Julian Bond speech at Gallaudet University: “From Civil Rights to Human Rights”
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Julian Bond speech at Gallaudet University:
“From Civil Rights to Human Rights”
JULIAN BOND: Thank you for inviting me here.
My first involvement with disability rights came in April 1977, when Section 504, the regulations implementing the American Rehabilitation Act, were pending, waiting to be signed into law. Without 504, there might well be no Americans with Disabilities Act that finally put disabilities on a par with gender and race in the pantheon of federal civil rights laws.
I joined a protest in San Francisco, part of a nationwide demonstration at the Health, Education and Welfare offices, now called “Health and Human Services.” We were there to insist strong regulations be adopted. Section 504 would force hospitals, universities — any place that got federal money — to remove obstacles to services and would provide access to public transportation and public places for persons with disabilities.
It was the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. Although I didn’t stay very long, the sit-in of 120-plus disabled people at HEW in San Francisco lasted 28 days and was critical in forcing the signing of the regulations almost unchanged.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 extended Section 504 to much of the private sector. Before Section 504, responsibility for the consequences of disability rested only on the shoulders of the person with a disability, rather than being understood as a societal responsibility. Section 504 dramatically changed that societal and legal perception.
I was happy to have played a small role in bringing about this important change and a bigger role in the Civil Rights Movement that made it all possible. In 1968, the year he was killed, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the successes and the failures of the modern Civil Rights Movement. He said then: “While this period represented the frontal attack on the doctrine and practice of white supremacy, it did not defeat the monster of racism... If we are to see what is wrong, we will have to face the fact that America has been and continues to be largely a racist society. And the roots of racism are very deep in this country, started a long time ago... [R]acism is a faith, a form of idolatry. It is the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned to eternal inferiority and another ethnic group is somehow given the status of eternal superiority... [It’s] not based on going out and studying the facts and then coming back out of it and saying as a result of experimental studies that these people are behind because of environmental conditions. Racism is based on an ontological affirmation. It is the contention that the very being of a people is inferior. And the ultimate logic of racism is genocide.”
King was speaking almost 350 years after racism, white supremacy, was introduced in this country, and 45 years ago, but he might as well have been speaking today. He could have been speaking of Trayvon Martin or Barack Obama.
Racism is the subordination of blacks based on skin color. It is a self-perpetuating system of advantage based on race. It is prejudice plus power.
White supremacy is the ideology that justifies white domination. Dr. King described it as “a faith, a form of idolatry.” No other ethnic group except American Indians experienced a comparable mix of xenophobic attitudinal and structural limitations and dictatorial constraints on their development. It is absolutely without parallel in the American experience.
Now we tend to think of racism in terms of individual behavior and individual actions, but it is a complex set of societal actions and attitudes.
There are two kinds of racist behavior: active and passive. They are conscious and unconscious, and each provides benefits, both material and psychological to its practitioners.
Active racist behavior involves walking forward at top speed on a moving sidewalk. Passive racist behavior is standing still on a moving sidewalk, but the sidewalk carries the riders forward nevertheless. Unless the standees turn around and run backward faster than the sidewalk can carry them forward, they receive the same benefits as do the active racists who are racing forward at top speed.
For all their years in the United States, black people have struggled to find answers to a series of questions: How do we explain the position of blacks in society? Who or what is the enemy? Who are our friends? With whom can we join in coalition? What is the nature of whites? Are they naturally hostile to blacks? Is it impossible for them to abandon the benefits they receive from racism?
Unlike Polish Americans or Germans, Italian, or Irish Americans, all of whom became colorful ethnic variations on the central all-American theme, African Americans remain the indigestible alternative. Unlike all the others, they refuse to agree to white supremacy, and unlike all the others, Black ethnic mobilization has been often characterized and demeaned as “identity politics” — somehow democratically illegitimate — while white variants like Puritanism, the Confederacy, the Ku Klux Klan, the Moral Majority, the Tea Party and others are simply ordinary expressions of democratic activism.
Regardless of which type one follows or which ideology one adopts or which organization one joins, since black Americans have been part of the body politic, their ideology and the politics that instructs them and mobilizes them has been group-based and racial. They believe in a linked fate, that individual life chances are tied to the fate of the entire group and that the group shares a common set of historical experiences and a collective identity.
That common identity comes from individual interaction, in formal and informal social and political networks — schools, churches, media, family, organizations — shaping the shared historical experiences into a sense of collective identity. That identity can be confusing. That two African Americans agree on a linked future does not mean they agree on the best paths to advance their interests. Much of what I have said is also true of deaf people and your movement. Your common experiences led to a sense of collective identity. You may have differences as to means, but your goals are group-based and your futures are linked.
In the movement for civil rights, my colleagues and I always thought we were engaged in a larger and even more important struggle. We were engaged in a struggle for human rights, enveloping every human being everywhere on the planet. Almost 50 years ago, Bayard Rustin, an adviser to Martin Luther King and the man who organized the 1963 March on Washington wrote: “[T]he civil rights movement is evolving from a protest movement into a full-fledged social movement — an evolution calling its very name into question. It is now concerned not merely with removing the barriers to full opportunity but with achieving the fact of equality. From sit-ins and freedom rides we have gone into rent strikes, boycotts, community organization, and political action. As a consequence of this natural evolution, the Negro today finds himself stymied by obstacles of far greater magnitude than the legal barriers he was attacking before: automation, urban decay, de facto school segregation. These are problems which, while conditioned by Jim Crow, do not vanish upon its demise. They are more deeply rooted in our socio-economic order; they are the result of the total society’s failure to meet not only the Negro’s needs, but human needs generally.”
