Into the Pit

English is below the video box

NOTE: correction – title of Nancy Rourke’s artwork is “In the Pit” (video has error saying “Into…”)  text below has correct title

Today I’m gonna open this up.

“In the Pit” by Nancy Rourke

(holds up brown paper wrapped painting)

(holds up painting “In the Pit by Nancy Rourke” Black streaked background with black and white hands with blue tape X in the pit and ASL etched in the corner)

Why has this artwork affected me so much?
A while back I taught a course on Deaf People During World War II, which had a focus on the Holocaust. I have also met many survivors of the Holocaust. I have interviewed some Jewish Deaf survivors of the Holocaust, videotaping them and documenting their histories. In doing that, I had to do research in the photo archives of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum – looking for images that would match up and could be edited into the visual history testimonies of the Deaf survivors. I saw many many images of Jewish people being forced into pits. Mass graves. Often the Jewish people themselves were forced at gun point to dig graves, many of them knew what was coming – that they would be shot and left in these pits. I saw images of women and children and babies – everyone slaughtered. And I am always left wondering “HOW?” “How could this ever have happened?”
So with THIS artwork

We see hands with blue tape, representing Oralism, in the pit. And ASL is abandoned there in the pit also. I have put off vlogging or blogging about this artwork. I have even put off opening this artwork.

I have refused to open it for so so so long.

Why? The biggest reason why is because it is too painful. The truth of it – of our situation, of our world circumstances – it is TOO painful.

I do my best to face the truths, I do my best to confront oppressive systems. At the same time sometimes it feels too impossible. The system is too big and I am too small.

This artwork to me – represents the 2nd wave of Oralism. We have already experienced the 1st wave of Oralism, which most of you know of from 1880 Milan.

The 2nd wave of Oralism means what? It means the forcing of Oralism – the banning of signing and the punishment that comes when a child signs. That 2nd wave started here in the US when different corporations began pushing Cochlear implantations, telling parents they “must, must, must” via early “intervention” and the newborn Hearing screening. Once an infant / child is detected to be Deaf the push for cochlear implants and AVT (Auditory Verbal Therapy) begins.

The tandem team of CI implanting and AVT (oral / aural only) has been building momentum for the past 20 years.

Oral Deaf schools are back and increasing all over the country

Deaf schools that use sim-com or some type of signing are closing one by one

Illinois School for the Deaf uses Cued Speech in the classrooms

This is the 2nd wave – the great PUSH – of Oralism

(holds up artwork “Into the Pit”)

Its true.


Its real.

So this artwork affects me because… I know its real.

Because I meet survivors of the 2nd wave every day

I meet survivors of the 1st wave every day

Because too many of us for too long have played the 3 evils of the hear no, see no, say no monkeys

We will say – “oh yeah back then there was horrible punishment against signing.” We always emphasized the “way back then…” as if it were a thing of the past. That is not true. It is happening AGAIN!

I feel emotional why? Because when engaging in different peaceful protests about education, language rights and human rights – who tends to show up? Deaf people who come from Deaf families or Deaf people who had Hearing parents but have their own Deaf children. They have created a 2nd generation of Deaf people. The 2nd generation (or more folks) or the folks who created a 2nd generation know all too well and intimately about the 2nd wave of Oralism. They know both the first and second wave of Oralism. Whereas the majority of members of our Deaf communities often turn away from this truth, they don’t worry about it. They almost seem to not even care.

Why? Most of them come from Hearing parents and they were born Deaf or became Deaf later from illness or fever and later they in turn have Hearing children. To them what it means to be Deaf is just one generation thick. They don’t really care that much about the next generation. Well, yes they do care conceptually but care enough to actually DO something, to take some ACTion on behalf of our beloved communities – no, certainly not as much as it should be.

When it relates to issues of jobs, something that directly affects them – then yes you will see folks be more ACTive. I commend taking a stand on that issue (employment) and support it. Yet to see folks not take a stand on behalf of all our peoples as a people – hmmmm.

Regarding Holocaust studies – a great many Jewish people were murdered and one big reason why was because so many other people did nothing. They said “well I am not Jewish, it does not affect me, or my children or my future.”


That mind set terrifies me. Truly terrifies me.

When human beings become so selfish, hard hearted and cruel.

(added here – indifference to me is often cruel)
Thankfully during the Holocaust there were many good people “rescuers” who risked their lives and the lives of their families. I really commend and admire them. If I were in their predicament, I can honestly say I don’t know what I would have done. I’m so grateful to them.

