When I tell people that I am learning sign language the most popular response that I get is “why?” Or other people have laughed and called me a slacker for not taking a “real” language. It is amazing how ignorance can cause people to dismiss a whole culture of people.
I believe I can identify with various groups of people who are marginalized in society. Individuals who throughout history are oppressed, pathologized, and exploited for not fitting into the norm of what society says one should be. Over the past school year I have been taking an American Sign Language class and learning more about the deaf community and the richness to deaf culture. People have always attempted to put labels on this community. These labels for the greater part of the past brought mostly oppression to the Deaf. The different views of this population of people have many positive and negative aspects. Some view deafness as a medical problem involving the ears, others view deafness as a hindrance to effectively communicate with others, and various individuals in more progressive circles view deafness as the distinctive cultural linguistic patterns of the signing members of the Deaf Community.
Viewing deafness as a communication problem is a very controversial to deaf people. Looking at the history of oppression in deaf communities, you will find hearing people (usually in some authoritative position) wanting to replace the language of deaf people (sign language) and force them to assimilate into hearing society. History always tends to repeat itself. When people in power see something different, they want to stop it. When people in power see something that might challenge the system, they want to stop it. When people in power see something that successfully defies that status quo, they want to stop it. It is no different with the deaf community. This community has always been dynamic, unique, and strong. However, that does not stop perpetrators from attempting to disrupt the flow of much needed education within the deaf community.
Deaf people have gone through great effort to fight against the rule of the majority in some areas. In some cases teachers in schools would tie students hands down and try to force them to speak and read lips. The centerpiece of this deaf community and culture is sign language.
The cultural linguistic patterns of the signing members have brought people closer together and allowed others to find a place that they feel they can belong, outside of what can be a very intolerant hearing world. It is encouraging to know that the Deaf Community has overcome every odd that has been presented to them. Deaf Culture today is very rich and enlightening. It also encompasses activism- specifically in the sense of deaf people hold sit-ins and rallies at Gallaudet University, until they were granted their first deaf president. As you can see, there is more to this vibrant group of people than what one can see from the surface.
So now when I tell people, I know sign language, they will most likely react the same way (asking why or thinking I did it for an easy course.) But at least I can direct them to a blog now. (oh and by the way, the course is and language is hella challenging, definitely not a bird course).