Jennifer E. Brown
Culture comes in many forms and is located in many different parts of the
world. Culture is defined as “social and intellectual formation; the
totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs,
institutions, and all other products of human work and thought
characteristic of a community or population” (Ed. Morris, pg 321). Being
from southern Louisiana, the true south, outsiders tend to over generalize
what my culture consists of based on hearsay or poor depictions from
movies. For example, I have heard being from Louisiana I should be able to
cook and clean. However, my favorite question I am asked without failure,
“are you a coon ass”? Nothing makes me more upset than the ignorance people
display when they do not take the time to find out about different cultures
and how they operate. The term, “coon ass” is a racist over generalization
of my culture and a demeaning label. In turn if I feel like this about my
culture, then I can only imagine how persons from another culture may react
to this lack of knowledge.
As a hearing person, I can only report on Deaf culture from research I have
collected through reading and what I have observed from the few deaf friends
I have made over the years. “D” in Deaf not only represents a culture, but
also communities of people who live all over the world. The Deaf culture
was born and currently thrives from shared experiences and a shared
language—American Sign Language: “Mastery of ASL and skillful storytelling
are highly valued in Deaf Culture. Through ASL Literature, one generation
passes on to the next its wisdom, values, and its pride and thus reinforces
the bonds that unite the younger generation” (ASLinfo.com). This community
has its own organizations for the betterment of themselves, such as National
Association of the Deaf. They also participate in athletics, theater, and
competitions such as Miss Deaf America pageant. Unlike most cultures where
the members of the family pass down its patterns and beliefs to further its
heritage, the deaf community utilizes each member to pass down the essential
richness needed to be a strong person within this community. However, this
is not a traditional practice to those children born to hearing parents.
Marriage is also a part of the cultural traditions within
the Deaf community. In America, nine out of ten deaf persons marry other
persons from the same community. Furthermore, deaf parents would prefer
that their children be born deaf so the child may be able to identify with
his cultural heritage (ASLinfor.com). Persons born to a hearing world,
though they may learn ASL and aspects of the Deaf culture after loss of
hearing, may never acquire the full identity of being “Deaf”, nor become a
full member of the Deaf community. To this community the “D” is not awarded
to the person unless they are born without hearing. They have the ability
to say they never heard or experienced hearing as we know in the hearing
Unfortunately, ugly labels have a history within this
culture just as mine. Aristotle (as wise as he was supposed to be) tended
to call deaf people “deaf and dumb” because he thought they could not be
taught, or that they were incapable of learning. Later, “dumb” moved out
and “silent” moved in as a descriptor because of how the majority of the
world may have viewed deaf people. Just as “coon ass,” any and all labels
are demeaning over generalizations, especially about a community of people
who really are not silent. As mentioned before, ASL is the preferred use of
communication in America, which is not only signing but also includes
lip-reading and some individuals who may actually vocalize.
During my educational experience in graduate school at Lamar University, I
would like to think I have learned a great deal about the Deaf world.
Although, I have previously explored other cultures I would like to think my
expedition through the Deaf culture is just beginning. Unlike some people,
I do like to know what to wear to dinner, who is the dominant mate, or what
the protocol for funerals are before I open my mouth. Personally, I am
hungry for knowledge and willing to teach others what experiences I have
gained from that knowledge. Currently, I am two weeks away from becoming a
gainfully employed Audiologist, and I am more than happy I took the time to
learn about Deaf culture, especially in my field. As a hearing person, you
tend to think you know everything and what is best for others, but nothing
is best for a community of people who thrive better than we as hearing do in
the world. This is one culture anyone can sit down and take an enormous
amount of notes about, yet still know nothing.
“Culture.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language. Ed. William Morris.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978. 321.
“Deaf Culture.” ASLinfo. ASLinfo.com. 1996.
Houston Community College. 10 Apr.
Orsi, Terri. “Deaf Culture and Deaf Community.”
Education: A Parents’ Guide.
May 2001. Houston Community College. 10 Apr. 2003.
“What is Wrong with the Use of these Terms: ‘Deaf-mute’,
‘Deaf and dumb’, or
‘Hearing-impaired’”? National Association of the Deaf.
College. 10 Apr. 2003. <http://www.nad.org/infocenter/infotogo/dcc/terms.html>.