“We Are We:” The Deaf Experience in Literature
An Interview with John Lee Clark: Poet and Publisher
Length of Interview: 23:49
Note: This is a summary of the signed commentary made during this interview and is not a verbatim translation. Text summaries by Karen Christie and Patti Durr.
John Lee Clark: One’s life experiences are apparent in most literary works. My poems obviously reflect the Deaf experience in their use of symbols, themes, and in important ways that the poems are structured. This doesn’t mean, however, that I consciously and intentionally strive to place each of these elements in my poems. They are simply an integral part of me, and my life experiences. These symbols exist inside me and I’m not really aware of them. When I create poetry, they just flow out onto the page, right there.
Intertitle: “We Are We:” The Deaf Experience in Literature
Intertitle: An Interview with John Lee Clark: Poet and Publisher
John Lee Clark: I was born Deaf into a Deaf family, and later in life became Deaf-Blind. Growing up, I was immersed in Deaf culture. Deaf-Blind culture did not become part of my life until much later.
I was raised with a lot of exposure to ASL literature: ASL poetry, ASL storytelling, and my family’s own ABC stories. I had a solid background in ASL literature from the time I was born until I was about 12 years old.
Most of the stories told by my parents and their friends tended to have as one of their purposes the sharing of information. There was a wealth of information to glean from their stories. For me, watching the adults tell stories was a way of learning about the world, about life, and about relationships.
Thus, the ASL literature I was exposed to was my parents’ stories and the stories of Deaf friends. I also watched videotapes and was familiar with many filmed ASL stories and performances. Watching them was a very enjoyable experience. Sign Media Inc [SMI] had a set of videos of well-known Deaf performers who they had brought to their studio to film. Each video was a two-hour performance of creative stories, comedy, or real life stories. Mary Beth Miller was one of the performers who really amazed me. She is truly a FUNNY woman. I would laugh and laugh watching her again and again.[Clip: Sign Media, Inc. Presents SMI Live!!
Starring Mary Beth Miller
Clip shows an excerpt of Mary Beth Miller’s performance sometimes referred to as “Fighting Hands.”]
Mary Beth’s performance was truly clever and entertaining. One thing that impressed me was how she modified and exaggerated experiences, which were similar to my own. I thought that it was wonderful how she managed to do that.
During my years at the Deaf school, many well-known Deaf people were invited to come and give presentations to the students. These were people like Frank Turk [namesign FT on chest], Bernard Bragg, and others. I was always fascinated to hear their stories and meet them. Those were especially enjoyable times.
Intertitle: Diving into English Literature
Growing up, I didn’t have any interest or motivation related to reading and writing English until I was maybe 12 or 13 years old. That meant from the time I was born until age 13, the only literature I had access to was ASL literature.
Intertitle: Poster with photo image of John Lee Clark
For All the Wrong Reasons
Presenter: John Lee Clark
“One Deaf-Blind Man’s Journey From ASL to English Literacy”
One lazy summer, I was bored and felt like I didn’t have anything to do. Up until then, I had read comics and books with lots of pictures, but that summer I took it upon myself to try and read a book – a REAL book, mind you, not a book with lots of pictures. You have to understand that as I was growing up, I played a lot of sports, so I had this real jock mindset. That meant, I thought being bigger was better. Thus, I thought a big muscular physique was preferable to a thin slight one. From a jock’s perspective, the key word is BIG. Thus, I thought all the connotations that the concept ‘big’ carried with it must all be good. Similarly, all the connotations of small had to be bad. Anyway, that summer I rode my bike to the store near my home, and began to look for a BIG book since I was still thinking like a jock [laughter from the audience]. I scanned the shelves looking for a thick book. I wanted a book with real heft, one that had some weight. I would choose one from the shelf and then compare it, measuring its thickness against others until I was satisfied that I had THE absolutely biggest book in the entire store. After purchasing it, I rode my bike home, sat down, opened the cover, and fell completely into the story. The title of that book was The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It was a completely engrossing read. Of course, I didn’t understand everything I read, but I kept on reading. Every once in awhile I would stop and ask my mom what a particular word meant, and she would explain it to me. Because I was very lonely at that particular time, books became my best friends. The book The Pillars of the Earth had the added attraction of having some information in the story about sex and this was during the time I was going through puberty and had a natural curiosity about sex. The story itself took place long ago at a castle where there were guys riding around on horses and sword fights. After that, I was completely hooked on reading. I went on to buy many books and became an avid bookworm.[End of presentation. Return to sit-down interview]
One thing that was lacking in my educational experience was English literature – particularly English literature by Deaf people. During high school, I came upon short selections of literature here and there, and I remember reading a few poems in Jack Gannon’s book, Deaf Heritage. But that was pretty much it. My parents subscribed to “Deaf Life” Magazine and once in a while poems appeared in that publication, but there was not a lot of literary works published by Deaf people.
