Capitalizing on the Collectivist Culture of Deaf Community | Fred Weiner | TEDxGallaudet

Capitalizing on the Collectivist Culture of Deaf Community | Fred Weiner | TEDxGallaudet


Just a few years ago
one evening I was on H street with a friend of mine
dining at a bar, at a restaurant and talking
about a whole host of issues, politics and so forth. We started talking about
the American system of capitalism and rugged
individualism. My companion that evening
told me that the notion of capitalism in this system
is really destroying the deaf community and is
harmful to the deaf community. I was more than a little
shocked by this and asked him why. He said think for a minute
of infinity. Think of an infinite loop. Deaf people must have this
infinite connection with each other. We require eye gaze
for conversation. This same notion
of individualism doesn’t fly as well. There’s also the fact that
two hearing people need not observe each other
to communicate and deaf people do. Hearing people hear
their own voice. That supports this
notion of individualism. So if we look at how this
evolution has taken place and what it
holds for our future, we have to examine capitalism and its effect on our community. So how then do we
as a deaf community ensure that we persist? How do we evolve and
survive in this changing world? What are our options in
this rapidly-changing world? What is our role? How do we remain relevant? How do we stay connected
and interconnected without losing ourselves? Well, there are two
different paths that we can
take at this juncture. You know, the book
“Islay” fancies the notion of an island of deaf people. That’s actually dystopia. But that separates us from
the larger ecosystem though it shields us from
the capitalist dangers. But we as a community are
somewhat akin to an organism. In order to survive, we
have to find our niche and have the
spirit of our community collectively together. If we are distinct and
separate and isolated, no one cares, no one notices
in the larger ecology. So as part of society,
I have to ask how we as a community can
persist, grow stronger, both economically, socially,
culturally and so forth. What value do we have
to offer the world? And what then does the world
have to offer us? And beyond that, what does
that model look like? How do we see
this synthesis? How do we plan and prepare
to have this kind of interconnectness? So in musing over
these problems, one thing that occurs to me
based on my own upbringing… is called to mind in this
map that you see. If you look
at this map of Toronto, and in fact we just had a
mention of Toronto a moment ago in the other presentation. But if we look at Toronto,
we generally think of it as a single city. But within that single city, there are a number of different
ethnic enclaves. There’s an Asian enclave,
a Jewish enclave, and so forth. All within this one city. So each of these enclaves
has its own identity, its own collective spirit,
its own language, its own culture, its own
businesses in fact. And you’ve seen these all
existing within the larger city. They’re all part of
the city as a whole. So the ability to have
the distinct enclave and community and still
be part of the larger community is one that
I find interesting. The Toronto museum
of deaf culture has been established there
and is a nexus of attracting visitors
to that area. We see that museum as
being a centerpiece. How can we
be a part of that? We see enclaves
in New York city. Little Italy, Chinatown. Miami has little Havana, and Virginia
has the Little Saigon area. And the streets signs are
in their native language. This is important
because it’s a way of plugging into the structure as a whole, the economic
structure of the city. So you could have a
council member that represents your community who gives you greater
voice for your community. But I’ve talked now
so far about cities. But how then can we see
that same sort of idea occur in other areas. The deaf community
is not a large one. It’s a very small community. So outside of urban areas, what are the possibilities
for such connections? This example that you see
on this screen is Little Kabul. It’s in Fremont,
California. Right near the California
School for the Deaf at Fremont. Not that large of a city. But even in smaller cities
we see ethnic enclaves. Can that model be
successful everywhere? We have to wonder though
where we are and how do we push for a deaf
enclave in rural areas? Where do they exist and
how can we invest our time and resources to invest
and sustain these enclaves? So this selection
of a place for an enclave actually involves
a number of things. The deaf community’s
strength is that it is closely tied to its educational institutions. Workplaces surrounding the
deaf schools have created mini-economies that
are already existent and can then be strengthened. In Fremont, in Riverside, in
St. Augustine, in Austin, Texas, in
Indianapolis, Indiana, in Frederick, Maryland, we see examples of this. And Rochester, New York