Rustin’s analysis speaks to other social movements, too. The transfer from protest to politics must engage each of them, or they are lost to irrelevance. This does not mean that protest strategies must be abandoned, rather, they must be bolstered by the strategies of political engagement.
What is a “movement”? One description of that is: “a community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture.” Unfortunately, that description comes from the dictator Joseph Stalin, but even a stopped clock can be right twice a day. Movements have been crucial in our national history. As Frances Fox Piven writes, movements “forced elites to inaugurate reforms that they otherwise would have avoided, as when the writers of the Constitution bent to popular enthusiasm for direct democracy and ceded to voters the right to elect representatives to the lower house, or when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed during the Civil War ending chattel slavery. Or, later in the nineteenth century, when Congress responded to widespread agitation among farmers and workers with legislation to curb monopolies. Or in the 1930s, when the national government finally granted workers the right to organize and inaugurated the first government income-support programs. Or when the Southern apartheid system was struck down in response to the civil rights movement. Or when the antiwar movement helped to force the withdrawal of American forces from Southeast Asia.”
And here, here at Gallaudet, the Deaf President Now, DPN movement, gave Gallaudet its first deaf president.
I’m going to give you some guidelines that were drawn to fit the movement for black civil rights, but I think you will see that they fit the movement that brought a deaf president to Gallaudet, just as they also fit most of the other social movements we are familiar with across the United States. Movements typically begin with a concrete precipitating event, but are usually the result of known or shared incidents on the part of their participants.
In Montgomery, Alabama, that concrete precipitating event was the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955. Nothing quite so dramatic happened here, but the resignation of President Jerry Lee on August 24, 1987 could be seen to have been an important trigger the fueled the Deaf President Now movement that arose on Gallaudet’s campus.
As I describe how movements are made, those of you with memories that stretch back to 1988 should see if what I depict fits your recall of what happened here on this campus.
A single incident may begin a social movement, but if the movement is to grow and succeed, it has to use certain mechanisms. It must continue agitation, it must foster fellowship, it must sustain morale, and it must develop tactics. Those of you with good memories remember the Deaf President Now movement did all these things.
Successful movements generally share four conditions. First, they commonly draw from a pool of preexisting social organizations for experienced leadership, for organized likely supporters, for communication networks, for a financial base and for workers. The ability to draw from an already-existing organization diminishes a movement’s start-up costs. It gives the movement stability in its inception, the beginning days or weeks when it is most susceptible and most vulnerable to a challenge by the dominant group.
Next, successful movements require catalytic leadership — leaders who can either originate or understand the correct occasion to challenge the group’s inferior station. Such leadership must be able to encourage and stimulate the movement’s followers to join an adventure without a foreseeable end — a struggle which may last for an extended period of time.
If these two requirements are combined: already existing leadership from already existing organizations, the movement will be more robust. Preexisting organizations have already demonstrated the characteristics of success. Their very existence proves they are able to attract supporters and raise money. When the leadership from a social movement comes from these circumstances, the major task is to redirect existing energy and activity toward a new goal rather than building a brand-new organization from scratch.
Next, a successful movement taps outside resources. It raises money, it attracts supporters from outside its immediate environment from locales not immediately affected by the success or failure of its struggle. This assistance may be infrequent. It may come with conditions, but it can be useful to the movement’s success. Groups suffering domination by others have little to lose by attracting outsiders to their cause, since their local decision-making mechanism does not seem likely to yield positive results, any additional support from any source will presumably be to their advantage.
And finally, the movement must have a strategy — a plan, a set of tactics — and an approach it adopts or designs to confront its suppression. To be successful, its approach must unsettle the existing order, it must instruct the movement’s followship and supporters about both the inequities the protesting group suffers and the tactics employed to overcome them. It has to provide hope, some expectation that the movement must succeed. It must push the structure against which it protests and struggles toward some change, some relief from the injustice it confronts.
Describing the origins of the base of the movement activity in Black communities, sociologist Aldon Morris writes: “By the 1950s southern whites had established a comprehensive system of domination over blacks. This system of domination protected the privileges of white society and generated tremendous human suffering for blacks.” That system controlled blacks economically, politically and personally. Morris called it a “tripartite system of domination.” Economic oppression kept blacks in the lowest paid, dirtiest jobs. Political oppression excluded blacks almost absolutely from any participation in public affairs, including the most important of all, casting a vote. Personal oppression reinforced the other two and included laws separating blacks from whites, relegating blacks to the worst housing, schools, and other public facilities, denying blacks protections by police. It also included customs which proscribed human behavior. Thus Emmett Till’s mother advised him to kneel before whites if he must. Southern blacks knew better than to confront whites or argue with them. It was supported by terror, both state-supported and private, random and planned, including ritual human sacrifice carried out by the forces of the state and by private citizens. This system of oppression created, as a reaction, an environment of protest and collective strength, especially in the urban South. Black churches, colleges, and businesses thrived in the segregated city. Black social and civic organizations and institutions grew as well.
