Nancy Rourke’s Elephant in the Deaf Room
The media, overall, shows a centrality-of-audism orientation, meaning that society is continuing to shirk its responsibility to examine the exploitation of Deaf people. How might we Deaf people, then, understand the geographical and oppressive implications of this state of affairs? We all live in the world of media. We depend on the media. We learn from the media. We need to ask ourselves about the nature of human life in its entire spectrum of expression, including the pervasive and invisible in-built structures of colonialism and capitalism, including a form that often goes unnoticed: mis-portrayal and mis-representation in the media.
Audism is a term akin to racism and sexism. It means: It is better when someone can hear, compared to when someone cannot. An audist is someone who believes that hearing people are superior to Deaf people. This negative view was considered matter of fact and uncontroversial until recent decades. In fact, the term “audism” did not even exist until 1975, which is about when the tide began to turn in a positive direction for us culturally Deaf people.
Throughout the land, Deaf children continue to be exploited. Parents of newborn and young Deaf children are given a false hope that their children can be made to be like them. This is done through newspaper articles and advertisements, in educational and child-rearing meetings held in convention halls, and in various other venues. Hearing technologies are shown firsthand to people, and are represented as being the new normal for use with Deaf children for educational purposes and even for the purpose of simply being a “real” person. Technology is purported to give us life, a normal life made up of attending neighborhood schools, participating in family life and partaking of whatever types of entertainment is available.
What is really being learned by such lessons and messages is how Deaf people’s full consciousness can be chipped away at and depleted, how their intelligence can be diminished. In effect, this is what the real consequence is of anti-Deaf propaganda. That’s what it is, harmful propaganda, even though it’s sugar coated. Deaf children become deprived of what really counts the most, which is normal to them: visual communication and sign.
Check the link below:
the child in the photograph you see at the other end of this hyperlink is me. Today, I am 46 years old. When I discovered this webpage recently, I felt firsthand a force that was countering my very existence, a force intended to strip my identity away. I am being exploited by the money-making machines of the Historic Images Outlet, as part of the offering for sale of a photograph featuring me that was taken 45 years ago and published in a newspaper in 1976 when I was only 23 months old. I am shown having my hearing aid molds “installed,” with the audiologist making sure that the molds are “perfectly fitted.”
The purchaser of a copy of this photograph can take part in my exploitation for the low price of nine U.S. dollars, including shipping and handling fees. Such is the nature of the oppressive tactics involved. Photographers and reporters assist the audiologists in this way, and financial investments are made by the media companies that employ media personnel according to an economic logic that exploits Deaf people.
I felt incredibly violated, viewing this image for sale online. It feels as if I’m already dead, that I’m being cremated and my ashes are floating invisibly out of the fire, blowing with the wind to points unknown. My stolen existence can then be anywhere and everywhere, available for audiologists everywhere in the continuing exploitation of my identity, or even simply for any anonymous Joe or Jane Schmoe who purchases a copy.
Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth, writing about the international scene, provides a perfect explanation of the type of underlying circumstances involved:
“The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anticolonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”
Such is the nature of the situation wherein the forces of Alexander Graham Bell’s legacy, which is now constituted of myriad hearing technology companies, with their attendant non-profit enablers and hangers-on, makes wealth exploiting Deaf individuals worldwide. Bell is enshrined in history textbooks as being the supposed “inventor of the telephone,” as the hackneyed phrase goes, which is a diversion.
What is being ignored is the fact that he was fully participating in the creation of the roots of a type of latter-day colonialism, based on the opportunity he saw available to destroy the lineage and cultural patrimony of culturally Deaf people. We are sacrificed in his name, with him obtaining a type of civil immunity and, after his demise, a false aura of heroic achievement.
The Volta Bureau, which is the headquarters of the Alexander Graham Bell (Mis-)Association in Washington, D.C., which is the epicenter of the continued perpetration of Bell’s legacy, is named after Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta, the man who invented the electric battery. It is the technology of batteries which enabled the invention and development of hearing aids and other forms of hearing technology, including the promulgation of cochlear implants which torment us today.
