Hearing allyship with the Deaf community

Allyship "begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group." -- PeerNetBC's.

Allyship not as an identity

Scenario: One of my ASL level-200 hearing students in Fall 2017 turned to her classmate and eagerly signed in ASL, "I want to become an ally." I explained to her as what PeerNetBC put it exactly, "Allyship is not an identity, nor is it self-defined. Allyship is a process. ... our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with."

Allyship is "a practice of unlearning and relearning, and is a life-long process of building relationships based on TRUST, CONSISTENCY, and ACCOUNTABILITY with marginalized individuals or groups." -- PeerNetBC.

"You cannot declare yourself an ally because you don't decide if you're an ally, your actions do. Allyship is something that is silently earned and it is not a performative self-declaration." -- @voltedvoices

"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. -- Elie Wiesel"

From anti-allyship to allyship

The following real-world scenario contrasts two on the opposite ends of the continuum of allyship.

Scenario: As a graduate student in 2005, a disability service "coordinator" (who was actually the only one-person staffer on contract with the university from the government, not a hired staffer of the university per se) was not willing to accept my request for a videophone installed in my studio; instead, he insisted to provide an outdated TTY. His rationale was for safety in case of a fire and such. ...

... After a long month of struggles and hardships of dealing with his oppression, I overcame the fear of bringing a "burden" to the graduate director, to my surprise the graduate director quickly set up a meeting with the disability "coordinator" with my presence. Again, the coordinator brought up a concern for a fire or emergency call via TTY. I bluntly told him I'd rather take a risk in fire which was one in a million chance than dealing with communication hassles on a daily basis with slow TTY phone calls. He pointed to the Deaf clerk at a Deaf and HoH service who also recommended a TTY [tokenism]. I remarked, "Well, she is a local elder in this small city whereas I had worked at the national association of the Deaf" and reminded him of my involvements and experiences in the international Deaf organizations and events. Well, he defended that videophone was more expensive. I responded, "While TTY is outdated, it costs about the same as a videophone." And so on. The director listened with enough information collected; he intervened and stood with me, saying that the videophone is to be provided immediately. [allyship] ...

... In no time, the videophone calls were slow on the highly congested university traffic. Again the "coordinator" refused to set up a separate line in my studio. The graduate director quickly arranged a meeting with the vice president of the university, the IT technician, and the disability service coordinator. At this meeting, the coordinator with the IT technician's side argued that the cable setup which would require a costly drill work plus an additional monthly Internet cable fee. After learning the costs, the vice president and the director of the graduate program ordered to install a separate Internet cable in my studio for the videophone! [allyship/accessibility] Plus, they ordered a fire strobe to be installed in my studio! [complete accessibility and allyship]

Even more, at the opening of this meeting, the vice president greeted and proudly told me that his grandmother was the first Deaf Canadian woman to attend Gallaudet (University). Amazing! Looking back, he probably intended to show his support and to give comfort.

These two educated hearing male white guys in high, powerful positions in stark contrast to stereotypes demonstrated amazing allyship (and quick responses). They understood margnization, 'the Center and the Other/Margin', injustice, etc. They understood the values of social justice. It was no burden to them, only injustice was a burden to them.

When that director and I met for the first time, he cordially introduced himself and then told me via an interpreter "I'm sorry that I don't know ASL. I wish I do." His message simply conveyed that he was not the "Center" and he tried to meet my world instead of the way around. Interestingly, right after his words, that disability coordinator responded, "Oh, you don't have to. We have an interpreter here." This shows a quite contrast between those guys' attitudes and approaches.

Allyship from a place of solidarity

Hearing allyship is when hearing people support Deaf people, leaders, and advocates, stand with them, or work with them in advocacy. They may be teachers of the Deaf, codas, ASL-English interpreters, friends, advocates, and/or individuals. Some hearing people may know some signed language, but many also do not know any of it but they are ready to support Deaf and HoH.

Paradocixally, some hearing people, who may have some knowledge of ASL language skills and work with Deaf people or in Deaf settings, do not necessarily always practice allyship more than ignorant hearing people in public who can be more ally-ish.

"Allyship is a proactive, ongoing, and incredibly difficult practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society." -- Ref

Becoming allyship

To practice allyship and take accountability, consider unpacking: hearing privilege, audism, phonocentrism, power maintenance, paternalism, marginzalization, tokenism, microaggression, etc.

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." -- Desmond Tutu (quoted in Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984) by Robert McAfee Brown, p. 19).

"As people seeking to practice allyship, we have a particular set of responsibilities (PeerNetBC's "Allyship 101"):

1) "we actively knowledge our privileges and openly discuss them";

2) "we listen more and speak less";

3) we do our work with integrity and direct communication;

4) we do not expect to be educated by others: we continuously do our own research on the oppressions experienced by the people we seek to work with...;

5) "we build our capability to receive criticism, to be honest and accountable with our mistakes..."; 6) "we embrace the emotions that come out of the process of allyship." Don't fall back on hearing fragility.

7) our needs are secondary to the people we seek to work with; 8) we do not expect awards or special recognition..."


PeerNetBC's "Allyship 101". http://www.peernetbc.com/wordpress2017/wp-content/uploads/allyship101_online-screen-reader-friendly.pdf (This web page no longer is online.)

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