These kept alive a tradition of protest that can be traced forward from slavery to slave rebellions to the Underground Railroad to protest organizations to the Garvey Movement to the March on Washington Movement — kept alive in a protest community of families, communities, organizations and institutions transmitted across generations. Central to the protest community were what sociologist Morris calls: “movement halfway houses” — organizations which, despite a lack of prominence, played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement. He describes them as a group of organizations “only partially integrated into the larger society because its participants are actively involved in efforts to bring about a desired change in society.” They are “distinctive,” he writes, “in their relative isolation from the larger society and the absence of a mass base.” They lack broad support and a visible platform, but halfway houses are valuable to emergent organizations and movements. They can provide resources, skilled and experienced activists, tactical training, protest songs, educational activity and publicity.
No parallel between movements is exact. African Americans are the only Americans who were enslaved for more than two centuries, and people of color carry the badge of who we are on our faces, but we are far from the only people suffering discrimination. Sadly, so do many others. They deserve the law’s protections and civil rights, too.
Civil rights are positive legal prerogatives — the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by everyone. There’s no one in the United States who does not or should not share in enjoying these rights. The right not to be discriminated against is a commonplace claim we all expect to enjoy under our laws and our founding document, the Constitution. That many had to struggle to gain these rights makes them precious. It doesn’t make them special, and it does not reserve them only for me or restrict them from others. When others gain these rights, my rights are not diminished in any way. My rights are not diluted when my neighbor enjoys protection from discrimination. He or she becomes my ally in defending the rights we all share.
The Civil Rights Movement has spawned many others — the Women’s Movement, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement, the Disability Rights Movement and the Immigrants’ Rights Movement. We have gone from civil rights to human rights and we’re all better off as a result.
This is the third year of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the war that claimed more American lives than all other wars combined in our nation’s history. I recently read an entry from a Civil War diarist, Lucy Rebecca Buck, a supporter of the Confederacy. She was 20 years old and living with her family in Virginia when she wrote: “We shall never any of us be the same as we have been.” Her words were echoed here at Gallaudet more than a century later when one of the student leaders of the Deaf President Now protest [Greg Hlibok] was quoted as saying, things will “never, never be the same.”
DPN did not erupt out of nowhere. For more than a century deaf people have been engaged in improving their status in America. Fights over preserving American Sign Language, building schools and creating organizations occurred in a world most hearing Americans did not even know existed. The various elements of DPN: students, faculty, staff and alumni, did everything a successful movement must do. Just like the participants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott three decades earlier. They raised money. They organized. They sought support outside their own community and they had a strategy. And just as Montgomery had the immediate result of desegregating the city’s bus system, so did DPN immediately result in a deaf president for this university, and just as the Montgomery Bus Boycott advanced opportunity for people of color elsewhere, so was the impact of DPN felt elsewhere, too. Protests spread to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, demanding better sign language skills for the faculty. There were protests over threats to close residential schools in Maryland, Washington State, Oregon, Michigan and New Jersey, and over curriculum in South Carolina — about administrations’ faculty and board compositions in Maryland and Iowa, about the signing ability of chief executives in Mississippi and New York City. As Christiansen and Barnartt conclude in their description of the movement here called “Deaf President Now”: “The impact of DPN on the deaf community has been revolutionary indeed. The hope engendered by the protest has had a mobilizing effect and we predict that it will continue to have a long-lasting impact on the deaf community.”
Wellesley College was chartered in 1870, but a woman didn’t become president until 1875. Howard University here in DC was founded in 1866, but a black person didn’t become president until 1926. Spelman College, founded as a college for black women in 1881, didn’t have a black woman president until 1987. And Gallaudet, chartered in 1864 to serve the deaf, didn’t have its first deaf president for 124 years until 1988.
Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the oldest college for black men in America, had only white presidents until 1945 when it named its first black president. That man, Horace Mann Bond, was my father. But we are such a young nation, so recently removed from slavery, that only my father’s generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage. Like many others, some in this room, I am the grandson of a slave. My grandfather, James Bond [pause, laughter in audience] was born in 1863 in Kentucky. Freedom didn’t come for him until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. He and his mother were property, like a horse or a chair. As a young girl, she had been given away as a wedding present to a young bride and when that bride became pregnant, her husband — that’s my great-grandmother’s owner and master, exercised his right to take his wife’s slave as his mistress. That union produced two children, one of them my grandfather. At age 15, barely able to read or write, he hitched his tuition, a steer, to a rope, and walked a hundred miles across Kentucky to Berea College, and the college took him in.
He belonged to a transcendent generation of black Americans — a generation born into slavery, a generation freed by the Civil War, a generation determined to make their way as free women and men. Martin Luther King belonged to another transcendent generation of black Americans — a generation born into segregation, freed from racism’s constraints by their own efforts, determined to make their way as free women and men.
When my grandfather graduated from Berea in 1892, the college asked him to deliver the commencement address. He said then: “The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin and blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the condition and progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future. In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every flash of lightning an omen of evil, and in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe. He forgets that the clouds also bring life and hope, that lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories.”
Through your efforts here at Gallaudet, you have achieved great victories. I wish you greater efforts and grander victories in the future.
ALAN HURWITZ: Thank you so very much. Thank you to Mr. Bond for those inspirational words. I would like to open the floor now for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please line up on either side of the stage, and we’ll just take turns going back and forth from either side. So who would like to be first to ask a question? Please come forward.