Even 45 years later, I am made a poster child against my will, as part of the lasting effort to please Alexander Graham Bell’s economic progeny as part of his mind, which was constituted of cruelty. My mother passed away recently in July 2021. I wish I could ask her a question as to whether she allowed the news photographer to take the photo, wondering if the reporter and the photographer were asking my mother and father about the “perpetual use” of the photo, which means their right to use it forever into the future, regardless of how it might be distributed.
She’s gone, so I asked my father about this, and he said that they granted permission verbally, but they did not mention anything about “perpetual use.” So the newspaper had permission to publish the photo in the newspaper and got away without mentioning “perpetual use.” I explained to my father why I objected to the Historic Images Outlet using my face and ears for entertainment.
A friend of mine made a point well taken that my father might think that wearing hearing aids is like wearing eyeglasses. It turns out that this is true.
Lots of hearing people have not been able to muster enough focus, regardless of their overall benevolent intentions, to learn what we in the Deaf community have dealt with every day. In fact, they have been the deliberate victims themselves of mis-direction and exploitation, as part of Bell’s plan of mis-association for the Deaf — his desire to break up Deaf culture into splinters upon splinters, generation after generation, until it dissolves and fades away.
My mother and father were betrayed and brainwashed by Alexander Graham Bell’s lies, which continue posthumously. Alexander Graham Bell deceived them, and lied about my identity, or what my identity should be: proudly culturally Deaf, with one “foot” planted solidly in both worlds, the hearing world and the Deaf world.
Ninety-nine years after Alexander Graham Bell’s death, his philosophy continues. Deaf children continue to be exploited for the purposes of the economic growth of companies and organizations that perpetuate his legacy and intentions. Deaf people from all walks of life are taken advantage of and their identities are converted into economic equity by the corresponding national brands in the countries in which they live. Reasonable notions of human difference are rejected and systems furthering human inequality go unchallenged.
How can we deal with the media of the future and how the media of the future will continue to dehumanize the Deaf community around the world? This includes the use of Internet search engines that will reinforce this exploitation. Deaf people and their allies know that we become vulnerable when we challenge the oppressors who invest in this type of economic system. Various economic forces of the media decide how real its relationship is in terms of the mis-equitable connection to Alexander Graham Bell’s plans and legacy, creating great disparities in economics and in the ecosystem of global marketing.
Corresponding to what Adam Smith related in his 1759 book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the media today in the 21st Century, is ripping away at the fabric of humanity:
“Justice, on the contrary, is the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice [of society]. If it is removed, the great, the immense fabric of human society, that fabric which to raise and support seems in this world, if I may say so, to have been the peculiar and darling care of Nature, must in a moment crumble into atoms.”
Media transformation and improvement cannot take place without the efficacious efforts of social activists. The Deaf community needs to attract allies to make the movement louder, and will need to incubate and host actions of education to stop the exploitative practices of the media which has been dominating us in the name of hearing supremacy.
Deaf people continue to be objectified and treated as objects. Deaf people are being not only lied to, but are also being lied about. Even worse, they are being used and exploited. Forces of evil continue to rip into us, gorging us with false symbolic language disguised as “help” and “restoration,” in short: mis-representation instead of true communication.
In a book written by David Graeber in 2001 titled: Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, Graeber described a popular conception of economic value that continues into the present: “the degree to which objects are desired, particularly, as measured by how much others are willing to give up to get them.”
For the media, the objectification of the Deaf entails the promise of pleasure. Various types of media, enabled by their intellectual progenitors, have promulgated a purportedly scientific audism and reimagined it as an apparently benign yet disguised form of human exploitation, while truth is being swept away. The harmful impact of the media’s power and the damage done not only to others but to themselves is clearly evident to Deaf eyes, and now I hope yours also. apparently
Finally, how do we create roots of social transformation, if most people in contemporary world society deny the existence and evidence of audism simply because they have never heard of the concept? They can better understand the rage and resistance of Deaf people if they try to understand the historical events that created audist practices and the media’s oppressive tactics that are very much part of a huge sugar coating and cultural theft and the intended disintegration of signed languages.
I will not be viewed as an object. I will not be oppressed. I will not be harmed.
I am very proud to be Deaf! No one can take my Deafhood journey away from me.
Copyright © 2021 Jason Tozier
This text may be freely copied in its entirely only, including copyright message.