One of the first writings I read that really impacted me was by David Armstrong who published an article in the “Deaf American Monograph.” That article was written in complete ASL gloss, and I felt it was a fascinating piece of writing. For the first time, I began to imagine experimenting with how to put ASL on paper, or how to represent ASL in writing. David Armstrong’s article was one of the first readings I can recall as stimulating and fascinating.
Excerpt: “A S L Write Right Rite Wright?”
By David A. Anthony
From: Deaf American Monograph, 1995
© National Association of the Deaf
School teacher always
me English wrong wrong wrong;
correct correct correct
pencil red, my white paper
same blood mess…
People you all read my ASL write,
laugh, laugh, laugh HA HA HA.
Right me talk? Think funny?
There were newspapers like The Silent News that I had access to, and again an occasional poem by a Deaf writer could be found in any one of these Deaf publications, but I wasn’t really exposed to English novels or stories about the Deaf experience growing up.
Intertitle: Behind the Publisher:
Reviving the Deaf Writing Community
After I graduated from High School, I went to Gallaudet University with the idea of becoming a writer. At that time, I was fascinated with the art of writing. I found a few like-minded Deaf folks who also considered themselves writers. We were all struggling with the predicament of where we could submit our writing for publication. We could send it to “Deaf Life” Magazine, but there was an extremely limited venue for publishing Deaf writers.
Because of this, I decided that I would embark on the establishment of my own literary journal where Deaf writers could submit and publish their work and I could distribute it. That is what happened after I left Gallaudet and got married. Together my wife and I founded “The Tactile Mind,” a literary magazine.
Two images covers from “The Tactile Mind
Literary Magazine of the Signing Community”
The “Tactile Mind” was published every three months and our journal was about 100 pages. When we started up the journal, I learned that it was hard to find Deaf writers willing to submit work. I talked with others and asked them if they knew anyone who was a Deaf writer, and via this type of grapevine I would discover Deaf writers and encourage them to submit.
Often after tracking down writers, they would say, “I’m not really a writer, I just like to write for my own pleasure and then put it away in a drawer.” I would try to encourage them to share their works with me, and of course some would reply “Nah, never mind. Forget about it.” In order to convince them to send me their work, I would need to kind of handle them with kid gloves and gently convince them. After reading their writing, I would often tell them, “Wow, this is really good!” They might respond, ” Really? Do you really think so?” Obviously, many Deaf writers expressed doubt in their abilities because they had never shared their writings, or had any constructive feedback. When I would tell them that I wanted to publish their writing, their response again would be along the lines of, “Well, I don’t know. It might be kind of embarrassing to have it published.” Thus, I learned through this process that there are Deaf writers who truly enjoy writing, but don’t really think of themselves as writers.
Without this strong identity as a writer, it is hard to assertively market your work and send it out for publication. In addition, there wasn’t any network or support for Deaf writers to access information about how to get published and advance their writing careers. There was nothing at all.