JULIAN BOND: Not all at once now. [laughter]
[Translated from ASL:] Hi, my name is La Toya Plummer. Thank you very much for coming. I enjoyed your speech very much. My question has to do with your comment about the linkage between the deaf and black communities. A big problem in the deaf community is the deaf community’s decision to put all the focus on the problem of audism, to the detriment of a necessary focus on racism. We in the black deaf community are always reminding those in the larger deaf community that racism is an important issue as well. It’s important to devote the same level of attention to both issues, to maintain the same approach to defeating both, while having an open dialogue about both problems, not just the one. But the larger deaf community seems to have decided that racism is not an important issue and the issue goes unaddressed. So my question is: How can we incorporate, so to speak, that value in the community so that we all say that it’s important and we all work together as a community? [Applause] I guess I should take a seat?
JULIAN BOND: Thank you for that question. As you were speaking, it struck me that more and more the movement that more closely parallels the Deaf Movement isn’t just the Black Movement, but it’s the Movement of Gays and Lesbians. In the Gay and Lesbian Movement, obviously there are Black people who are gay or lesbian, but typically people in the Gay and Lesbian Movements speak of the Gay and Lesbian Movement as if it were a White phenomenon and aren’t conscious that people of color, and all kinds of other people as well, are part of this community, and I don’t think they do it because they are malicious or evil, but just, it’s so hard to include others when you’re so focused on yourself, and if you’re the victim of discrimination and prejudice, you tend to be heavily focused on yourself, and try to rid yourself of this condition. So, I think it’s commonplace that people of color are often left out of the discussion when movements are involved, and the only thing that will help to rectify this condition is that the people of color have to do two things. Number one, make as much noise as they can and draw as much attention to their own complaints that they can. And — this will be more than two things — and will have to reach out for allies within the Deaf Community who’ll be on their side, and that’s not hard to do, because most people are sympathetic to victims of prejudice, once they’re shown that prejudice exists they tend to be sympathetic to getting rid of it and can easily — maybe not easily — but can be adopted to the movement as helpful supporters.
ALAN HURWITZ: Thanks for that response. Are there other questions?
[Direct transcript from spoken English:] I did come up during the time of the Movement as a little girl. I can remember from about the 3rd grade I was the only Black in my class at that time, and I’ve always had a heart to bring unity among the races of people, and I can remember having the heart to start out, even maybe writing papers, or never being involved in say, opportunities to carry forth the movement and bringing unity among races of the people, and I was wondering, right now is there things to continue to get involved to be a part of — I mean, I just have a heart to bring the races of people together, whether deaf, lesbian, it doesn’t matter. I just have that heart, and if there is anything that I can continue to do to carry the mantle on. Because I’ve always — I was about eight years old when I had that desire from eight years old.
JULIAN BOND: Well thank you for having that desire when you were eight years old and thank you for holding onto it until now. Sure, there’re many things you can do. But it’s interesting, if you listen to — and you can find this, I think, on the Web someplace — if you listen to or read Dr. King’s first speech to the Montgomery Bus Boycott organization, when he talks about unity among Black people, the applause from the audience which is almost all Black is just overwhelming. Unity, because they commonly believe that one of the difficulties they’re facing is their inability to be unified, and that if only they were unified, they could accomplish great things, and so this has been a concern at least from 1950 — early 1950s when this occurred, until today and probably will continue to be a concern for years ahead. I think what you just have to do is just work on it and work on it and work on it and work on it, and the more you work on it, the more likely it is to occur, but it takes a lot of work.
QUESTIONER: And not just Black people but people in general, the white race, just people in general. I’ve always had a heart in general of unifying people, regardless of color.
JULIAN BOND: It is hard, but one of the examples of what I was talking about in answer to the previous question — I’ve heard so many Black people who are antagonists to equality for gays and lesbians, talk about: “the gay people do this, the gay people do that, the gay people do this, the gay people do that,” and they seem to have no consciousness that Black people can be gay, too —
JULIAN BOND: — and why this occurs I don’t know. But why is there this blindness about this, I just don’t know.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
JULIAN BOND: Alright, thank you.
[Translated from ASL:] Hello there. Good afternoon. I’m very happy to see you here today. I’ve been thinking about two words that I’ve heard used recently: “inclusion” and “integration.” I haven’t yet been able to clarify the terms in my own mind. Those are interesting words in this day and age, so as we make plans for the future to continue our activism and continue the movement, of course we want to be inclusive and have that as a goal. Then, when a new law is passed and we achieve a level of integration in the larger society and things are looking good, what do we do then if there is still some smaller offshoot of people from among us who don’t have integration as a goal? You know, they have the same struggles as we do, but as a movement advances and some people move forward, those others are left behind. The group that forged ahead doesn’t necessarily have all the answers. So how can we all share with each other in the gains of what was achieved in the struggle? What’s the role of the university in this regard? I’ve been thinking about this and struggling with the issue. We need to have the factor of community, in coming together and sharing common values. The university shouldn’t be simply a repository of knowledge — knowledge that by design should be disseminated. Where’s the community in this scenario?
JULIAN BOND: What strikes me is how similar these first three questions are. They’re asked about different topics, but they really are about the same topic: How do we get the larger number of people engaged in struggles for justice and fairness? How do we ensure that the particular group which feels aggrieved has the largest degree of unity it possibly can? And how do we make sure that people who could be supporters join in?
Well, the answers to all of these questions are both difficult and easy, I think. It’s because I’m speaking up here, it’s easy for me to say that. The degree to which the organizer — the man, the woman, who is working for justice and equality — the degree to which the organizer can reach out to larger and larger circles of people, the more successful he or she will be. The ability he or she has to go to people who don’t think they have any stake in this struggle and convince them that they do, again, the more successful he or she will do.
