels of power and treasure became accessible to those who could learn ascendingly intricate levels of Word Magic. At the very top level, the priests became gods; and because they then had nothing left to seek, they engaged in games with which to pass the long hours of eternity. In particular, they liked to ride their strong, sure-footed steeds around and around the perimeter of heaven: now jumping word hurdles, now playing polo with concepts of the moon and the stars, now reaching up to touch that pinnacle, that Splinter of Refined Understanding called Superunderstanding, which was the brass ring of their merry-go-round… …Under the Celestial City, dying mortals cried out their range and suffering, battered by a steady rain of sharp hooves whose thundering, sound-drowning path described the wheel of their misfortune. At the bottom of the Deep Blue Sea, drowning mortals reached silently and desperately for drifting anchors dangling from short chains far, far overhead, which they thought were lifelines meant for them.” (Williams, 1991, p. 1)
I’m reading a book called “Sista Talk. The Personal and then Pedagogical” written by Rochelle Brock and have been struck by many similarities to the experience that she has had as a Black woman in America to the experiences that a Deaf person would experience. In the case of the text above written by Patricia Williams, language is the main oppressing tool. The notion of language being a form of oppression has troubled me in many ways over the years. It holds people in power up in place while continuing to establish barriers for people who are marginalized and disenfranchised within our society. Language is extremely personal and represents authentic selves. It allows us to bring our own truths to the conversation, and without the language in which we need to express our thoughts and feelings we have left a fragmented sense of self. A self that is unable to express, who feel like the ‘other’, the self that battles for understanding.
Rochelle goes to to write in her book about the notion of being ‘otherized’ or being viewed as an object to be manipulated and controlled. Madrid, 1988 writes “For us being the other is only annoying; for others it is debilitating; for still others it is damming. Many try to feel otherness by taking on protective colorations that provide invisibility, whether of dress or speech or manner or name. Only a fortunate few succeed. For the majority otherness is permanently sealed by our physical appearance. For the rest, otherness is betrayed by ways of being, speaking or doing. ” As I read this I wonder how does the whole notion of ‘otherness’ affect the Deaf community? How do we find identity and personal strength beyond the labels that society places on marginalized and oppressed groups of people? I feel this is where collaboration with ones own culture, as well as devoting time for reflection to understand our movements in the world and to provide meaning to the imposed and structured frameworks we all life under. Still exploring.. still learning… still growing with you.