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Double Consciousness = Deaf Leaders?

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My husband was telling me about an interesting story he heard on MPR, “Double Consciousness.” The Minnesota Public Radio announcer was talking about double consciousness from the perspective of African-American individuals. Double consciousness is a term describing the inner struggles experienced by marginalized individuals in an oppressive society. It was coined by W. E. B. Du Bois with reference to African-American “double consciousness,” including his own, and published his work, The Souls of Black Folk. The term is described as the psychological challenge of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of a racist white society, and “measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt”. Du Bois’ work is based on his personal experiences. He merges his African heritage and upbringing in a European-dominated society phenomenon. My interest grew instantly when I learned that double consciousness has been applied to many other instances of social inequality. Could this apply to deaf individuals… or individuals with disabilities?

After, I set out to explore a bit more about double consciousness; I was curious to see if would apply to people with disabilities. I came across Temple Grandin, a notable national speaker and an academic with Autism. In an article, Dr. Grandin shares her personal experience with her disability, which parallels what DuBois’ calls double consciousness. She stated, “the peculiar sensation…of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Dr. Grandin’s powerful quote resonated deeply for me. I began to think about my own experiences as a leader and as a Deaf individual. I work in an environment basically made up of all hearing or able-bodied individuals. Very few are acutely aware and respectful of who I am and others, well… I struggle with a range of daily demoralizing acts. Two significant phenomenon that I often notice happening. The first phenomenon is a perpetual cycle of deciphering the judgment and decree of who I am through the eyes of the judge. Maybe judge is a harsh word. Regardless, the ignorance and oblivion that cloaks the able-bodied individual; the impact of being judged by that unaware, entitled individual is just that… harsh.

Secondly, it is the tiresome act of actively sustaining my true self including the whole package… abilities, skills, dreams, passions and potential. Unfortunately, the assumptions are often quite deceiving, patronizing and dangerously disparaging. It is amazing how much energy is expended in proving others wrong. Sometimes, the beliefs are so convincingly real… it is not a wonder why one would doubt herself. The vicious trap of emotional quandaries is just plain scary!

But, wait… the discovery of double consciousness offers the comfort that we are not alone in this ridiculous standard. A wrong standard can be righted with the right kind of consciousness.

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