Deaf people's resistance to oppression

There are many forms of resistance to a systemic and individual oppression that Deaf people as well as Black, First Nations, etc. have faced over the distant past years.

Before the days of "diversity, inclusivity, and equality" policies and before the policies against harrassment, mistreatments, etc. took in practice, Deaf people have endured oppression and found creative ways of dealing with everyday oppression whether small (e.g microaggressions) or big (e.g. forbidding sign language).

These stories are only a tip of the iceberg but they give you a general idea.

Resistance against a systemic oppression

Deaf President Now (1988) is one of the most historical events. When the last hearing white male president retired in 1987, leaders and supporters in the Deaf communities nationwide joined together to urge the Board of Trustees to select a first deaf president.

The Board of Trustees narrowed down to a shortlist of 63 deaf candidates and three hearing candidates. Then, the final candidates were a hearing woman Dr. Elisabeth Zinser and two deaf candidates Dr. Harvey Corson and Dr. I. King Jordan. The Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Zinser as Gallaudet's next president.

In protest to this decision in March 1988, Gallaudet students and supporters launched the DPN (Deaf President Now) movement with four demands: 1) deaf president 2) the chair of the Board of Trustees to be resigned 3) at least 51% of the deaf Board of Trustees 4) no reprisals.

During the week-long powerful protest, Zinser finally resigned. I. King Jordan was selected as Gallaudet's eighth president and first deaf president. Philip Bravin was selected as the first Deaf chair of the Board of Trustees and the members of the Board of Trustees fulfilled the 51 percent of the Deaf members. No reprisals.

Individual resistance

A deaf guy told his story in the documentary video "Unveiled Audism". When he was kid, he was tired of his hearing aids. He came up a plan to lose his hearing aids forever. Before a buyer came to his father's house to take the truck, he planted his hearing aids under the truck. When the buyer came to pick up the truck and drove away, it was a happy bye-bye!

This is not one incident. Other deaf kids may pretend to lose them or simply lose them. A very common way is to turn them off while wearing them in deaf schools. I was one of the guilty (truly guiltless) ones.

Resistance against an individual oppression

Egypt-born American Nabil told me a true story in the 1990s. Watch the video in ASL or read a summary in English below.

In a California restuarant, over the course of a meal, a group of hearing guys made fun of the Deaf guys in the next booth. The deaf guys tried to ignore them and stayed cool. Worse, the hearing guys threw pieces of food over to the deaf group's table. One of the Deaf guys angrily stood up. Nabil intervened, "Wait, I have a suggestion."

Nabil wrote a note, walked toward the waitress, and showed the waitress a note. As the hearing group anxiously eyed on him, the waitress read the note. At that moment, Nabil looked at the hearing guy and raised his hand and nodded his head. The hearing guy(s) worriedly raised his hand and nodded back. The waitress acknowledged and left. Nabil came back to the table. Then they left the restaurant.

The hearing guys enjoyed their last moments until the bill arrived. They looked at the bill which cost about the double and summoned the waitress about this error. The waitress explained that the hearing group agreed to pay for the Deaf group -- e.g. they raised hand and nodded. After some dispute, finally the hearing guys grudgingly paid in full. As they went outside and noticed that the Deaf group was still there in the parking lot. Nabil walked toward the hearing group with a smirk and, lucky for the hearing guys, handed the cash to them. The Deaf had outsmarted them but also they were generous enough to pay back. The hearing guys apologized in humility.

These examples are just a few of endless resistance actions against the oppression at all levels, especially before any policies were adopted. If you'd like to see more examples of resistance, see the anecdotes in the ASL dictionary under the word entries: UNPLUG, HAT, CONDESCEND...

Deaf Humor

To lift tensions and stress, Deaf people have jokes to lighten up. Jokes and zap stories are common. Some zap stories are true stories and some are funny, makeup stories. Some of them can be easily understood and found funny by hearing people, while some others cannot be shared with hearing people without understanding the history and Deaf culture first. A few ones will never be shared with any hearing person for some reason.

Resistance through resources

With a policy that protects diversity, equality/equity, and inclusivity, it's easier to go through the process. Without policy, we were on our own, coming up creative ways to overcome oppression.

There are books, videos, websites, and other materials that help make positive changes too.

Related posts

Many zap stories also have a form of resistance. "Zap story" is one of Deaf's genres of stories.

Learn more about oppression (audism).

Enter a keyword in the field box below to search or filter the new topic list and click on the link.

New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

Are you able to carry everyday conversations in ASL? Are you a student in the intermediate levels and beyond, who wishes to boost up your signing skills? You've come to the selected tutorial series. (Some premium content are available to PatronPlus membership.)

Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.