At the same time MANY people were slaughtered. Many children were slaughtered.

While what we are facing here is thankfully not an overt and systematic genocide. It is not. But it is part of a genocide. Some people get upset with the use of the term genocide here. Many scholars and authors have written that indeed what we are facing is a linguistic and cultural genocide. (holds up “In the Pit” and nods head YES)

Its true.

It is true.

If you look at the UN conventions on genocide – many of those parameters fit what the Deaf world is facing today and for Deaf peoples in other nations it is far worse. It is a linguistic and cultural genocide. There is a systematic effort to TAKE AWAY the languages, cultures, values and the rights of BEING Deaf peoples as a group – ethnicity and collective – it is being actively removed, campaigned against by division, mainstreaming/assimilation/isolation, and removal.

That systematic push – the 1st and 2nd wave of Oralism has caused many deaths. It has. We need to face that. That is the thing I hate the most to look at. Because these deaths are horrible, murder and hatred are horrible.

I can express more and more but I don’t want to go on and on. You know peoples’ attention today is geared towards things that are short, flashy, upbeat, or very dramatic ASL that holds the attention. To consider something long, deep, emotional, heavy, upsetting, most don’t want to see such. I also need to protect myself. Putting out ones heart felt feelings on something is very difficult. Often when doing so we will encounter folks who minimize, or harshly disagree, or twist or say prove it. Which makes me feel annoyed and then even after proving all the points, will still encounter more who say “I need to see more proof” and we end up wasting our time when we should be challenging the true systematic oppressors.

Some of us are ready. Some of us have been studying, researching, talking with, feeling, experiencing these truths and are ready to lock arms in solidarity and march forward.

So I delayed opening this artwork because I know it is true. I know it is real and many have already been put into the pit and many more will be thrown into the pit. I feel responsible. I feel have not personally done enough. I feel our communities here and all over the globe have not done enough.

There are a variety of reasons of why we keep getting trapped and don’t make much progress. One reason is because many of our leaders believe they need to imitate the oppressive systems in order to beat it. This means that they think the way to break through is to dress in a tie and talk and walk and behave like the oppressor – to learn their ways to prove they are worthy. Others believe in working in the system so they can try to nudge things this or that way and many other approaches.

From my studies of histories – one thing that has really been effective in changing viciously oppressive systems – to really shake them up and uproot them – is Civil Disobedience, Noncooperation, Direct Action. Those methods that Gandhi taught us (the small bald Indian man with glasses who got England out of India) – how he did this was through peaceful activism. It took years and years and years… Same with the Civil Rights movement here in the U.S. – Black people stood for years and years and years to get schools integrated, laws passed, jobs increased, etc. They are still facing horrible racism today but those laws and actions brought about real change – real important and positive change. Solve everything – no but part of the process which is so important.

This issue is very upsetting to me because I know it is huge and it feels like we are too late. We are not too late. There are many many things we can still do and will do and should do and that is good.

But I have to and I hope you have to too – MOURN. We need to mourn the fact that many Deaf people are gone. (crying) Some were killed directly from cochlear implantation surgery, complications, infections etc. Some have taken their own lives. I believe the Deaf communities may have a high rate of suicides and attempted suicides. Psychologists have not really studied that yet. Folks seem to study everything else about Deaf bodies except Deaf folks emotional well-being in the face of systematic oppression. They never study that – instead all the focus is on studying the ears and mouths and such.

We have really lost a great many people – children, adults, all ages – especially teenagers. Teen age years are often an intense time of crisis for Deaf people. Some people discuss that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is very high amongst Deaf people). Many things.

Thank you for watching me open the artwork.

I’m happy I finally opened it.

Now I am more committed to facing this challenge today and hence forth. At the same time – today or yesterday I saw on Facebook that Nancy Rourke, the same artist who made (Points off screen at “In the Pit”) has a new very large painting – entitled the 2nd Wave of Milan. It’s perfect. I think I was waiting for that painting to be finished before I opened this one. They seem to be sisters.

(looking at “In the Pit” again and getting emotional)

So I hope you will do something. If you feel you don’t know what to do – Deaf prisoners situation, Deaf children, EHDI, Newborn Hearing screening, Illinois School for the Deaf … if it all seems too big – It’s alright. Just pick one thing. Pick one thing and start picking away at it. I really think the situation at the Illinois School warrants our attention – see their FB page “Ban Audism at Illinois School for the Deaf”



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