Sunday, November 09, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Why It Matters: Reason #3,481
I teach at a University for the Deaf. The University for the Deaf, I should say, because there isn’t another one.
The school is on a hill in Northeastern DC, surrounded by a neighborhood that has long been almost entirely African-American and brutally poor. Hemmed in by such a neighborhood, by spiked iron fences and patrolling police and 24hr hour security cameras, by their own sense-lack, the student community has become as cloistered and isolated as a fundamentalist compound.
The fence is high and the world outside, ah, the world outside, we're never really going to understand each other. How can we? The moats between us and them are deep and wide. Our experience is not your experience, yours is not ours, and what’s in that gap is so crucial that we must, out of necessity – not choice -- travel separately.
And this enormous country that holds both our communities, black and deaf? We know the truth. It doesn’t care. The long wind off the plains will turn our footprints to dust before the end of the day.
That was the story, and if it wasn’t told outright, it was told in look and deed. It was told in the choices people in the black and the deaf communities made, the thousand little surrenders that brought a life to the dead-end alley of never gonna happen.
Tuesday night, two hundred students gathered before the giant screen in the new building to watch the election returns come in. I sat next to a boy in a wheelchair, behind a man who can’t see or hear, to the left of three girls who had dyed their curly hair a color that was meant to represent either autumn sunset or spilt blood. Around the great, cavernous hall, other students stood, sat, stared, and squirmed as the giant screen silently ticked off the results.
They called Pennsylvania. They called Ohio. They called New Hampshire. The students jumped and cheered; a silent cheer, hands raised overhead and vibrating.
This is why it matters. This is what I could see in their faces: if a black man can be president, why can’t I? I, a deaf woman from Puerto Rico, a hard of hearing white man from rural Georgia; I, the son of the son of the son of men who could not hear and who, for generations, avoided those who could so as to not be burned by their prejudice.
You could see the wheels turning: Wait a second! Maybe there is a place at the table for me! For me! You could see the vision form: a White House cabinet meeting, dignitaries of all age and color, men and women, Jew, Christian, Muslim -- and deaf.
To steal from Robert F. Kennedy: the world as it could be, not as it is.
The numbers poured in from the west coast. The victory was official. Ten students danced up front, a routine they’d worked out over by the elevator. People hugged the person next to them; hugged strangers, dogs, their teachers.
People say: but its just words. Hope over fear? Unity over division? One America over divided Americas? Just words.
The president-elect came on stage, clasping the hand of his daughter, a first family like no other, and then, bookended by bulletproof glass, spoke of the honor he had won and the challenges we face. There’s a lot of work to do, he said, we’re going to need everyone. We’re going to need all parties, all colors, disabled and non.
The students watched and nodded.
Tear down the gates. We’re part of this now.