Although many of these Deaf writers were members of the Deaf community, they had been writing in isolation from one another. They were not aware of one another. In the past, there was a stronger network in the Deaf writing community likely because of the Little Paper Family [LPF] network. At one time, each Deaf school throughout the country had their own small presses and published newspapers or magazines that were shared within the national Deaf community. Deaf people who wrote subscribed to these “Little Papers.” This publishing tradition began to die out in the 1960s or so when community members seemed to show less enthusiasm for reading, and as a result people became less and less aware of which writers were prolific. In this way, the Deaf literary community seemed to be slowly dismantled, and died out.
To revitalize the community, “The Tactile Mind” stepped in and put Deaf writers into contact with other writers. They began reading each other’s works again. This challenged writers to become more critical readers and promoted appreciation of the literary works of others. Another valuable purpose of “The Tactile Mind” was to stimulate Deaf people to be writers.
Editing the Deaf American Poetry Anthology
Image: Cover of the book, The Deaf American Anthology
Edited by John Lee Clark
It is important to read the literary works by Deaf people from long ago so that young Deaf people are aware of our past and what has already been written. By understanding our literary traditions, we are able to move on and explore new realms. Without this knowledge, Deaf people write in isolation, and each need to begin in the same place and address the same issues. If we know what has been written, as a community we can progress in our literary traditions. Similarly, if we can look back at protests that have been fought by our people, we don’t need to fight them all over again, and can focus our energies in a more effective manner.
I immersed myself in researching the history of American Deaf poetry, while also keeping in my sights Deaf history in America; that is, changes in our educational systems, community developments, political movements and so on. For over six years, I was engrossed in this research, which included over 700 books. A surprising number of these 700 books included poetic works. For me, it was fantastic to uncover so many Deaf poets.
It seems like Deaf people were more successful in creating literature before the advent of oralism. One impact of oralism was to throw the Deaf school system into disarray. Before this time, I was able to find many wonderful Deaf writers.
I did come across several oral Deaf writers, but I didn’t find any of their works worth including in the anthology. I think one of the reasons for this was due to the fact that oral Deaf writers are very similar to hearing writers. When comparing them to Hearing writers, there are, of course many more Hearing writers who are better. Oral Deaf poets don’t stand a chance when their work is held up against writers such as Robert Frost, Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson. During the times of each of these famous poets, there were oral Deaf writers, but they could not reach the same levels of literary merit. Those oral Deaf poets created works on topics such as birds singing, which attempted to replicate the same rhythm and musicality as Hearing writers. As a result, they really DIDN’T add anything new to the cannon.
For sure, there are Deaf signing writers who also write about the music of birds singing or whatever, but there are those who write specifically about the Deaf experience, such as Deaf schools, Deaf political issues and how they view the world. Those are the kind of works that are able to draw attention and offer something different from Hearing poets. These are the poetic works that I felt were important to include in the anthology.
As I read through the poems of Deaf writers, I felt it was important to find those that were authentic to the Deaf experience and that were about an individual Deaf person’s truth. This doesn’t mean that the poem needed to overtly mention Deaf all over the page. To the reader, it should be inherently obvious that a Deaf person wrote this work. Deaf readers should be able to connect with that poem on a personal level. I do not believe a Deaf writer should try to “fake writing like a hearing person.” As I researched for this anthology, I was interested in the poetry, which expressed the emotional experiences of Deaf individuals.
Intertitle: John Lee Clark, Poet
“Suddenly Slow” Works
Image of book cover of Suddenly Slow
Poems by John Lee Clark
In literary works, one’s experience certainly comes through. My poems obviously show the Deaf experience as including symbols, themes, and important ways that the works are structured. However, this doesn’t mean that I consciously and intentionally strive to ensure that each of these elements is inserted into the work. It is just part of me and my life experiences, I have these symbols inside me and I’m not really aware of them. When I create poetry, it just flows out and manifests itself right there on the page.
Comments & Excerpts:
“The Only Way Signing Can Kill Us”
by John Lee Clark
The Only Way Signing Can
Would be if the world took
a fancy to the way
certain signs made images
and the world would try
to have things be more
like pictures in the air…
would only have two walls.
