Saturday, December 18, 2010

Commentary on Janet Pray and I. King Jordan’s ostensible paper: “The Deaf Community and Culture at a Crossroads: Issues and Challenges”

The editors of the Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation would have us believe that they are presenting us with a scholarly paper written by Janet Pray and I. King Jordan in Volume 9 of their journal. In fact, this is only ostensibly an academic paper, but not one in actuality. In truth, it’s an editorial filled with rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

One need only look at the title to see an attempt to smuggle in the central premise of the piece. In reality, there is no such thing as a mythical “deaf community,” if by that is meant a community whose members are members by virtue of having a “hearing loss.” Having a particular physical characteristic does not make a person an automatic member of a “community.” There has to be a social basis of some kind to make a community, something that ties people together. Yet the lower-case word “deaf” is used specifically to denote the physical characteristic–and that’s the way they want it. But they can’t have it both ways. Either something represented by a word (as a label) is a physical characteristic of human physiology, or it’s social, but it can’t be both, simultaneously. Being deliberately unclear about this (which is called “equivocating”) allows hegemonic control, because within the ambiguity that is deliberately created, the hegemonists can shift back and forth between meanings (physical or social) and engage in razzle-dazzle rhetoric that fools uninitiated hearing people who are casual readers.

They probably know this. Toward the end of the Unity for Gallaudet protest when Fernandes was desperately attempting to hang onto her appointment, she acknowledged that what really exists is a social core of people who are strongly connected (by language and schooling) which spreads out to include people who are connected less and less strongly. That’s what Deaf culture is. The people out away from the core who are only loosely connected usually have no problem with that. They mostly identify with the majority culture and at the same time are satisfied with a loose affiliation with the minority (Deaf) culture. What’s the big problem with that? The truth is that there is no problem. That’s the natural order of things. Jordan and Fernandes, however (and Pray), wanted to misrepresent this to the public, so that they could pretend to be leaders of a mythical community which only exists in contradictory form in their own rhetoric. They want to look at the whole constellation of people and pretend that the social tie is the physical fact of deafness. And then they want to use rhetorical “scissors” to cut out the core, then point to the core (the cut-out disk) and say: “This is Deaf culture.” But the jig is up, and they just can’t get away with this shtick any longer. Sorry, no go.

It’s true that the physical fact plays a very important and crucial role (a “necessary condition”), but in order for the social reality to exist, people have to exercise their free will to choose to belong. Choosing to belong is the basis of the social part that makes the social part possible (shared language, norms, values, etc., which form the “sufficient condition”).

On page 180 of the article (editorial) the authors (referring to parents) write: “Because the vast majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents, most of whom have little or no knowledge of Deaf culture and ASL, they would be very unlikely to consider undertaking learning ASL and attempting to raise their child with ASL as his or her first language.” And here’s the kicker, Jordan and Pray put that claim in the paper with no supporting justification. It’s just a naked assertion! For people who want to know whether this article is worth reading, it’s enough just to look at that plain assertion sitting there, like an “emperor without clothes,” and realize what’s what.

On page 182 the authors write: “The evidence is persuasive that we must move beyond a White deaf only paradigm of language, culture, identity and ways of living as deaf people.” This is sheer nonsense and gibberish. They put the word “White” in upper case, which is an acknowledgment that the physical characteristic of white skin does not automatically make people members of a culture, and then right after that use lower-case “deaf,” while attempting to equate that (lower-case “deaf,” i.e., the physical characteristic) with the social phenomena of “language, culture, identity and ways of living.” Huh? This is the razzle-dazzle, the sentence where the authors attempt to “cash in” on all the prior obfuscations leading up to this point in order to fool the uninitiated, casual reader into believing that they are saying something credible and important. Sorry, we don’t buy it.

The authors go on to attempt more rhetorical gimmicks. We’ll leave it to the discerning reader as an exercise in practicing textual criticism skills, but mention only one here: How is it that Jordan thinks he can get away with not mentioning that he was the president of Gallaudet when the “150 Years on Kendall Green Conference” was first planned and the keynote speakers were chosen, including Jordan as keynote speaker (which means that he was selected to be keynote speaker under his own auspices!), but then somehow we’re supposed to not know this, while Jordan, as co-writer of this piece, on page 186, attempts to smear Bobbie Beth’s reputation for supposedly not disclosing to the Washington Post that she was a candidate for the position of president at Gallaudet in 2006. That passage turns their “article” into a crude hatchet piece.

No amount of fluffy and seemingly objective references to history and FDA literature is going to turn this hatchet piece by Jordan and Pray into something else. We need a new word for this type of pseudo-intellectual schlock. Maybe it should be called “Jordanese”? Or how about: “Jordanspeak”?

[End commentary]

Postscript (August 24, 2021): Janet Pray died on March 13, 2019 in Columbia, Maryland. For more information, CLICK HERE to read a related press release (“Another professor was appointed by Jordan to a high profile position...”).

CLICK HERE for more information on the use of lower-case “deaf” as a deliberately opaque contrivance.

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