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Bang, Bang, Bang! Let Me In! : Exile in Deaf Community

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Gabrielle Smith

Disability, Identity, Culture

28 Nov, 2014


Ton père, dit-elle parlait une fois de l’exil, de notre exil actuel, et il disait, oh! Je me souviens bien, car personne ne parle comme ton père, il disait: “Il n’y a pas d’exil pour tout home aimé de Dieu. Il n’y a que des épreuves.”


Elle continua encore, mais j’ai oublié la suite, sauf qu’elle répétait très souvent “nous”, d’un accent passionné. Elle disait ce mot avec une particulière énergie, si bien que je me mis à me demander, vers la fin, si ce mot nous désignait nous deux seules, et non pas plutôt les autres femmes, toutes les femmes de notre pays.


This is an excerpt from “Il n’y a pas d’exil”, pg 84, which translates to

“Your father,” she says, “Spoke once about exil, of our current exil, and he said, oh! I remember well, because nobody speaks like your father, he said, ‘There is no exil for all men who love God. There is no hardship.’”


She continued again, but I forgot the rest, except that she repeated “us” in a passionate accent. She was saying that word with a particular energy, so much that I put on myself to ask, towards the end, if that word designated us two alone, or rather the other women, all the women of our country.



J’épuisais ma pitié sur moi-même; ma figure me faisait horreur, je n’osais plus me regarder dans une glace; lorsque mes yeux se portaient sur mes mains noires, je croyais voir celles d’un singe; je m’exagérais ma laideur, et cette couleur me paraissait comme le signe de ma reprobation; c’est elle qui me séparait de tous les êtres de mon espèce, qui me condamnait à être seule, toujours seule! jamais aimée!


A passage from Ourika, pg 15, which translates to:

I’m tired of pitying myself; my face horrifies me, I don’t dare anymore to watch my face in a mirror; when my eyes fell on my black hands, I thought I saw the hands of a monkey; I exaggerate my ugliness, and this color makes me appear like a sign of my damnation. It’s that which separates me from all the others of my species, which condemns me to being alone, always alone! Never loved!


Bang, Bang, Bang! Let Me In! : Exile in Deaf Community


French Connection

Ourika is a story about a black girl who was born in Africa but raised in France with rich white aristocrats. She grew up thinking she was equal to everyone else, and became devastated when she found out she wasn’t. Unable to marry because of her skin color, she was unable to practice the rite of passages in the only culture she knew. She did not grow up with any black people, and the only black people she knew were slaves who had revolted in the West, and so she called them savages. Ourika came to fancy Charles, and had a close relationship with him. She became devastated when he said that he wanted that same type of relationship with a white woman he wanted to marry. Ourika became very sick from her misery and died shortly thereafter. Ourika was based on a true story. 



Il n’y a pas d’exil is about a family that was exiled to Tunis from Algeria because of the civil war. The woman talking, Hafça, and her mother are also from Algeria. Hafça and the narrator’s family are able to bond over common ideals that come from Algeria. Throughout the story Hafça used the word “us” to alienate the Algerians from the people of Tunis. Because they had that community they did not feel exiled in another country.


The Need for Deaf Culture

Deaf culture thrives on exile. Not the exile of being barred from a country, but the sense of exile that comes from exclusion. Deaf culture was created because the deaf were exiled from hearing culture, and it continues successfully because it is able to exile the hearing. A sense of “us” and “them” is strong on both sides, but what does that mean for those in and out of the Deaf community? What are the positives and negatives of being so exclusive?


Culture depends on communication. When children cannot communicate with their hearing parents, they become isolated from their culture. “More than 90 percent of deaf children have two hearing parents” (Solomon 50). Especially during the early years of life, a person’s family consists of most of the people they interact with. One of the boys in Deaf Jam, a movie about a teen who learns how to Sign slam poetry, Signs about what it’s like being in an all hearing family. He felt left out because he could not understand the things that they said but didn’t bother to Sign (Deaf Jam). Even when not intentional, with a large attempt at being inclusive, being deaf around hearing people can feel like being “left out.” Jacob, a deaf person, told Solomon, “Three nights ago, I went out for drinks with the other people in a class I am taking, and all of them are hearing, and we just wrote back and forth. But there is a point where they’re all chattering, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m lucky that they’re open to being with me, but I’m still left out. I have a lot of hearing acquaintances. But good friends? No (Solomon 79).


In Rome, St. Paul isolated deaf people by proclaiming they could not participate in an important religious activity. If they could not orally give confession, they were not truly considered faithful (Solomon 51). It is not until deaf children meet other deaf people that they start to feel less lonely (Solomon 50). When they are exiled from the hearing world, they can find solace in the Deaf world.


Children who are born into the Deaf community do well. Fully immersed in Deaf culture from birth, they have their parents as a support system but also are better competitors in the world. It is shown that they achieve higher in social and academic areas (Solomon 55). Since Sign would be the first language at home, they are able to communicate effortlessly with their parents. And because they know other deaf people, they have role models. Deaf people are so exiled from hearing culture that they cannot imagine themselves achieving like the hearing. “When I was growing up, I looked at these grassroots deaf people, who were marginal, unimportant completely dependent on others, who had no education, saw themselves as second rate,” said Lewis Merkin, when speaking of the shame of being deaf. But to see other deaf people as successful professors, actors, and poets can be inspiring.