It might as well be,
since all trees would
have five leafless branches
that never bore fruit…
I have become impatient with the ignorance of Hearing people who think that sign language is “pictures in the air.” That way of thinking is founded on the belief that ASL is not really a language. The poem, “The Only Way Signing Can Kill Us,” is an ironic response to that. If it is true that sign is only pictures in the air, then I decided to take that comment literally in creating the poem. That means you have to imagine each sign as a purely true visual representation. For example, if we are signing about a house, then we need to think of a house as only having a roof and two walls, just like the sign is made. Thus, you need to imagine all houses built with just two walls, a roof, and blank space between the two walls [transposed on the clip: …Our house…would only have two walls”]. Clearly the wind would blow through this house and it wouldn’t be very good protection from the cold. It is very sarcastic in that it makes fun of the stupidity of taking iconic signs literally.
Comments & Excerpts:
“The Death of Water”
by John Lee Clark
I wrote “The Death of Water” after reading one quote by Helen Keller that really disgusted and annoyed me. She said, “I shall never forget the surprise and delight I felt when I uttered my first connected sentence, ‘It is warm.'” Those were the first three words she spoke. This, she said opened up her world, “…came out of bondage and was reaching through those broken symbols of speech to all knowledge and all faith.” The over romanticizing of the power of speech is truly repulsive to me.
The Death of Water
I shall never forget the surprise and delight I felt when I uttered my first connected sentence, ‘It is warm….’ My soul, conscious of new strength, came out of bondage, and was reaching through those broken symbols of speech to all knowledge and all faith.
What if, I wonder as I drown
In all the praise she drank
On our behalf, what if
Surfaced water had died away—
The last drops joining
mist echoing less and less
separably, becoming one howl
of a hand tracing all about
for an improved history—
before she first drank w-a-t-e-r
(all knowledge and all faith)
only to sign it away, washing
her hands of it by dipping
her tongue in the inkwell
of inappropriate splendor
and of lying?
Helen Keller had language before she spoke that infamous sentence, “It is warm.” She wrote, fingerspelled, and used home-signs prior to this. It was later that she practiced speaking. Clearly, the idea of speech opening up the world to her via language was a huge fallacy, which I don’t appreciate at all.
Members of the culturally Deaf-Blind community certainly loathe Helen Keller and do not at all identify with her. This is not based on the fact that she was an ‘oral’ person, but because of her attitudes and values. At that time, members of the dominant culture were amazed that it was possible a Deaf-Blind person could graduate from college. They made such a big deal about this, and glorified her. Part of the problem was that Helen Keller acknowledged and accepted this adulation. This over praise of Helen Keller is a strong indication of the extremely low expectations concerning what Deaf-Blind folks could accomplish. Thus, by embracing their exaggerated reverence and becoming a ‘mouthpiece,’ she affirmed and reinforced those low expectations.
The other dangerous misconception that the phenomenon of Helen Keller communicates is that unless a Deaf-Blind person is a true genius like her, they will never accomplish anything. Yet, everyday Deaf-Blind people are successful and independent. Members of the Deaf-Blind community become indignant with the world view that constantly associates being Deaf-Blind only with Helen Keller. This extremely limited view is exasperating to Deaf-Blind folks who would love to divorce themselves from Helen Keller. The diversity of individuals that make up the Deaf-Blind community needs to be acknowledged, as well as the fact that we have jobs, families and lead regular lives like everyone else.
Comments & Excerpts “Long Goodbyes” by John Lee Clark
When I write poetry, I can create a good English poem, but to translate it into ASL would be a real challenge. Often, I think it would be better to call upon someone else; someone who is skilled in translation, ASL poetry and English poetry, to translate my poems into ASL. Once in awhile, there are English poems that just seem like they would allow for more opportunities to creatively play with ASL, and thereby add a bit more elaboration of the English poem. For example, the poem “Long Goodbyes” expands on the concept of time, which could be expressed with the circular movement of ASL signs which represent the signs for family; for a group of people who feel connected, for sitting around a circular table, for sharing with each other feelings/stories, and passing things around a table. These signs echo the movement of hands around the face of a clock. I like that this poem, “Long Goodbyes,” as it just happens to be one of those poems that appears to lend itself to being creatively translated into ASL.
