03 November 2006

Identity Or Soul?

Naomi Schaeffer Riley today on Opinion Journal's "Taste" page:

"Earlier this week, the protesters at Gallaudet University got their way. After months of blocking off campus entries and occupying administration buildings, students and faculty at the school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., convinced the board of trustees that the university's provost, Jane K. Fernandes, should not be its next president.

Different protesters have different agendas, but there are many who seem to think that Ms. Fernandes is not qualified to lead the school because, they say, she is an "audist," someone who believes that the ways of hearing people are superior to those of the deaf. Ms. Fernandes, who is deaf, has not expressed these sentiments, but she did not learn sign language until she was in her 20s and she does seem to think that growing up in a hearing family and being taught in mainstream classrooms have their advantages.

A lot of groups in recent years--feminists, gays and lesbians, a variety of ethnic minorities, not to mentioned the disabled--have appropriated the language of the 1960s to describe their struggles. The students at Gallaudet have gone further, adopting the rhetoric and behavior of the more radical elements in the civil-rights movement. Like the black-power activists before them, the deaf are supposed to be an oppressed minority. And Ms. Fernandes is a sort of "Uncle Tom" figure who denies her own identity for the sake of pleasing the oppressor, that is, the hearing world. She has been accused of not being "deaf enough" the way certain blacks are not "black enough."
If this sounds slightly absurd, well, it is.

. . .

Religious folks talk about a person's soul, something intangible and permanent that makes people worthy of compassion whatever their condition or the choices they have made. The language of the Founders--referring to Creator-endowed "inalienable rights"--was, in that sense, soulful. The civil-rights protesters of the 1960s only wanted the rights bestowed by God to be recognized, finally, by man. In other words, they were appealing to a standard that was already there.

But now that intellectual relativism requires us to talk about "identities" not souls, the protesters have to discover other reasons they should be respected--like the supposed authenticity of "deaf culture." If they think the civil-rights struggles were tough, they may find the battle against common sense to be downright impossible."

Here's the whole thing.


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