What does it mean to be Deaf and African American?
For many of these African American, there deafness comes secondary to their racial ethnic background. In a small sample of Deaf African Americans in Washington DC, 78% of them identified themselves as black before identifying their deafness.(Lane, 1996) Although their identity is mostly shaped historically with the African American community, the Deaf African American community also has their own history that began in the mid nineteenth century when segregated special residential school for the 'colored' d/Deaf children were created.(Lane, 1996, Aramburo, 1990) It was in these settings that a black dialect of ASL developed.(Lane, 1996)
For many hearing African Americans, they do not come in contact with the d/Deaf individuals of any race, but especially Deaf African Americans.(Valentine, 1996) Some Deaf African Americans feel as though they are not quite understood by other African Americans.(Valentine, 1996) There is also quite a bit of racism amongst Deaf people and their community. There are racially segregated clubs in the Deaf community.(Lane, 1996, Padden, 1988, Aramburo, 1990) The Deaf African American is a minority within a minority. They are part of the African American heritage, the Deaf heritage, and the Black Deaf tradition.(Lane, 1996)
Insight and Application: Even though these people are d/Deaf, in our society, one's racial background is important and judgments are made based on race. It is also important to know that for many Deaf African Americans, they are misunderstood or discriminated by both the Deaf community and the African American community. You would think that because people of the Deaf community are part of a minority group, they would be more compassionate and understanding of people who are different, but that does not seem to be the case. The reality is, the Deaf community is a microcosm of society as a whole, which is struggling with racism and it's existence.
Having knowledge of how these individuals feel, may provide a sensitivity and cultural awareness of Deaf African Americans. There should be a consciousness of the importance of both their racial background and their d/Deafness.
Aramburo, A. (1992). Sociolinguistic aspects of the Black deaf community. In Conference Proceedings. Empowerment and Black deaf persons. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
Lane, H., Hoffmeister, R. & Bahan, B. (1996). A journey into the deaf -world. San Diego, Ca: Dawn Sign Press.
Padden, C., Humphries, T. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Valentine, Victoria. (1995). >Listening to the deaf blacks: they want community access and acceptance. Emerge,7, 56(6).