I had the privilege of attending a Deaf Women United conference this weekend in Northern California. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary, and how fitting it is that their main topic has been social justice and all of the journeys we take to get from where we are privileged to a place where we understand and respect other people’s cultures and social identities. I have learned a few new things, and am reminded of other things I learned before and forgot.
As I expected, their answers to diversity were more robust than their ideas about culture. They were more knowledgeable and engaged with the topic of diversity. Mostly, we talked about our own social identities, and how some of our “privileges” are both privilege and oppressive.
Most of the responses I got were about the surface cultures that we all are familiar with and learned in our class the past couple of weeks. It includes the languages we speak, the clothes, and values & traditions. However, one of the workshop presenters I asked said how her three social identities often conflict with each other. She is a Black Deaf Woman. She has three “cultures” where she had to navigate the conflicts between Black/White, Deaf/Hearing, and Woman/Male. She was an angry person who has learned to love people and work through their differences. I learned so much from watching her present her three identities and how she has come to a point where she is embracing each of the three identities she has. She illuminated what Ngo (2008) discussed and suggested, “Rather than whole, seamless, or naturally occurring, culture and identity are the result of differentiation in social relations…they emerge within the play of specific modalities of power, and thus are more the product of the marking of difference and exclusion, than they are the sign of an identical, naturally-constituted unity” (p.6).
We had a discussion where we identified our privilege and our oppression. A few of us talked about how being smart or intelligent is both a privilege and oppressive. It is good to know how other women also share my thoughts. We talked about how some people are just so smart they cannot handle it. Frequently, people do not understand what smart people are talking about and look at them with askance.
Ultimately, the only way we all can understand each other, and start to respect each other is to have a continuing dialogue where we talk through our differences or disagreements. As my Foundations to Early Childhood Education said, it is the responsibility of the education professionals to find out more about each of the child.
Ngo, B. (2008). Beyond "culture clash": Understanding of immigrant experiences. Theory into Practice, 47(1), 4–11.