So the person who desires this unity to occur, or desires this unanimity to grow, has got to work hard at creating a larger and larger body of people, and you do that in a number of different ways. You knock on doors, you pass out leaflets, you hold meetings. You hold sessions where people talk about these problems. You argue with people in a nice way. You argue with people. You do all the things you can to convince John and Mary and Sue and Bill that they have a stake in this, too.
Sometimes you can’t do it, and after trying for a long period of time, I think it’s best to not spend all your time on them, but to find other people who are potential allies, and you’ll be surprised at how helpful they can be. So you have to make an effort to say: I’m gonna to take this small group of people who support justice and freedom and make them into a larger group of people and use every effort I can to make that happen.
ALAN HURWITZ: Thanks and it looks like the next question is from the other side of the stage.
[Direct transcript from spoken English:] Hi, my name is Angie, and I’m a homeless advocate in DC. And one thing I have noticed, I’ve also worked in the food movement. So I noticed that um, I’m a child of the Sixties, and I was wondering how we can — I see segregation happening in a strong way in DC, and I’m trying to — I go to groups like this and small groups and discuss this issue about segregation. We just started this, taking us back to the Sixties, and the movement that’s going on now in a lot of — not to be offensive — a lot of the people in my social service area, white Americans — young white Americans come to DC with this notion of white guilt in my arena and they was making sure that, they go into the community to keep from the black people in certain areas of the city, and they have conversations in the communities and those small communities, but they won’t come out of the city and try to integrate with everyone else, because they believe, because they’re feeding into what happened then into the people, our people, will come through it, and wanted to start it all over again. And there’s something that is building up now called, undercover like a Sixties movement. They’re trying to build it up, and I think it’s going to be a tragedy, because I grew up here and I saw my city destroyed after the riot and during the riot and I see that segregation’s happening all over again, not just amongst race, but it’s the food and everything else, and where you live. So how do we kind of tear down that again. You know I’ve been in — I mean, I’ve done what you’ve — It’s always said that to go into the community into small groups to talk, and I’ve done that, but it’s like a deaf ear. They don’t wanna hear anything like that. “This is how it was going to be.” “We as a Black Community are being cheated.” “We not getting this, we are not getting that, and because of that, we gonna do our own thing.” But it’s not the black people who are saying these, it’s the young white Americans who are coming here and feeding more and more into, like they read in this history book and they started stuff and we’re still being discriminated against, so “Let’s do this. Let’s do that.”
JULIAN BOND: Are you saying that they think this was something that happened in the past and therefore doesn’t have to be —
ANGIE: They said, what is happening — Racism is gonna happen forever. It’s gonna be here. You can fight against it on a certain level. Discrimination is going to be here forever, but if you’re fighting by yourself just because you are a particular — what we talked about earlier — intersection, and that’s just your thing and anyone — everybody else be mad and everything because of that particular thing you pull yourself out of the arena of everybody as a whole in the city. It’s just segregate all over again. I don’t know how. Am I putting it right?
JULIAN BOND: Yes, you’re putting it right, and I’m surprised you described yourself as a Sixties person. You don’t look old enough to be a Sixties person. [laughter in audience]
ANGIE: Well, we weren’t allowed to come outside until after the riot and when I came on the bus comin’ in to the city, a lot of our stores, like now’s gone, the DC it’s like, know that. There was a little restaurant. That was my favorite restaurant. It was smashed. The “H” Street corridor, everything was gone. So, I see that happening. We’re trying to educate people and let them know what happened after the Sixties, what happened after the Sixties movement. The positive things came out of the Sixties movement. Nobody wants to think about that. They want to dwell on the negative part of it.
JULIAN BOND: Well, my answers to almost all these questions is the same. You have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, and working and trying to enlarge the circle of people you’re dealing with, and where they seem to be ignorant — and I don’t mean stupid — ignorant about the things they should know more about, then educate them or point them toward some source of education where they can understand exactly what’s happened and what’s needed today. That’s my answer to almost all these questions. You have to just keep workin’ and workin’ and workin’ and workin’. Yeah, don’t give up.
ANGIE: Oh, it’s frustrating, but...
JULIAN BOND: You can do it.
ANGIE: Thank you.
JULIAN BOND: Okay.
ALAN HURWITZ: We have a question on this side of the stage.
[Translated from ASL:] Hello. What you said about DPN, I’m fortunate enough to have reaped the benefits of what has transpired. I come from a Deaf family. My brother and I saw how my parents struggled greatly. How my father, who was a deaf printer, didn’t have the same job opportunities to better pay to get a better job to move up the ladder, you know. My mother had substandard mental-health care, and that had horrific consequences during the time we were growing up. Of course things are much better nowadays. But your wife, Pam, just asked me a question before you began (“Do you think we’re in a ‘post-deaf society?’”) and that made me think. So I was thinking about the specific challenges we face and one thing I think that we lack, and I’m curious what your view is on how we can approach this. Frankly it’s about respect. I’m thinking about Hollywood and how in Hollywood they use people who can hear to act the role of a Deaf character. That’s truly an insult to the Deaf Community. I’m thinking about journalists and the terminology that they use. Terms such as “deaf-mute” are still found in the media, which is very offensive to Deaf people. And even recently, a couple of months ago, a prominent political figure looked at an interpreter who was signing and tried to mock the signs and made a comedic way of mocking the signs. I thought it was disrespectful. Deaf people have become complacent to all of this to some extent, you know? We should be outraged in response to this, but people seem to be willing to just accept the state of affairs. There is an underlying state of a lack of respect, which has negative consequences for all of us. I’m wondering about your perspective, because you’ve faced common, or similar, issues as we have, in the movements that you’ve been involved with.