I miss all of the long goodbyes
of my parents’ guests
taking their leave by not leaving
when it was time to go. Someone would sign
Better go home we but hours pass
around our round table—
the bowls of our hands offering
confession after confession
assuring us that we are we—
The line, “assuring us that we are we—” is meant to say because all of us are Deaf and come together in fellowship, we automatically reinforce our identity as a people. If I am just one Deaf person among a mass of Hearing people, my identity is a bit different than when I am among other Deaf people. When we are among other Deaf people – that is when we have the strongest sense of who we are as human beings.
Now that I am grown
and have my own family, do come
for a visit but do not leave
when it is time to go. Sign, do sign
Better go home we for our hands
will make time go suddenly slow.
It is important to keep in mind that writings by a Deaf person should be an authentic expression of their experience. That doesn’t mean every other word on the page needs to be ‘Deaf.’ Because of the writer’s way of being in the world and experiencing the world, being Deaf should be reflected in her/his writing. Thus, one should be able to clearly sense a writer is Deaf without obvious references. In addition to being able to use language creatively, a writer needs a story or a message to communicate that can be something ANYONE can understand and relate to. Thus, Deaf people need to tell stories about the Deaf experience in order for them to become an integral part of the vast number of stories of the human experience.
In June 2009, John Lee and Adrean Clark launched ClercScar books
Kristi B. Merriweather: Blakdeafemale English Poetry
Length of Interview: 16:18
Note: This is a summary of the signed commentary made during this interview and is not a verbatim translation. Text summaries by Karen Christie and Patti Durr.
I grew up involved predominantly with Hearing culture because of my mainstreaming educational experience. I did not become involved with Deaf culture until my adulthood. While the schools I attended were integrated, I had exposure to strong Black women teachers as role models. Early in my life, I felt that Black culture had a strong influence. It was later that Deaf culture became an important part of my life.
When I was a senior in high school, I thought long and hard about which college I should attend, with my two preferences being Spelman College or Gallaudet University. I chose Spelman College due to its strong reputation in the Black Community. Spelman College is a women-only college with a unique tradition, one that has produced a significant number of strong women leaders. I really wanted to experience the “mystery that was Spelman College:” an environment from which strong future women leaders would emerge. At the same time, I was interested in Gallaudet University. However, because Gallaudet had a graduate program and Spelman did not, I decided that first I could attend Spelman and later Gallaudet .
Each college seems to have its own “niche.” Gallaudet University, for example, focuses on Deaf culture, whereas Spelman College is focused on the culture of Black women. Because of this, the curriculum at Spelman allowed for extended study centered on the Black experience. Spelman College offered Black history courses, Black psychology courses, and other related courses that helped me nurture my identity as a Black Woman. Later, Gallaudet University would help me develop my Deaf identity and in that way I had planned to become a well-rounded person.
Literature & Language
When I was young, my school bus would drop me off in front of the library. There, I would wait for my mother to pick me up after work. It was during these afternoons that I read a great deal of Black literature. In addition to the works of Black writers, I was exposed to an array of poetic traditions.
I had access to Southern Black dialect primarily through print, by reading a variety of works from Black literature. It was not at all “a foreign language” to me. It was part of the language I acquired and used for creating poetry. When I create poetry, I have in my head the rap and the rhythm of Black dialect, and it is there in my poems. I am not sure how well a Deaf person could see the rhythm of this language in my poetry, but I believe a Black person would most likely see it.
