Nicholas Kristof wrote a fascinating couple of opinion articles for the NYTimes over the last two weeks, and the reason for some reader dissent and confusion in the first story appears to stem from a core misunderstanding — purposeful or not — about the image.
Here’s what Kristof wrote on February 22, 2014:
As an infant, Johnny was deaf but no one noticed or got him the timely medical care he needed to restore his hearing. He lives in a trailer here in the hills of rural Appalachia with a mom who loves him and tries to support him but is also juggling bills, frozen pipes and a broken car that she can’t afford to fix.
The first error Kristof makes — but has yet to apologize for, or clarify — is labeling Johnny “Deaf.” Deafness is a cultural condition from which one does not get “healed” so the proper term should have been “hearing loss” since the “Deafness” was not actual, but imagined, by Kristof.
The real outrage aimed at Kristof was not over his inappropriate use of “Deaf” — but rather the way some of his readers felt he was celebrating a degenerate lifestyle of poverty in this image:
Helen Keller — a Deaf and Blind woman who became an author and an international SuperStar against the merits of her monumental disability — is one of the most magnificent examples of the human spirit in the history of America.
I have defended the spirit of Helen Keller on this blog, and while I am a tremendous fan of her incredible mind, I’m not terribly interested in her sex life as a lesbian or not, or as the secret, fateful, lover of her teacher, Anne Sullivan’s, husband, or her role as the concubine of a local cub reporter who wrote about her early life and made her a star.
What does concern, and interest me, is the lingering slandering of her as a young child in her effort to write, at 11-years-old, a story for publication called “The Frost King” — that was too closely associated with a previously published work entitled “The Frost Fairies” — that she was accused of plagiarism that haunted and stooped her for the rest of her life.
Mandela’s memorial yesterday has ignited a firestorm today out of the Soweto rain. No, not Obama’s failed message, or the non-Michelle approved Presidential selfie with other heads of State, but rather the fraud of an impostor posing as an interpreter for the Deaf during the ceremony.
The alleged sign language interpreter was so awful, in fact, that he had to have been in on the cruel joke that he knew nothing about even creating rudimentary signs.
Unfortunately, this sort of “faking it” is actually pretty common in the Deaf Community. There are a lot of “professional” interpreters who are not well-trained but who are given jobs because they are cheap — even though they are incapable of proper signing. The Deaf suffer and the incompetence gets a paycheck.
While not many working interpreters are as fraudulent on the level of what happened in Soweto — the end effect is still the same: The Deaf person has no idea what’s being said and has to guess about what’s really happening.
Every plan has a hole. Every ship has a leak. Every internet session is insecure. These are the new universal writs of living in the new ancient world. I learned that lesson in an especially troubling manner that forced me, in an instant, to reassess my role in the world as a Midwestern White Man teaching at-risk minority undergraduate students at a major New York City university.
I thought the assignment was simple and universally understood. I’d used a similar teaching plan at other universities with great success; but, in reflection, I realize most of those successes were found in mainstream classrooms with well-schooled students who were taught that learning was a priority in the home.
In my new teaching role in the inner city, many of these students working on a B.A. did not come from the same font of mandatory educational opportunities. They scraped by to earn understanding. They fought for what they grasped while others around them had learning handed to them.
There was a great divide of the mind and cultural experience that I quickly had to bridge or the entire end of the semester was at risk of failing, and the blame would solely be mine as the instructor for not being able to quickly re-adjust and move the field lines to be fair to my students so they could find success.
The quickest way to lose any social argument is to hide behind claiming the wellbeing of your children is at risk while not standing in front of them and offering them direct protection. If you’re truly concerned about the welfare of your offspring, instantly act on their behalf, and don’t slog into the courts to beg a remedy to a simple matter of privacy that could be solved simply by drawing the curtains.
There’s an old saying in the Deaf Community when it comes to watching other people’s Sign Language conversations from across the room — “eyes for for?” — meaning “my eyes are for watching, and if you don’t want to be watched, then move out of my line of sight. Make your own privacy.”
Today, we could say the same thing about a camera in situ — “photos for for?”
There’s a big hoo-hah here in New York City over the right of a family to demand privacy in their floor-to-ceiling windowed apartment — even though they leave the curtains open — so anyone, and everyone, can see directly into their living space.
One neighbor, Arne Svenson, found the patterns of the family’s windows intriguing and took a series of images of them as part of his “The Neighbors” photography series. Here’s an example from his fascinating collection:
Last night was supposed to be the premier of the penultimate “American Sign Language Only” episode of ABC Family Channel’s teenage soap opera, “Switched at Birth.” Janna and I urged our ASL students to watch the episode because we believed the hype and the PR that this would be an episode to remember. It was not. The show was a tremendous disappointment and I’ll tell you why.
The one bright spot in the show was this “Deaf Power” banner that struck a long-ago memory in Janna when one of her teachers at the Iowa School for the Deaf said that action was forbidden on campus because it was was rude and disrespectful. For Janna to see one hand covering an ear and the other hand raised in a fist filled her with both terrible regret at believing a repressive Hearing teacher, and terrific pride that, in the end, the Deaf will own their own place in the world.
Technical advances in the scientific field serve a dire need first and then those totems of communication and facilitation trickle down to the mainstream. The Deaf popularized pagers first, followed by the Hearing community in everyday business, then there was the move to SMS in cellphones and today, the new trend is video conferencing in your iPhone or iPad. The image below shows the first TTY — teletypewriter — that the Deaf used to communicate with each other in end-to-end conversations.