and here in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet University is
really the heart and center for the
surrounding enclave. So these educational
institutions help to create what we might call
a deaf ethnic enclave. So the promised
land is out there. How do we get there? How do we get to
that ethnic enclave? It can’t really be
set up randomly. How do we then create it? How do we get support
for the creation and sustenance of
that enclave? If it only involves deaf
people, that’s fine. But how do we create these
interconnections to find a way to build
our economies? Our social and
cultural institutions. So how do we map
onto the grid? One example of this that’s
called to mind is crowd sourcing. Which is all the
rage right now. So the way crowd
sourcing works is with a crowd sourcing site,
you would then define how you’re going to
connect with others. What different ideas
you bring to the table. And you connect those
ideas with people to the money to invest in them. One example that exists
here in D.C. is “Fund Rise.” Fund Rise is a website
that is quite interesting. The owner of that company
searches out capital funds for development
and re-development. He buys buildings. The old model is you look
for an investor and once you find them and have
the capital to invest, and the people with the most
money who invested would have the most power
to define the use of that. They lead the decisions
on a day-to-day basis. But Fund Rise’s model
is quite different. They have a building and they post the buildings
conditions and price, and they offer that
building to be bought by everyone, from investments
of $100 to $100,000. There are many, many
owners of that building. That then helps to be sure
that we are connecting to these other groups and
that we remove barriers that exist to connect
them with the capital to invest. So we have local people
who buy into that particular building. They then
have a vested interest in the success of that building. They are connected to it and they are
business owners if you will. So the crowd sourcing
concept could be one that we use to attract more
people with the capital to invest in deaf community
enclaves and ventures. Deaf community businesses
could be investing in these. That’s another
particular model. Another is ways to promote
our ideas so it gets to those who could invest
and support in them. Forbes magazine has said
that crowd sourcing is going to be the
hottest thing over the next few years. It’s predicted to be a
wonderful tool. So how can we use that
technology to our advantage to
overcome barriers? There was one book written
called “The End of Big.” That book predicts that we
will be returning to our roots. The roots of
local economies. Of local craftsmen. In days past, when you
went to go shop for your needs, those commodities
were built and made in your local economy, in your
local environment. The age of
industrialization and mass production took root,
took hold and spread and it has de-humanized,
de-personalized a great many things and
created vast separation between people and the people
who make their commodities. So if we look at
sustainability movements, local food movements, we
see them really exploding and there are a lot of
markets there that could be tapped into
by deaf people. So we’re supporting
the enclaves of people buying into our ideas and
cultures and ventures. So very often I have
dreamed that if we were able to establish such
enclaves I think about the kind of community
that we have here. With Gallaudet’s real
estate holdings on 6th street. The vibrant
change on 8th Street where at Union Market and
8th street you can go anywhere and find someone who signs
to some extent. This brings to mind the Martha’s Vineyard model. People all over the
community signed, but only 5% were deaf. You need a small critical
mass to create that lifestyle. How do we create that kind
of access for deaf people when people are signing and
greater access to be enjoyed. We can do
that, as I mentioned before, by having deaf people
enter into politics. Not necessarily president, but a delegate
in your town council. So your enclave is represented in the larger community. It creates greater voice
for your community. Deaf professionals
who are signing in different environments,
such as medical professions, legal and so forth, that creates
the community wherein we can feel at home even
within the larger scope of home, of the city
and the larger realm. We can do this by
collaboration. By working with other deaf
organizations and thinking ahead, planning
proactively will lead us to success. With that, I thank you.

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1 thought on “Capitalizing on the Collectivist Culture of Deaf Community | Fred Weiner | TEDxGallaudet”

  • I think this argument is problematic. The effect of capitalism in the deaf community seems to be more of a case of its effect in any community rather than an specificity of the sea community.