JULIAN BOND: Yes, as you were talking I just thought of the commonality of what you were saying. So many things you’re talking about don’t resonate with people who have hearing problems or who are deaf exclusively. These are things that happen to all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances, and it may be that the outrage level has been raised a great deal, for some people anyway, and that what used to outrage people doesn’t outrage them as much as it did in the past. I know I see things, and I think, “Oh my word. Why did that happen? How does he dare he say that? Why isn’t anybody making noise about this?”
And sometimes these things, I’m sorry to say, pass me by. I read in the paper something awful, I say: “Gee, that’s terrible.” I just go ahead and I do nothing about it. I don’t respond about it in any way. I have a friend who writes a letter to the Post almost every day, almost every day, because he sees something in the Post that offends him, and when I read the letters — he sends me copies of his letters, the Post never prints them — but when I see the letters, I’m usually offended to, and I wonder: Why didn’t I write the letter?
So, it may be on the one hand that the offense level and the outrage level has gone up and therefore fewer people are as outraged against the sort of things you talked about than they should be. Or, I’m not sure what it is, but whatever it is, we ought to lower our outrage level and become outraged more easily and be protesting more easily.
Last Wednesday, I got arrested at the White House with 49 other people, to protest the President’s, what we hope would be, to push the President toward greater action against climate change, and who’s to say that this will happen or not, or that 50 people getting arrested in front of the White House will have any effect or not. You don’t know, but it’s something I think I felt I had to do, and all of the people who were with me, Robert Kennedy, Jr., his son — You know, he’s been dating Taylor swift [laughter in audience] — his son, and an illustrious group of scientists and people who are very knowledgeable felt it important to do this thing and to undergo the inconvenience — and tell me if you don’t think it’s inconvenient, you don’t know what inconvenience is — to be arrested on a cold day and have your hands handcuffed behind you, how irritating that is. But we felt it was important enough, and we got to hope that our fellow Americans, not only on this issue, but on a number of issues, feel the same sense of outrage, feel the same sense that an outrage has been committed, that an offense has been committed and somebody needs to make some noise about it, and we can only hope that the numbers will grow, and I’m an optimist. I tend to be a person who thinks that good things are going to happen. I think that good things will happen in all of these areas we’ve been talking about this afternoon. So, I’m looking for good things to happen and I think they will. I’m sorry I can’t say more than that.
ALAN HURWITZ: Thank you for that response. We have a question from the other side of the stage.
[Direct transcript from spoken English:] Hi, my name is Boyd. I’m a student here and I’m listening to you talk about how gay and lesbian people mimic civil rights. I want to know first of all, do you really consider it a human right, a civil right? If it is, why is it that we have such blowback from African American preachers, from our civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson who is seen as severely homophobic? Why does he not see the parallels? And following that line of thought, as you were the chairman of the NAACP, why is it that the NAACP didn’t take a stand on marriage equality until recently in May in 2012 and not under your tenure?
JULIAN BOND: Well, first let me talk about Rev. Jackson. I believe Rev. Jackson who may have said homophobic things in the past wouldn’t say them now. I believe that like many Americans, Black Americans particularly, he’s undergone an evolution in his thinking, and thinks about things differently than he did in the past, and would not say homophobic things today if the opportunity presented itself, that he knows the error of his ways, that he’s a better person now than he [was].
But as for the NAACP, I’m embarrassed to say that when I was chairman of the NAACP for eleven years, I never brought up the issue of marriage equality because I thought my board of directors would vote against it, and I thought I’d rather have the NAACP have no position, than have a bad position. And then, after I stopped being chairman, I’m sitting at a board meeting, because I’m still on the board, and somebody made a motion for marriage equality, and somebody seconded it, and I said to the guy sitting next to me, I said: “What is happening here?” And we voted, and we have a big board, 64 people, and two people weren’t there. So we voted sixty to two in favor of marriage equality. Sixty to two! And if had you told me a week earlier that that would have happened, I would have said: “You’re crazy! That’s not going to happen! They won’t do it!” But, I underestimated the decency and the fine feelings of my fellow board members. I’m ashamed of that. I’m ashamed I didn’t push it hard at the time, but I really thought if I brought this up the NAACP would vote it down and the headline would be: “NAACP Opposes Marriage Equality,” and I didn’t ever want to read that in the paper. But I’ll tell you something interesting. One of the gay groups did polling of Black Americans in the aftermath of President Obama speaking out on this and the NAACP speaking out on this. And they found that most people said: “I’m happy that Obama did this, but he did it because he’s a politician.” The NAACP did it because it was the right thing to do, and so I’m proud of that, and I’m proud I was sitting there and could vote for it, too.
BOYD: And just one more thing I want to ask you — I’m really happy you mentioned Bayard Rustin, but I think he has been largely Whitewashed/Black-washed/gay-washed out of history —
JULIAN BOND: [You mean] he’s been “gay-washed out of the history.”
