Devon Hall is a writer from British Columbia, Canada; who wanted to write about being a survivor of sexual abuse or the discrimination Devon has faced for being a black woman. Instead Devon decided to write an open letter to the deaf community, addressing her own able privilege and declaring her allyship with the deaf community. We at ASLI felt it was important to have a voice which addresses how checking ones privilege is not a declaration that you are a bad person, but instead that acceptance of your own privileges can be rewarding and a step towards intersectionality within our world.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am 33 years old and I live in Surrey, BC. I’ve dealt with over twenty years of abuse and finally I think I am able to call myself a survivor. I’m learning day by day how to cope with what happened, and how to better my life for the future.
What is your artistic/creative background?
I don’t really have one…I just always knew that I loved music and needed to be surrounded by it. I knew from a very early age – like age four, that I wanted to and would be one day, a writer.
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I think about sexual abuse a lot – what happened to me obviously – but also how to help others. I’ve always wanted to inspire people and to think outside the box.
I have absolutely no right, to write about the Deaf community. Being that I am not deaf but I started watching Switched at Birth last night and I’m having a rather profound epiphany. Several years ago I was walking down the street when a man handed me a card. Without acknowledging him, or even really reading the card I took it and kept walking.
I looked down quietly and then it hit me. The man didn’t say a word because he couldn’t say a word. After reading the card I realized he was Deaf. Years later while working at a Church, I met a family full of people whom were either Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
I think back to that family and realize that I failed them. I failed mom, dad and children. I failed them because I expected them, without realizing it, to work harder to communicate with me, instead of me working harder to communicate with them.
When I got up to help my mom (who lives in a wheelchair) and walk my dog, I found myself not speaking. It wasn’t intentional, it was nearly twenty-three consecutive hours of sitting on my couch watching this show. I even found myself signing the word “Go” to my dog. Again, not on purpose, I laughed at myself for a moment before it hit me.
There is a beauty in the silence I choose to have. You don’t have that choice though do you? Many of you live isolated from sound, never hearing the birds sing or a dog bark. You don’t yell audibly, and you cannot scream for help if you need it.
For a very long time I have felt sorry for myself. Feeling like the Universe owed me something because I suffered so long; Because I was abused for so long.
I will never understand what it is like to be Deaf.
I admit that when I have seen people using sign language in the past, I have stared. I admit that I am fascinated with your world. With your culture, your language. You see the world in colour, in shape, in art, instead of sound.
I have the full use of all of my senses, all five of them but I have not been using them to fly, to soar, or to reach my full potential. I’ve always wanted to learn ASL but I never really taken the effort before. I guess I always thought It seemed hard, and I was afraid to try out of sheer laziness.
With everything going on in the world and the millions of voices screaming to be heard it occurs to me your voices can be heard – they often go ignored.
I don’t really know what I expect to come from this post, I suppose I just wanted you all to know you have one more person willing to listen, to watch your fingers fly, to watch them create the magic that is your language…if you’re willing to share your voice.
All my love,
Devon J Hall
What is your process when creating?
Procrastination (she laughed) A lot of it. A lot of my writing is written in my head before I ever type a word, and it usually never ends up being what I planned.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
Charles Bivona! He’s a (newly) published poet I’ve been following for years on Twitter. He’s an amazingly inspiring man and although I tell him often I don’t really think he realises how much he’s inspired and pushed me to keep writing even when I don’t feel like it.
Who inspires you in general?
Art, Music, people. You can find inspiration anywhere. I think I get the –most- inspiration on the quiet days. When I’m out walking and I turn off the music, I just stop and listen to the wind whistle through the trees. The universe has a lot to say if you’re willing to listen.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
I’m an empath. So I find that I am passionate about just about every cause that comes my way. Normies call this Bleeding Heart Syndrome. Mostly I like to believe that I try to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
Art – whether it’s music, dance, whatever… is an outlet. You take all you’re feeling, all you’re thinking all your pains and your joys and put it into your art. You leave it on whichever canvas you need to and you can release it into the world. Some people jump out of plans, others drink…we create.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
I think if I couldn’t write, if I couldn’t create I don’t know who I would be honestly. I think that a world without art would be a world destroyed indeed.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
My only goal, has ever been to inspire someone. To believe in themselves, to love themselves, and to spread that love wherever they go.
Have you experienced any form of discrimination; and if so what was it based on and how did you deal with this?
Well. I am a Black Practising Spiritualist (Witch Craft included) who is also Scottish, English Irish and Gypsy. Because of my dark skin I will never be accepted by any Gypsy Clan and because I am a woman I will always be seen as “less than” by men.
What are your opinions on what causes discrimination?
It is easy to say that people just don’t care, but in reality I think for some it’s easy to pretend that it doesn’t happen or exist because then they don’t have to deal with it. I think people discriminate against the norm out of fear and jealousy in all honesty.
What do you do to actively stand against discrimination and have you ever had to intervene as a witness to it?
I used to work in a Church that dealt with a lot of people who were dealing with drug addiction and mental health issues. I saw people who were supposedly good Christians making fun of these people. Behaving as if their lives mattered less because they’d been abused and drawn to drug addiction for escape.
What are your opinions on labels and stereotypes?
As my friend Shilpa will tell you flat out, I believe labels are for soup cans.
What are your opinions on national identity and in your opinion does nationalism create or deter discrimination?
I think it’s awesome to be able to say “I’m Canadian and my good friend ___ is Indian.” I think that we should be proud of our nationalities, without letting those imaginary lines separate us. We’re all One Race after all.
What social privileges do you have? For example: are you white, able bodied/minded, a man, rich, heterosexual, thin… etc.
I think really I’m just lucky that I live in a country that recognises basic human rights. I would say that from someone looking in from a war torn country I’m certainly privileged. Life isn’t perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better than those living in war torn or “third” world countries.
Have you ever experienced social stigmatisation and if so what was it based on and how did you deal with this?
When I grew up in Calgary I was one of only a couple other Black kids in School. The fact that I was obviously different helped in making me an outcast. It also made me who I am however – I spent a life time trying to fit in. Now I’m spending my life not caring what others think of me. That was a tough lesson to learn.
Have you ever contributed to the stigmatisation of any individual or group, and if so were you aware you did this and how did you deal with this aftermath?
I think before I “woke up” so to speak, I think that I was so angry at being abused and bullied I am certain I probably hurt people along the way when I lashed out.
What are your opinions on political powers and world leaders using stigmatisation against certain groups to further their own agendas, such as with Muslims, Black people, LGBTQ individuals, mentally ill and disabled people?
I think it fucking sucks.
Do you support or take part in any anti-stigma organisations or charities and if so which ones and why?
Yes. The church I used to work in had a lot of people who didn’t care for victims, people of colour, LBGTQ etc. I worked there because I honestly thought that if I was there at least these people still had a voice.
In your own words please tell us how you feel the arts and creativity can further help to empower, communicate and educate people with regards to discrimination, privilege and stigmatisation?
Art makes you ask questions. When you see a painting or read a book you end up inevitably asking yourself what the artist was trying to say. It’s these sorts of questions that get people talking.
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