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"Now keep in mind that I'm an artist.

And I'm sensitive about my shit." - Erykah Badu at the start of her "Tyrone" live performance


The day before my birthday, I had a long conversation w/ Ashley Koe. By the end of our sessions, I always gain new and transformative awareness about some stuff buried deep in my soul. Often, it be about things that need to be brought to the surface, acknowledged, thanked, and released in order for my internal energy to be focused all that makes me feel whole in this current season of my life.

During that recent conversation w/ Ashley, here’s what I learned:


For almost a decade, I viewed the code-switching skills (communicating in Ebonics, written and spoken English, SEE, ASL, etc.) I developed throughout childhood not as my greatest asset but as my greatest liability. The thing that helped me survive as a child in the space I was in (Louisiana, for example) was the same thing that kept me from thriving as an adult in the space I’m now in (D.C., for example). Or, so I thought...

I can recall different moments that contributed to this change in how I viewed myself. Here's one example: When I moved to D.C. ten years ago, one of my White Deaf professors at Gallaudet told me that when I choose to communicate in spoken English, I make other Deaf people who don’t communicate in spoken English “look bad.”


I received several messages like that from Deaf folks I looked up to for guidance and understanding on how to truly practice community care, especially in academia. In hindsight, some of them really didn’t know wtf they was talkin bout. In some cases, their "advice" was simply trauma responses that I sincerely hope has been checked by now.


To best access the spaces available to me so that I could feel a sense of belonging and pursue the desires of my heart, I used ALL of me - including my speaking voice. Connecting w/ the hearing family and friends around me required that I use my voice to participate in that circle, connecting w/ an audience while dancing required that I use my voice to participate on a dance team, and so on...as a Black Deaf child in Lafayette, Louisiana, that's what it took for me to survive AND thrive.


Shout out to the few who actually did help me understand community care better – Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, Dr. Joseph Hill, and more.

Another moment that affected my view of self over the past decade: One of the first Black Deaf friends I made in D.C. said that they didn't support the work of a well-known Black Deaf performer because that performer signs “too English…not pure ASL.” My friend - who I love and adore - is a fluent ASL user but grew up using S.E.E. (Signing Exact English) for educational access and privilege...just like me. At the time, I CLEARLY signed more English-ly than ASL. So, of course, I started feeling shame about my signing (in addition to the aforementioned shame about my speaking).


But look, the idea of purity, especially language purity – pure English, pure ASL, a “perfect” language use, etc. - is a myth reinforced by white supremacy. Know how that still plays out in my life today? I don’t release a lot of stuff I create because, in the end, it doesn’t look “pure” enough. I’m hella sensitive about my stuff and if it ain’t perfect - communicated as purely as possible via ASL and/or English, it ain’t good.


I got work to do, y’all, and that’s releasing my work. And fun stuff I create like this video of "Tyrone (LIVE)" in ASL. Lol. My inner child is litty. Who else grew up watching music videos on B.E.T. and absolutely acted like Erykah when her song came on? We was something serious.

Hmm...RELEASE should be my word for this new trip I'm taking around the sun, huh? (Ya girl turned 36 yesterday, btw!)


I’m pretty sure that the 90% of deaf people born into hearing families that do not sign would agree with me that childhood is hella lonely and you do whatever you possibly can to maximize your ability to “belong” in the spaces available around you. For many like me, code-switching is where it’s at.


Also, some may even agree that, as a child, no matter how hard you worked at belonging, you failed and when you failed – you blamed your body for betraying you.


You just couldn’t gain full access to the languages, and thus connections, you desired access to. :(

And THEN others may be like, "Hell yeah, THAT!" if I say we might...even as adults...at times...feel betrayed by our bodies when we sign and our messages don't come out perfectly because we can't "shake off" the not so fully accessible English we used to basically make it to adulthood.


Well...I give 26 year old Andrea some grace and compassion for developing and operating w/ shame for how she moved through spaces before and for blaming herself so recently for still "having" to move that way today.


It's okay, sis. You did what you did and still do what you do because that's the only way to allow yourself to be seen. For basically being human...because to be human is to be seen.

And...might I suggest you don’t f**k with 36 year old Andrea. I’ll check my trauma responses and you check yours.

Look, I love learning so, of course, imma still invest in language learning and practice. For the sake of expanding my language repertoire and deepening my capacity to connect w/ people, not for the sake of purity. So, don’t come for me unless I come for you (for language tutoring sessions, that is). 😘


Cheers to me being 36,


Andrea


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