This type of rhythm and this type of poetry can be expressed in translation using ASL, but that it needs to be done by a person who can model fluent ASL in performance of the poem. At this point in my life, I am not sure that I am the best person to do this. Some people, for example, are real performers who participate in poetry slams and are able to give a strong rhythmic performance. They don’t just read the poem or the text, but produce a performance inspired by the rhythm of the words or signs. For my own poetry, I don’t feel I have yet developed the necessary skills to perform poetry in this way.
The Poetry of Kristi B. Merriweather
When I was in graduate school, there was a time when I was exhausted from the constant studying and needed a mental escape, a way to express my feelings. Once, I decided to just put aside my schoolwork and started creating poetry by brainstorming on my computer. After that brainstorming session I felt better, so I thought I should keep with it and see where it would lead. When I first started writing poetry, I tried to create poetry related to particular events. For example, if the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) had a theme for a beauty pageant or conference, I would use the theme as a starting point for a poem. Many times, I had reasons behind creating particular poems and other times it was simply a mental escape.
Inspiration and Excerpts: “Be Tellin’ Me” by Kristi B. Merriweather
During graduate school, I was caught up in writing my thesis which was about Black Deaf identity. I went to the Gallaudet University library to research the topic and found it was incredibly frustrating to try to find much research on Black Deaf people. This was puzzling to me because it was around 1996-1997, and I thought, of course, there should be a great deal of research by that time. Through my discussions with others, I came to the realization that the scarcity of research in this area was due to the fact that researchers traditionally assumed that Black Deaf people were no different from White Deaf people. As a result, researchers often neglected to mention how many Black Deaf people were included in the sample or look at possible differences based on race. It seems that the thinking was that Deaf culture erases any vestiges of Black culture. Therefore, much of the research had not taken into account the impact of Black cultural experiences on Black Deaf people. The poem. “Be Tellin’ Me” came out of this frustrating experience. In the poem, it says that people associate you with only Black culture, or only Deaf culture. This ignores the fact that Black Deaf culture is unique.
From: “Be Tellin’ Me”
People tell me
what they think
a black deaf female is.
…just a simple solution
mix in the deaf culture,
add equal amount of
stir well and smoothly,
pronto, the black deaf culture…”
“Seasonings” are used to give a bland mixture of basic ingredients different flavors. It’s as if all Deaf people are exactly the same regardless of their race, and their own unique experiences are not acknowledged. So, I used spices and seasoning to describe this, and that is the origin of the cooking metaphors used in the poem.
From: “Be Tellin’ Me”
“I be cookin’ up my own recipe,
spicy, like my mama taught me,
no, I don’t need your bowl,
thank you very much,
only I be
what a blakdeafemale is.”
A strong part of Black culture is the playing with words, and these newly coined words are meant to express more directly what one means to say. If you have ever been exposed to rap, you would notice all these odd, made up words that are not commonly used as part of everyday language. But it is amazing because it is pretty easy to understand what they mean.
Inspiration and Excerpts from: “The Gallaudet Protest From My Eyes” by Kristi B. Merriweather
I was motivated to create this poem because people who joined the Gallaudet protest (Unity for Gallaudet, 2006) were not completely aware of what happened just before the protest occurred. They did not know why many Black Deaf people and other Deaf people of color did not support the protest. Just before the protest gained momentum, something happened that turned Deaf people of color off, so we resisted joining the protest. Many felt that the protest movement was “a farce.” The Gallaudet Protest poem was written to explain a bit about the events that occurred earlier so that people would be aware of what had happened.
When Gallaudet University chose the three finalists for the position of President, those who were chosen were Ron Stern, Jane Fernandes, and Steve Weiner. For some folks, there were problems with the search, beginning with the announcement of these finalists. One of the reasons was because of one Deaf Black man, Dr. Glenn Anderson. Dr. Anderson clearly was a strong candidate who had met all of the qualifications for the position of President. In addition, he had served Galladuet University for 16 or 17 years as chair of the Board. The National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) and Deaf people of color were completely puzzled as to why Dr. Anderson was not one of the finalists, and why individuals who appeared less qualified were chosen as finalists.
