Yesterday the nation of South Africa celebrated Heritage Day. It is a day which reminds us to celebrate our diversity, and to bear in mind how far such a diverse nation has come. So of course I celebrated this day with my fellow South Africans. I am very appreciative of all the different cultures that makes up the face of South Africa, especially my own coloured culture. But, for the first time, this year I celebrated a culture I have always belonged to but never recognized – deaf culture.
Perhaps I never recognized it because it didn’t have the obvious traits of a culture, or maybe because there is nothing about it that is “celebrate-worthy”. The #NotDEAFeted campaign forced me to explore my own world. I have always felt isolated in the sense that I couldn’t find any deaf people I can interact with and was the only deaf person in school, etc. The campaign allowed me to connect with people like me and I soon realized that we have some habits and personality traits in common. We seemed to have a specific way of behaving and thinking, almost as if we have a culture. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes “culture” as the beliefs, customs, arts, etc. of a particular society, group, place, or time. It goes on to further describe it as a particular society that has its own way of thinking and way of life. There is then no doubt in my mind that “deaf culture” does exist. For example, we are automatically prone to read lips. We even have our own language!
“Deaf culture” should have no negative connotation attached to it. I spent my life trying to prove I’m no different to a hearing little boy. I tried to make up in ability and skills what I lacked in hearing. It took me a while to realize that it benefits me none trying to prove something to “them”. Deaf culture needs not prove anything. We aren’t an inferior culture. Where there is life (not the lack of hearing), there is purpose. If you happen to be deaf or hard of hearing, that’s okay. Your purpose doesn’t need you to hear. Look back over your life and see how far you have come. We are often labelled “disabled” but that’s okay too. There are people who are ‘disable’ to do what you do with their abled bodies. Who is disabled then? Embrace your culture!
While we are in the spirit of celebration, let’s celebrate each other. It seems like “human culture” to forget that. Standing in the way of your fellow man’s journey won’t make you move forward on your own, just as your own light won’t glow brighter trying to dim someone else’s. If you have always wanted to go overseas but your friend made it there before you, bitterness won’t shorten the distance between you two. Why mull in bitterness for someone thousands of kilometers away? Those part of the deaf culture really know what it means to need those who can hear. The differences we have need not be to the disadvantage of one.
Most importantly, celebrate yourself, no matter the culture you come from. You have come further than you think. If you have burning desires, be the one to ignite that flame. Don’t be afraid to take that first step. Understandably, it would be easier to take that first step if you could anticipate where it will take you, but no one has moved forward standing in one place. A changed mind is a powerful thing – it can change the course of your life.
The different cultures we have is what makes life LIFE. Deaf culture is just as beautiful as the next one.