BOYD: — gay-washed, because he was an openly gay man, although many do feel that he was — I mean, if MLK was right there, he was one step below in the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. Why isn’t he more well known, and why doesn’t the NAACP or other civil rights movements promote him, [coyly:] and if they’re having trouble, maybe they need a good student, like... somebody who’s graduating soon who might wanna paid internship? [laughter in audience]
JULIAN BOND: See me after this is over. I think you’re wrong about Bayard Rustin’s status in the community now. He is thought of today as a revered figure. There’s a great documentary about him — I can’t think of the name of it — “Brother Outsider”. There are several books written about him. He has been resuscitated and given new status. And so, I think he’s thought about in a much kinder way. I knew him, and he once held out his hand like this to me, and I held out my hand like that to him. And he gave me a gold watch — which somebody stole from me — beautiful gold watch with a chain, because he used to wear three-piece suits and he always had a gold watch chain here [indicating across a vest] and I thought he was so elegant. You know he was from Westchester, Pennsylvania, and for some peculiar reason he spoke with a British accent all his life, which he certainly did not pick up in Westchester, and I was very fond of him and I admired him a great deal. One thing he said which I — In the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott he came to Montgomery and he began to tutor King in nonviolence — because Dr. King didn’t know much about nonviolence, didn’t know much about its history, didn’t know about its practice — and Bayard Rustin once said that Martin Luther King “couldn’t organize vampires to go to a bloodbath.” But he was a wonderful guy — a wonderful guy, and I think he is held in greater esteem now than you talk about. OK? Alright?
[Translated from ASL:] Hello. Thank you for being here this afternoon. I really enjoyed your presentation. My question relates to the idea of change and how we can address the concept of social change. Clearly, you’re someone who has been involved in protests. The incidents that you spoke about gives me an idea about that — for example, the climate change protest and how you were involved in that. In your speech you mentioned Rosa Parks, as well as Deaf President Now, and other topics, as well as the topic of change at the governmental level, such as the ADA and laws against segregation and the issue of desegregation — the Brown versus the Board of Education case and all of those issues. So you’re someone who has been a protester and you’ve also been a politician. I mean, you were a state legislator for many years, right? So the central issue to me seems to be that, on the one hand, the government can order certain changes to take place. When that happens will people just absorb that and internalize the ramifications of such changes and have the attitude: “Oh, that’s the right thing to do” — Or, one the other hand, is it a matter of the aggrieved group really needing to engage in repeated, heated protest actions in order to accomplish that? Are both approaches required? I’m curious what your take is on this.
JULIAN BOND: Thank you for that. I think it’s a little bit of both of those things, that you have to have government certify change, but then there’s another step: the people have to realize change. So if the — I don’t want to belittle social change, but suppose the speed limit is set at 50 miles an hour and people continue driving at 60 or 70 or 80 miles an hour. Unless the government steps in and begins writing tickets and arresting people and making some sanction against people speeding, they’re gonna continue to do it. Unless the government says: “No, we’ve decided on this limit, and we’re going to hold to it, and there’ll be punishments for violating this,” people will continue to misbehave. Same as with civil rights laws. If the government only says: “We passed a law, you can’t discriminate against people,” but people continue to discriminate and the government does nothing about it — For example, we have fairly strong laws against housing segregation in the United States. But of all the things that the Civil Rights Movement has worked on for decades and decades and decades, ending housing segregation is the area where, I think, we’ve made the least amount of progress, and we’ve made the least amount of progress because government, in my view, isn’t as vigorous in enforcing these laws as it might have been. It’s good over here, it’s good over here, it’s good over here, but not as good in that, and to the degree that we can now make the government be as vigilant in enforcing an end to housing segregation, that’s the degree to which housing segregation will begin to go away, but we’ve got to insist on it. So you get social change not only when you pass a law to do it, but when the people become accepting of the law and demand its enforcement.
ALAN HURWITZ: It looks like we have time for two more questions and after that our provost will be sharing some closing remarks.
[Translated from ASL:] Hello. Good morning. Thanks for coming and sharing your wisdom with us. One thing that’s been on my mind is how Deaf people have been campaigning for equal opportunities, equal access, in other words, civil rights, but another major problem we’re faced with at the human-rights level when most of the world looks at us Deaf people as being people who have ears needing to be “fixed.” They think our ears are “broken.” In that way, they think they are being benevolent, proactive and kind-hearted in attempting to, as they see it, save us from our “awful” existence. [To the audience, ironically/rhetorically:] Isn’t just “awful” being deaf — That's what they think, right? It’s so awful being deaf. [To Prof. Bond:] That view. That’s what I’m talking about. So we see that it’s not an awful thing, but it’s rather a wonderful thing, being Deaf, but the challenge is to change people’s minds on that. When they perceive us as being inferior, then that presents a tremendous challenge to be overcome, the number one challenge in terms of how to convince them to change their way of thinking on the issue. So I would like to ask you about your struggle. You’ve been talking about how African Americans have historically been deemed to be inferior in terms of their race, am I right. They fought for their rights and succeeded. So I’m wondering how we could apply that knowledge gained to the context of Deaf rights, because deafness research is actually a billion-dollar industry in terms of trying to “fix” broken ears. So how might we face that challenge, I’m wondering.
JULIAN BOND: Well, in some ways, not as “fixed” ways, the analogy between the Black Movement and the Deaf Movement in that regard is exact as well. You know, millions — perhaps not billions — of dollars have been spent by companies selling creams and unguents to lighten black people’s skin, so that we won’t look the way we do and we’ll look like everybody else, and therefore everybody else will treat us nicely and kindly. The same is true with hair straightener, and other people, not many of course, you know, resort to lip tightening or shortening or nose — Anyway, you get the idea. So there are these comparisons and I think most Black people have gotten by that, but not all, by any means. But I think most have and most say: “You know there’s nothing wrong with the way I look. That’s the way I was born and that’s the way I want to be, and that’s the way I like being.” So that’s not as big an issue in Black America as it used to be, but I think there’s a comparison here between these two movements. I think you just have to — again, and I hate to just keep repeating this: Push, push, push, push, push, push, push. Push, push, push, push, push. Push some more, then push some more, and then push some more. You have to keep pushing. These things don’t happen because we want them to. They happen because we make them happen, and to the degree that we make them happen, the more likely they are to happen.