To always be put on the outside, it feels great to be able to create your own “inside”. The students in Deaf Jam walked around the city with such confidence. They had a lot of fun provoking hearing people on the street and in the subway who didn’t realize that they were deaf. At no point when they were out together did they seem unhappy or shy about their deafness. They explained that they were deaf with very exaggerated gestures. When they were all getting on the bus, some of them showed their disability cards without shame. One of them said that they had been friends with the kids at Lexington since they were four, and they were the closet friends they had. And then they were all most likely going to the same college, Gaulladet (Deaf Jam).


Exiled From the Exiled

Not quite in hearing culture, not quite in Deaf culture, those who identify as Deaf but have relatively good residual hearing are exiled from both communities. If there is any sort of hearing, deafness is questioned. Two sisters, Jackie and Ellen, had completely different experiences in school to go along with their different levels of deafness. Ellen, who was completely deaf, fit in easily. Jackie, on the other hand, had residual hearing good enough for the hearing world. She found it to be more difficult to find her place. She said. “Am I deaf? Am I hearing? Am I what? I have no ideas. All I knows that I was lonely” (Solomon58). The use of hearing aids and cochlear implants is not perceived positively (Solomon 107). There is a desire for deafness to be completely accepted, with no attempt to regain any type of hearing. These attempts are seen as attempting to be with “them.” Why would you associate with “them” after they treated “us” so badly? In Deaf Jam, there was a video shown of Anetta Signing while chewing gum. One of the other students said, “When she Signs with her gum she looks like a hearing girl” (Deaf Jam). That comment created a distinctive sense of “other.” When Solomon was able to speak to a “profoundly deaf“ person with very good residual hearing, he wrote, “I could talk to them almost as I would to a hearing person” (Solomon 93). If they’re not deaf, then they’re hearing. A dichotomy is made.


A problem arises when deaf people cannot Sign. Solomon wrote, “The issue of deafness in most societies is one of linguistic exclusion” (Solomon 83). Sign was invented because deaf people could not speak English. But because Deaf culture relies so heavily on Sign, it automatically excludes those who cannot Sign or access Sign. For example, there are a variety of physical limitations that would prevent somebody from being able to Sign. The mother of a deaf child said, “It is a full body language” (Solomon 89). ASL consists of palm orientation, hand shapes, movement, facial expressions, and Sign locations. The students in Deaf Jam, particularly Anetta, moved their entire bodies when Signing. In order to translate the ASL poems the words on the screen were moving and bouncing and shrinking and growing (Deaf Jam). If you cannot move your body, particularly your arms, fingers, torso, or face, Signing would be very difficult if not impossible. Signing and comprehending Sign also relies on short-term visual memory, which everybody might not have (Solomon 82).


The visual nature of Sign creates a cohort of problems. People who are also blind use a different type of Sign, which is not involved in Deaf culture. They cannot participate in the same way. If one were unable to afford a pair of eyeglasses, they would have difficulty taking in all the complexities of Sign. There are a multitude of other class issues. Anetta was not able to afford to attend Gallaudet and she felt isolated from the Deaf community. One parent’s idea of giving their child a good, intellectual education is sending their child off to an expensive private school with a translator (Solomon 78). Community depends on people, and the ability to keep up with the “us” and “them” narrative. When you cannot afford to continue to spend time in the Deaf community In Deaf Jam, the students were able to communicate with a poetry coach through a video call. Before video technology deaf people could only communicate when in each other’s presence. As we could see in My Deaf Family, the Firls really appreciated that with the evolution of technology, they were able to have high-speed video connection. It made everyday interactions, like ordering pizza, really simple. But not everybody can afford that technology. In this way deciding to immerse oneself fully into Deaf culture depends on being able to pay for the services that allow you to be independent from hearing people. If the Firls were not able to afford their technology, they would have to depend on Jared, their hearing son, to assist them more in their life.



Although cochlear implants are seen as genocide, they can be a good supplement to the community. If a cure or treatment for deafness is found, it should not be used to destroy the culture. However, if there is somebody who cannot Sign and wants to hear, that should be an option for them. Not everybody is deaf in the same way, so there should be options so that the deaf can make their own choices in how they interact with the world. Nobody should have to be subjected to being exiled from both cultures.



Works Cited

Deaf Jam. Dir. Judy Lieff. Prod. Steve Zeitlin and Judy Lieff. Perf. Aneta Brodski and Tahani Salah. 2010. DVD.

Djebar, Assia. "Il N'y a Pas D'exil." Femmes D'Alger Dans Leur Appartement: Nouvelles. Paris: A. Michel, 2002. 71-84. Print.

Duras, Claire De Durfort, and Joan E. DeJean. Ourika: The Original French Text. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1994. Print.

My Deaf Family "Pilot" Perf. Jared Firl. YouTube. N.p., 27 Mar. 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.

Solomon, Andrew. "Deaf." Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. New York: Scribner, 2012. 49-114. Print.