Deaf ethnicity

Tue, 13 Feb 1996 16:30:14 -0500

Tom Kavanagh rightly asked about my theory of ethnicity in my earlier posting
that Deaf is an ethnic group.

I did use the term "ethnic group" in a vague sense. It connoted
a group of people who have similar backgrounds and behaviors, who see
themselves as a bounded cultural unit within a larger nation-state political
entity, and who consider their identity to be intimately bound to certain
political strategies, i.e., legitimation of ASL as a true language and greater
incorporation into the wider society. In this, a somewhat synthetic version of
"circumstantialist" and "primordialist" senses of ethnicity (which I derive
from the Introduction to Linnekin and Poyer, _Cultural Identity and Ethnicity
in the Pacific_, 1990, Univ. Hawaii), the fact of birth simply determines that
one is deaf; however, if one is raised in a family of Deaf parents who speak
ASL, and then actively and strategically transforms deafness into the major
axis of one's personal and group identity, then one asserts Deaf ethnicity,
with all its attendant political ramifications.

I will, however, accept that other definitions would categorize Deafness not
as an ethnic group but as a sub-culture, or similar notion; since I do not
specialize in ethnicity per se, I will stand corrected.

(In point of fact, most Deaf people in my experience and readings assert that
Deaf refers to a "culture" rather than a sub-culture, ethnic group, etc.)

By the way, there was a nice article in the New York Times Magazine concerning
Deaf assertion, politics and identity (Aug 28, 1994).

Eric Silverman
DePauw Univ.