deaf: an ethnicity?


The newly published The People of the Eye sets out to define the Deaf-World and to fight for it. Where Deaf activists have spent decades arguing that deafness is not a defect but a character trait — a benefit even — The People of the Eye goes a step further. It asserts that Deaf is an ethnicity. An ethnicity like all officially classed ethnicities, to be given its due, politically and culturally. Authors Harlan Lane, Richard C. Pillard, and Ulf Hedberg write that, although Deaf identity is based not on religion, race, or class, “there is no more authentic expression of an ethnic group than its language.” Language is the core of American Deaf life. The important characteristic that distinguishes deafness from other conditions classed as disabilities is that deafness is a matter of communication. With the emergence of Deaf schools, literacy allowed Deaf people to better communicate in the hearing world. As ASL developed, Deaf Americans could better communicate with each other, and with this came the creation of a Deaf culture, even a new way of being. ASL signers say that they spend much more time thinking about and dealing with language than most Americans, resulting in a rich and independent tradition of Deaf language arts — literature, theater, journalism. Deaf people have their own clubs, their own rituals, their own places of worship, their own newspapers, their own sense of humor. The People of the Eye discusses, too, how the fully embodied language of ASL and Deaf pride created a culture of storytelling in the Deaf-World, and how this storytelling developed a unique narrative structure based on the particularities of ASL.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.