Dear White Deaf People

By David A. Player, UNM Graduate Student | May 27, 2020

“White Deaf privilege is a cousin of white privilege.”

David A. Player

Since the majority of white Deaf people do not believe that their race shapes their lives. From Obama to the Trump era, it is getting harder for white Deaf people to not acknowledge their white deaf privilege in America despite the high-profile lynching incidents from Trayvon Martin to George Floyd cases which prove to everyone that we are not living in the “post-racial” society. The lynching of Black people without any consequences does contradict American society’s claim as a color-blinded society. A color-blind ideology has its roots in one of American ideals which is an equality. Every American citizen is supposed to be an equal regardless of race, religion, gender, etc. Contrary to America’s equality ideal, white supremacists who occupied an upper echelon in the government to normalized racism to gain an advantage over Black people who built this country on their backs under the guise of America’s equality ideals. Consequently, they created white privilege to benefit white people. Among Black Deaf and Deaf people of color communities, the racialized concept of white deaf privilege isn’t new. For the last decade, Black Deaf people have been called white Deaf people out for their white privilege through social media, mostly Facebook. White Deaf people have employed their common method called white fragility. White fragility is a method to either avoid or shut down the race conversation at all costs. White Deaf people constantly remind Black Deaf people that we as Deaf people are also an oppressed group because ableist society continues marginalized Deaf people due to their lack of ability to hear. They succeeded at shifting away from discussing how racism is being overlapped with ableism and/or audism to single issues such as ableism and/or audism. In another saying, there is no way for them to benefit from being white. 

From a Deaf historical standpoint, sign language is one of the cultural markers that have historical ties with Deaf communities. It makes sense for any Deaf person who believes that Deaf identity should be at the forefront in the struggle of gaining acceptance to be recognized as Culturally Deaf able-bodied person, not as disabled person in a hearing-dominant society.  Deaf people regarded their Deaf identity as a primary identity while putting their whiteness on the back burner. Deaf identity is defiance despite a dominant hearing society that Deaf identity is not a disability in the context of able-bodied people who communicate with each other in sign language. A central aspect of Deaf identity is through sign language where Deaf people developed their method of communication that doesn’t rely on a Deaf person’s speech. When a Deaf person is communicating in Sign language and Sign language makes a Deaf person visible in a hearing-dominated country where the spoken language is the dominant form of communication. 

From a Black historical standpoint, within the context of this white supremacist society in America, racism is the foundation of America upon colonialism, exploitation, subjugation, and expropriation of the Black and Native American populations. Whiteness is a norm and white people are perceived as superior while Black people are perceived as an inferior. Historically, white politicians deliberately created white privilege based on racial oppression of minorities through legal means such as slavery, Jim Crow segregation, redlining, etc. White people have prerequisite access to cultural, political, and economic opportunities through white-dominated institutions that also deny Black people’s access to these opportunities. White people with disabilities also have a white privilege because whiteness superseded all forms of identities that could be considered as deviance attributes. They will always get a form of assistance from a white able-bodied hearing dominated society.

For instance, Dave Chappelle’s popular Clayton Bigsy sketch episode is currently available on Youtube. Dave Chappelle’s popular sketch was about Clayton Bigsby, the world’s only Black white supremacist who turned out to be blind. The backstory of Dave Chappelle’s Clayton Bigsby sketch was about a Black blind man who thought that he was white because his former teacher didn’t tell him the truth that he was Black. She explained her reasoning for lying to Clayton because he was an only Black blind student among white blind students. She doesn’t want him to feel alienated from his white blind peers so she lied to him. Eventually, he unknowingly disguised himself as a white supremacist leader while believing that he was a white blind man and married to a white woman. He thought that he had a white privilege. The one of subtles messages behind Dave Chappelle’s Clayton Bigsby sketch episode is that he can’t have a white privilege due to this country’s existing racial structure continually revolving around whiteness. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have to disguised himself as a white supremacist leader to wield white privilege over minorities at the first place. 

Furthermore, Deaf/Hearing dichotomization without involving race isn’t logical. One of the tenets of Deaf Culture is that having a cultural Deaf identity supposedly transcends race in Deaf communities. The huge issue with this culturally Deaf identity is based on the colorblindness ideology that excludes an account of how racist history in America has affected all of us to this day. Deaf History is made up of two centuries and I wouldn’t be able to cover all of this about how racism and white deaf privileges play a role in the trajectory of white Deaf communities during the Jim Crow era. White Deaf people are more likely to achieve social mobility whereas so-called “color-blind” society deliberately deprives Black Deaf people’s economic opportunities to achieve upward social mobility like white counterparts during the Jim Crow era. One of two examples based on Deaf history shows us that Deaf students who went on having successful professional careers and became leaders for Deaf communities happened to be predominantly white. The second example is each state government appropriated more funds for white Deaf schools than Black Deaf schools that impact their education developments that intertwined with economic opportunities in the long term. Upward social mobility is a clear indicator of how white Deaf privilege has worked for white Deaf people in the past and the present.

Additional Examples

Example 1: White Deaf Education was better than Black Deaf Education.

Example 2: Class of ‘52 documentary highlight racial disparities in Deaf education.

Example 3: Kentucky School for the Deaf honors Black student once denied diplomas

Example 4: Postsecondary achievement of Black Deaf People in US 2019

That’s why white Deaf people are so reluctant to discuss how race shapes their lives. They rather talk about Deaf issues or anything else than racial issues in the context of living in white supremacist society. So I asked my anti-racist white Deaf friends pool together their white Deaf privilege list to show how white deaf people currently benefit from white deaf privilege thanks to their hearing counterparts’ creation of white privilege upon systemic racism in America. Click on White Deaf privilege list link

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