From: “The Gallaudet Protest From My Eyes”
“…be he’s too old
maybe he bombed the interview
maybe he had health problems
maybe the world is not ready for him…
maybe blah blah blah
white privilege rearin’ its ugly head…”
The longer the Board was silent about the finalists, the angrier we became. Finally, our group decided there were improprieties in the selection process by the search committee. There was a call for the search to be suspended and re-initiated. Because the number of Deaf people of color on campus was small, we knew we needed more numbers in order to be heard. The Gallaudet Student Body Government (SBG) President, the Gallaudet Faculty, and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) were called on to ask for their support.
Unfortunately, these groups had many different reasons for not supporting the protest. The NBDA tried to collaborate with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). At one point while there were still three finalists, NBDA asked NAD if they would like to participate in a press conference to call for a new search. At that time NAD stated that they didn’t want to join, they wanted to remain neutral on the issue. One of the reasons they gave was because NAD had many members who were not connected at all to Gallaudet University. After the president was chosen, NAD then joined the protest. What happened to NAD’s neutral stance? It all seemed very hypocritical, and it was clear that NAD was not willing to collaborate with NBDA earlier.
From “The Gallaudet Protest From My Eyes”
“Will you stand with us against this injustice?
This process is flawed
You have no proof
We need the numbers, are you our comrade?
No, we must remain neutral…
…maybe blah, blah, blah”
The SGB President seemed to understand NBDA’s concerns but he felt that he must follow the majority on campus. At the point when the finalist group was named, most of the students seemed fine with the search process. Of course, the majority of people on campus were White, and if the SGB always followed the majority, students of color on campus would never be able to have equal say in the process! At that time, the SGB President said that he was just following what the students wanted and so there was nothing he could do.
From “The Gallaudet Protest From My Eyes”
Stand with us
We’ve had enough!
This process is flawed!
Will you stand with us?
Are you our comrades?
Well, …maybe blah, blah, blah…”
While the Gallaudet Protest (UFG) is now something of the past, there is still some division in the community as a result. It is evident from blogs that people are still angry and hurt about how things happened, and that it will take some time to heal.
Inspiration and Excerpts from “Remember” by Kristi B. Merriweather
The reason behind the creation of the poem, “Remember” relates to the theme of one of the NBDA’s pageants. The theme was “San Kofa” which is about looking back and learning from history in order to move into the present. The poem, “Remember” was meant to explore that experience of looking back to the beginning to where Black people had power in our African homeland. The poem then moves on to the time when Africans were captured, and the impact of the violent disruption of slavery on family ties and the loss of tribal/kinship connections. I use the word, “remember,” to remind people that it is important not to forget where you have come from.
“I’ve forgotten my language, my home
my hopes, my culture, or even where
my family are.
…Somewhere I heard my mother
whisper to me,
During the time of slavery, the memory of the collective past was beginning to fade and there seemed to be a diminishing knowledge of African culture. I use the term ‘whispering’ to communicate the idea that these connections are becoming more and more elusive. “Whispering” also refers to the idea of just barely being able to recognize something and then having it fade into nothing. Later, the power of these connections became stronger and louder through the civil rights movement.
“Raise your Black Power fist
Say Right on, Black is beautiful,
…It’s screaming my mother’s voice
and eyes saying,
Near the end of the poem, I refer specifically to Black Deaf Women. Because the Deaf movement for civil rights and the recognition of ASL as a language happened after the Black civil rights movement, I also incorporate the image of signing at the end of the poem.
“Suddenly I saw the image of mother
signing to me,
By incorporating the signing image, the poem communicates the appreciation of the history of both Black culture and Deaf culture. With both traditions valued, Black Deaf Women are empowered– moving on and moving up in the world.
“Out of Africa
Stationed here in America,
The Black Deaf Woman…
shattering restricting definitions
Until she becomes in-defin-able,
timeless, progressive, creative,
Don’t you remember?