Being a deaf organic intellectual

For days now, I’ve been stumbling around within myself as to how to respond to Dr. Kristin Snoddon’s blogpost from last week. When an academic makes you stumble around inside her words, you know she is doing her job as an organic intellectual. She wrote in her last blogpost about her ordeal of having to cope with the news of another surgery and the challenges preventing her from being fully mobile. At a British conference, she remarks on her conversation with Paddy Ladd who

suggested that my injury has given me greater understanding of disability issues, although it wasn’t like I need to use a wheelchair. I told him that I had in fact gone back to teaching last March in a wheelchair and that it had given me a greater sense of focus. As my colleagues survey me and my crutches with concern and bemusement, I wonder if seeing this has also given them some sort of benefit. As Maggie Nelson wrote in Bluets, “I can say that seeing it has made me a believer, though I cannot say what, or in what, exactly, I have come to believe.”

It’s a fine line to walk, this, between inspiration porn, pity, and momentary bursts of pride and anger such as the nation wide rallies at provincial legislative buildings in support of ASL/LSQ being recognized as official languages of Canada on September 22, 2018. How are the hearing benefitting from our own struggle? As I looked around at the rally concerning the recognition of ASL/LSQ  here at the Legislative Building in Regina, Saskatchewan, I was surprised to see that nearly half of the people at the rally were hearing. I saw parents, siblings, teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing from Regina and Saskatoon, off duty community interpreters, grandparents, students from ASL classes, hearing spouses, and two politicians who spoke at length, David Forbes, NDP MLA and Carla Beck, NDP MLA. I saw a First Nations grandmother with a granddaughter in a stroller standing alongside her Deaf son. I saw women newly arrived here in Canada, standing proudly with their Deaf sons and daughters. What did they see?  What did they believe?

Dr. Snoddon and I both know that making a sign language official in a country does not guarantee ASL to be delivered in schools and in early childhood programs. After the first flush of euphoria, there stretches out a very hard and long road.  Not being able to walk easily and carrying all sorts of burdens, as Dr. Snoddon literally did, invites a certain focus. But it is more than just focus. It is a belief that somehow, somewhere in the future, our actions are really going to make a difference.  When the road is about picking one’s way through the barriers, the blocks, our heads are down, trying to figure out: “Is this the time to be really angry?”’ or “Is it too dangerous?” Do we dare believe that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) deserve a place in our Canadian society?

Patti - fight song

Patti Trofimenkoff, one of the original Task Force on Deaf Education committee members, who, with her hearing colleague, Bill Lockert, wrote a dissenting report in rebuttal to the Task Force document which had her name listed as a member of the Task Force Committee (Merv Houghton, Bob Livingston, Bill Lockert and Patti Trofimenkoff) that supported the eventual closure of the school for the Deaf.  As a teacher of the deaf, she was an organic Deaf intellectual and mentor to countless of Deaf youth. Here, she is, orchestrating the “fight song”, a time honored Deaf tradition at the Saskatchewan rally in favor of ASL/LSQ as official languages of Canada on September 22, 2018.

This week, I read about academics leaving university posts because they could not tolerate the racism at their universities.  And it is a little odd, that here in Saskatchewan, so soon after the Boushie-Stanley trial, that the province is gripped with tremendous grief and charity over the horrific Humboldt hockey team accident, grieving over the loss of white male hockey players.  And what of the murdered and missing First Nations women? Radio silence. And what of the racism in schools? Suddenly, wearing an orange shirt feels uncomfortably easy. What are we to believe?

Being an organic intellectual means allying oneself with the concerns of one’s communities, working alongside with them and at the same time, casting a critical eye on all the players in the field including one’s own group. Recognition of ASL/LSQ is a very small step in a very long journey.  Thankfully, here in Saskatchewan, through the work of the Saskatoon Association of the Deaf, Regina Association of the Deaf, Saskatchewan Deaf Association, Saskatchewan Cultural Society of the Deaf, Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, Patti Spicer and Allard Thomas in their mentorship roles with the DHH youth from Regina Public Schools, we pulled off a rally on the coldest day in the fall.  The DHH classroom at Knoll was jam packed with family, friends, siblings, students, and Deaf adults warming themselves with coffee, food and a birthday cake in honor of Roger Carver.

We have much to celebrate, much to sort out and much to do.  As the Deaf Crows students snatched the broom out of my hands, pushed me away from serving the food, cleaning, finding utensils, and making announcements to the entire room on their own, I found myself seeing it all with my own eyes, intuitively understanding my own role as an organic intellectual, stepping back and allowing the community in all its warts, strengths, and vision to get the job done and the fullness of the vision that is before us. I just need to trust this community to which I belong, and support it with the focus of writing papers, providing analysis, directions for policy and pedagogy, and fostering a young generation through the work I do with Deaf Crows Collective.  What am I to believe?  

Hope for ourselves, for our communities and our future. That is something we continue to work for though we have not yet seen the fruits of our labour with our own eyes.

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