JULIAN BOND: Could this be a student of mine?
QUESTIONER: Yes, I am.
ALAN HURWITZ: This is the last question.
[Direct transcript from spoken English:] So um, it’s a strange story, but this past week, there’s something, there’s a nexus between my own religious beliefs and Judaism, my experiences growing up in a Jewish community. I’m part of a conservative movement in Judaism, as well as my personal disability advocacy [in the area of cerebral palsy]. When I notice that I’ve been very lucky to be included. I couldn’t always go as far as I want, because I really wanted to be a counselor in the special needs program that I was in, and they — because of concern of my ability issues and over time I understand this more that my parents ever credit. Just the camp is not, the ADA does not apply to religious communities, and much of that is after the separation of church and state, and I think that just the re-uniting on the spirit of inclusion, within all religions and it needs to be more inter-faith alliances, so I reached out to — I forget her first name — Dr. Tucker, or Prof. Tucker, I forget her first name. Her [heritage] is that of around here and tomorrow some of us are going to try to make it up to Towson for the deaf awareness Shabbat, but the thing — and I’ve recently been uniting some other special needs students in my program, I can reach out to others and identified leaders, but in a way I feel like when you’re teaching the class, it’s probably best class ever, because I feel like I’m living some things happening day by day. However the biggest issue right now is I feel like I’m doing this all myself and the rationale I made, because sometimes, as a person who has so many disabilities, people — and I have things that many times before made me take care of me more than I take care of them, I feel like I’m paying it forward and starting to understand what it’s like to care for someone with a disability in that way. But I do hope over time I can really push hard and find a way to have a consolidated leadership, maybe by to giving scholarships to people, finding new funds for that. So, it’s kind of a scary feeling, because I feel like I’m gonna end up in a situation where I end up embarrassing myself and just wanna go somewhere else in my life, because I’m just pushing everyone and no one’s listening. But how do I know people want to get involved, and some of them are just busy. So it’s an interesting feeling, and with Facebook I can kind of capture things around, but things can happen day by day, connections, but I’m still doing 98% of the work. What are your suggestions?
JULIAN BOND: My suggestion is that you keep at it. Don’t you ever think that nobody’s listening. Don’t ever think that. All these people are listening. All these people are understanding what you’re saying, and they will in turn tell others that they saw you: “Guess what, a young guy asked the last question and he asked an interesting question about how you keep pursuing these issues without the giving in to the disappointment, and the no-sayers and the people say, ‘I’m not interested.’” So don’t ever think that nobody’s paying attention, because people are paying attention. [To the audience:] This young man is in my class at American University called “The Politics of the Civil Rights Movement,” and he is aggressive in pursuing answers to his questions. Class doesn’t go by without him speaking at least twice, and don’t think I don’t pay attention. Because I do pay attention, and I’m glad to see you here. Thank you for coming.
ALAN HURWITZ: Thank you all for those great questions and thank you Prof. Bond for your wonderful responses. Now we would like to have Provost Weiner come up to give some closing remarks.
STEPHEN WEINER: [To Prof. Bond:] I feel really inspired by your speech. [To the audience:] While he was speaking, I found a lot of parallels between the struggle for equal access and equal rights in our community [to Prof. Bond:] which closely paralleled those of which you were describing. We have much to learn from the Black Community and all the activism that has taken place. They have much to learn from us, as well.
Something came to me during the speech that I wrote down here [glancing at note placed on the lectern]. This pertains to the topic of a just and equitable society that can pertain to all the various groups within the Deaf Community as well as the larger Black Community and the two communities with each other. [Reading his own words and signing from the handwritten note:]
Let us not abide conflict, but rather seek concurrence. Instead of working in competition with one another, let us work together in cooperation, so that every citizen benefits from participating in a just and equitable society, with a government that represents the People.
We are really deeply honored to have you both here today, Prof. Bond and his wife, Pamela Horowitz, an accomplished civil rights attorney. [To Prof. Bond and Ms. Horowitz:] I would like to ask you both to come up to receive a small memento that we have for you today.
You’re familiar with how people who have become disenfranchised tend to be collectivist in the sense of doing things together. In that vein, this pin here represents the outcome of a decision-making process that involved the entire Gallaudet community, as part of an effort set into motion by President Hurwitz during his administration. He asked us to come up with a design that we could all agree upon to represent our university community.
This swoosh figure here represents the sign for “Gallaudet,” which is made with the thumb and index finger coming together after tracing an arc path that brushes past the corner of the eye. See here? “Gallaudet.” So this has become now an important and cherished symbol to commemorate the idea of community unity, and you’re now part of us. [Awards the pins to Prof. Bond and Ms. Horowitz.]
PROF. BOND: Thank you.
MS. HOROWITZ: Thank you. Appreciate it.
STEPHEN WEINER: Let’s give them a hearty show of applause. [visual applause]
Thank you all for coming!
Special note: See also the Fall 2014 issue of Sign Language Studies (Vol. 15, No. 1).
Links to quotations:
“The impact of DPN...”
Washington Informer article And: Correspondence