Monday, June 29

Eye Opening Books

This is probably going to be a rambly post today--sorry! I was thinking about the books I've been reading over the last several months and what eye openers they've been. Why are people so mean to each other--especially in the name of God?

I grew up with deaf parents, deaf relatives and deaf friends. I learned early about discrimination and repression of deaf people. Yes, they've been repressed too. I can't tell you how many times I was asked as a small child, "Can they talk?" "Can they read?" "How can they drive a car?" "How can they have children?" I mean, DUH!

Way back when, my parents couldn't go to school with everyone else. They went to special schools for the deaf. My dad's education was better than my mom's because the teachers and students all signed freely. At my mom's signing wasn't allowed and all the communication was through lip reading. No one was even allowed to gesture. Sign language was looked upon as dummy language. Deaf men could be printers or machinists, never managers or lawyers or doctors. Deaf women could be seamstresses or key punch operators, and certainly never managers, lawyers or doctors. Things are better now but we're not there yet.

What's that got to do with eye opening books? Now I'll get to that. I knew that Jewish people and people of color were also different but I had no idea of the extent and cruelty we could have towards one another. I read Exodus by Leon Uris, The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee when I was in high school. We didn't learn about the holocaust in Nazi Germany during my school years. Up until I read Lee's book, I didn't understand what African Americans were so mad about in the late '60s. Genocide, discrimination, repression--who wouldn't be angry about that?

Here's a funny thing: although my parents suffered discrimination themselves, they also carried around very bigoted ideas. When I was growing up in the '60s, they'd ignorant things about Jewish people and people of color, specifically African Americans and Puerto Ricans. They would say that blacks are trouble makers for protesting injustices against them. They had stereotypical beliefs about Jewish people. My dad told me he would disown me if I ever dated or married a Puerto Rican. I wondered where their hatred came from. When books like Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas and Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody were first published, I was afraid to read them because I knew my parents would disapprove and because I was afraid of what the books might say.

I joined a book club a few months ago on a support forum I visit regularly. Recently, one of the members chose a book called Prayers for Bobby by Mary Griffith. The book is about a young gay man who killed himself because he'd learned (from his mother & prevailing religious beliefs) to hate himself. He jumped from a bridge onto a highway below because he couldn't stand to live with himself anymore. I was shocked and saddened by the things I read in the book; that the suicide rate for teenagers is highest among the gay kids; that in the name of our loving God, parents and other people would condemn gay people instead of opening their hearts and churches to them. I remembered the gay pride parades and gay rights movements but am sorry to say I hadn't given them much thought--just as I hadn't given much thought to the Jews or the African Americans until I started to read about what had happened to them.

After that, I found both Down These Mean Streets and Coming of Age in Missippi at a book sale at the library and read them. They made me feel sick to my stomach and thoroughly disgusted that these things could happen in our country, so wealthy and supposedly "the land of the free". Free, yes--if you are white and Protestant (both of which I am). But what about everyone else? This country is for all of us, not just us white heterosexual Protestants!

Now...let's see what else I've got to read around here?


Celeste said...

It is horrible what people have gone thru just because of their race, sexual preferences, religion, and physical. I am hard of hearing almost profound deafness. I remember being denied a job at McDonalds because of it. Yes I know that is the reason because I was told so. After a few heart brreaking moments like that I stopped letting anybody know I could not hear them. I think because of my problem I was more open to the problems others had.
What you said about your parents reminded me of an article I reaxd somewhere about having deaf parents that were bigots towards other races, people of hearing, etc.

katztales said...

Alexander Bell (the telephone man) had some odd ideas about training deaf people. He used his father's system Visible Speech where "each phonetic symbol indicated a definite position of the organs of speech such as lips, tongue, and soft palate and could be used by the deaf to imitate the sounds of speech in the usual way." Britannica which was great but he HATED sign language. Weird huh?

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