Let’s Call This a Rant

I tend to shy away from calling any opinion anyone has a “rant”. Mostly because this word is commonly used to refer to the opinions that women have (which, of course, we shouldn’t. Right? Holla at me fuckboys). Shout out to @pixiestateomind for one of my favourite things to say, something along the lines of the fact that most men want women to be exceptionally beautiful and nothing else; that most men see women as trophies, and as soon as that trophy is does anything but look pretty –read: have an opinion- it loses its value. Once you have something to say –that they disagree with- you are deemed unattractive. They want you as a trophy that will sit pretty and serve no other purpose. So using the word “rant”, especially as a woman ties in to the sexist silencing method that I know most women have experienced: you say something of substance that they disagree with and you’re called angry and emotional. Silencing tactics aren’t as transparent as many may think. It is indented in many that when you write someone off as emotional, their opinions no longer hold substance. When energy levels allow, I’ll write about that too.

I digress. Anyway, I’m calling this a rant because ranting is linked to emotion by way of its definition. This is something that I hold very dear to my loins as someone who is on her own journey of unlearning harm and violence. It’s a tricky road, a difficult one if we’re being frank. I’d never write myself as some sort of martyr who’s dedicating her everything to social justice and how much of a toll this has on me- because that isn’t the point. We all stay learning and I know I tend to go through times when I’m literally overwhelmed at how little I know. This, of course, sets off a flurry of trying to take as much as time I can afford to borrow from my schooling and read. I keep learning because I want to. I learn because, to me, I cannot afford not to.

Now, something that I’ve been learning a shit load about is the power of the words I use. To many people who use certain terms they’re just words. You hear a word, you fuse it to your own vocab without a second thought to the connotations that may be attached, the history behind the word, the pain it may have caused. Slight generalization there, possibly, but let it be known that the “you” includes me. I’ve been guilty of using harmful words and wasn’t aware until I was exposed to people who taught me better, I educated myself on why and was steered towards words I could use in place of those. My issue had always been the why. Once I understood what I needed to about the power struggle that may be invisible to those in places of privilege, I was able to work those words out of my vocabulary.

The first time, I think, I was first confronted with this was in my first year of varsity. Being completely excited by my choices in subjects when first registering at Wits for a BA, I took Psychology and three languages as my modules for my year. English, Italian (this is still a regret of mine, to be honest. I remember nothing) and South African Sign Language (SASL).  I had learnt a couple of signs back in high school and was excited about the possibility of learning the complete language. Now, in first year, you are taught Deaf (note that capitalized D) Culture as part of the course. We were all hearing students in our first year, taught the actual language classes by Deaf staff members but Deaf culture was taught to us by a hearing lecturer who made it clear that we had hearing privilege.  It wasn’t until I was in my third year that I actually looked into this and realized that this was a thing; the privilege of hearing. The reason for this was that in our Deaf culture classes we are taught that Deaf people do not see themselves as deficient of something. They view themselves as a community that simply uses a different language and the fact that they were deaf (note the lowercase d) is not their primary form of identification.

(I feel as though I need to put a disclaimer here: I am hearing and because of that I’m not the authority of SASL or Deaf culture. I’m just sharing the things I’ve learnt and am in no way speaking on behalf of Deaf people. )

So I’ll share what I learnt in my first year was the importance of a simple letter when referring to Deaf people, the community and the culture that holds them together. I do hope I’ll be able to write more about the richness of Deaf culture, but for today… the power of word usage. So, before when I made note of the difference in the lowercase d and Capital D- this is where the power of word usage links. Simplified the lower and uppercases differ because of the perception those who are hearing have of Deaf people. When one refers to Deaf with as “deaf”, you’re placing their deafness as a disability first, something that placed them at a disadvantage in a hearing world. On the other hand, the term that the Deaf community prefers is just that, Deaf; with a capital letter. The reason this is important to someone who identifies as Deaf is that it doesn’t focus on the medical model that Deaf people need to be “fixed” and learn to speak in order to fit into the hearing world but rather a social model that acknowledges them as a community with a language and culture as important as individuals who identify as Ndebele or Pedi.

The power of words. I think this concept has become incredibly important to me this year because having done my honours research with several Deaf women who strongly identify as Deaf, rather than deaf, I was shown the effect of the words we use as hearing people. It extended further as I thought about things that we say from places of privilege, it took unlearning as I worked to provide an environment in my research that ensured that the Deaf women were safe and never felt at all at a disadvantage in our communication. It extended to other realms of my vocab, not just when dealing with the Deaf community. It highlighted to me how many things I took for granted being able-bodied and cis (to name a few).

I’ve just made a conscious decision to be aware of the words I use and I try to even take note of the word usage of those who interact with me, these words include calling people “lame”, “retards”, “idiots”, “dumb” (the way people tend to say “Deaf and dumb”, ‘dumb” referring to mute) etc. When one looks up the background of these words, how they came about and how they’re used to now insult people… man. Cleared off my vocab list real quick.

Anyway, I just was writing this to get it off my chest and to let those of you who make time to read this to be aware. And the bonus was being able to speak about what I’ve learnt from my research. Which is awesome.

Say hi. Let’s chat if you have questions.