Deaf and Black

Being deaf and of African descent can be very tricky - just on an identity level. Often people in such circumstances have always faced the identity issue of whether they are black first or deaf first - and which condition they find more troubling. Racism. Or the lack of understanding from hearing people.

The other issue is that not everyone who has hearing difficulties is actually deaf. Some may simply have trouble hearing and have been that way since birth - or perhaps they worked in a workplace that had inadequate ear protection.

Which means they could get a hearing aid - for which there are many fashionable hearing aids out there available now. All they need is a hearing test at their local hearing clinic, eg. The Omni Hearing Clinic in Vaughan, or your local hearing centre that sells hearing aids, has an audiologist and presumably does hearing tests. In which case such people who are partially deaf or even mostly deaf could have some semblance of a normal life.

But if a hearing aid won't help, and hearing loss is complete / catastrophic - or you were born deaf, then you really don't have much option but to start learning American Sign Language, hanging out with other people who are "signers", and living out your life as you see fit.

From my perspective, being black / of African descent is really just incidental. Being deaf or having hearing damage, that is a much bigger worry when it comes to living your life, finding work, dealing with discrimination, etc.

The beauty of it however is that there many things people with hearing damage / deafness can still do. You can see examples further below of famous black deaf people who were very successful in their chosen careers.

Below is a collection of resources that are available for deaf people of African descent.

Deaf African-American Organizations

The first and best resource is the organization National Black Deaf Advocates. The NBDA holds annual conferences and has chapters nationwide. Another organization, the National Alliance of Black Interpreters, is for African-American interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Books on Deaf African Americans

A few books have been written about being deaf and African American:
  • One book is Sounds Like Home, a book by a black deaf woman about growing up black and deaf in the South.
  • Together with Linwood Smith, Ernest Hairston wrote the book Black and Deaf in America (ISBN 0932666183).
  • Another book, which I have not read, is Deaf, Dumb and Black: An Account of the Life of a Family, by Mary Miller-Hall, published by Carlton Press Corp. in 1994.
There is also a poem, "Journey of a Black, Deaf Woman", by Deborah Broadus.

I said, "I'm Black and Beautiful."
"They" said, "You're Deaf!"
Thus effectively restricting me, isolating me
Outside their silent voiced boundaries.
I withdrew, camouflaged,
A self-designed mantle of invisibility.
Wounded, rejected, I in turn rejected; not to wither,
But to shelter and protect that which was fragile.
I fought my way though the silent pandemonium of "their" voices;
On a quiet quest;
To reunite my fragmented self, splintered by
Voiceless opinions spoken with harsh eyes.
My goal: a whole soul, indivisible.
Whole and strong, unwounded by "their" disdainful ignorance.
I grew without the irrigation/irritation of "their" loud, voiceless disapproval.
They beheld as I grew; face to the sun.
Battling constantly not to shatter and become this image "they" assigned to me.
That broken by misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
Lost in the lexis written on pages in books contained by binders,
I understood the unspoken, thus became that which I strove to attain.
I found myself within these expressions.
Words; visible, vain, terminology helped to heal the shattered image.
No longer invisible, I stand Black and Deaf;
And "they?" Now "they" say,
"You're Black and Beautiful!"

Notable Deaf African Americans

Deaf African-American Athletes Curtis Pride was a deaf African-American baseball player. Kenny Walker was a professional deaf football player.
Deaf African-American Entertainers
C.J. Jones is a deaf male African-American performer; Michelle Banks is a deaf female African-American performer.
Deaf African American Writers
Connie Briscoe, former managing editor of American Annals of the Deaf, writes novels. Lindsay Dunn is a deaf African-American speaker and writer.
Other Deaf African Americans
Claudia Gordon is an accomplished deaf African-American lawyer.

Historic Deaf African Americans

One well-known deaf African American in history is Andrew Foster.

Research On Deaf African Americans

Some articles and doctoral theses have been published about deaf African Americans.
  • The Gallaudet University library in Washington, DC has a thesis on file, "A resilience model for transition of African American deaf and hard of hearing students through four-year post-secondary programs," by Carolyn Estelle Williamson (2003). Another thesis also on file at Gallaudet University library is "Gender, racial, and deaf identity development and self-esteem in Black, deaf women" by Monica Annette Robb (2002).
  • The March 1998 (volume 143, issue no. 1) issue of American Annals of the Deaf had an article on black deaf teenagers, "The association between raceless and achievement among African American deaf students."
  • Cambridge Press published the book Cultural and Language Diversity and the Deaf Experience, which includes the article "In Search of Self: Experiences of a Post-Lingually Deaf African-American," by Dianne K. Brooks.
  • The National Multicultural Interpreter Project website has downloadable pdfs of a cultural knowledge and sensitivity curriculum, including reference information.

Teachers and Parents of Deaf African Americans

Teachers and parents of deaf African-American children may want to check out the archived Deaf and African American Children article on It discusses ethnicity, educational, communication, and cultural needs. There is also a book, Black Deaf Students: A Model for Educational Success, that is based on interviews with nine academically successful deaf African Americans.

Rare Deaf African American Materials

Gallaudet University library also has some rare deaf African American materials that can not be taken out of the library, such as the book The Mississippi School for Negro Deaf, 1950-1951. There are also clippings in the University Archives of articles about deaf African Americans.

Video Material on Deaf-African Americans

Gallaudet University library also has a video library, which contains the following sample video materials about deafness and African Americans:
  • Black ASL: The Socio-historical Foundations by Drs. Carolyn McCaskill and Ceil Lucas. This is a signed only video presentation from 2008 about a black dialect of American Sign Language, Black ASL.
  • Archived editions of Deaf Mosaic online at Gallaudet University also had segments on deaf African Americans. Research of the Deaf Mosaic video library turned up these segments on deaf African Americans:
    • Deaf Mosaic #611 had a segment on "I Didn't Hear That Color," a play about deaf African-American culture.
    • Deaf Mosaic #404 had a segment on Andrew Foster, who had recently died.
    • Deaf Mosaic#112 had a segment on Earnest Hairston.
    • Deaf Mosaic #202 had a segment on the late Linwood Smith, Jr.

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