The Promised Land…Lessons to Learn

November 11, 2008

by Bryen Yunashko

Kudos to President-Elect Barack Obama and supporters for breaking the barrier and placing the first African-Amercan President in the White House.  Since the historic election on November 4th, much has been said that the Promised Land has been reached.

‘Promised Land’ was the phrase used to lead the Jewish people to the Promised Land of Israel.  Centuries later, in the 20th century, it was used represent the symbolic leadership of African-Americans to empowerment.

But what exactly does Promised Land mean?  And did we really reach it or did we reach an important milestone on the way to the Promised Land?

In 1988, we in the Deaf Community also experienced our own Promised Land.  We took over Gallaudet University and refused to yield until the incoming hearing President of Gallaudet University was replaced by a Deaf President.  I was living in California at the time and remember the exact moment, when I was at a gas station filling up my tank when someone who knew I was Deaf came running over to tell me she had just heard on the radio that the incoming Hearing president would resign and be replaced by a Deaf President.  There were others with me at the station and we were running around jumping for joy.  What a scene we must have made for passersby who thought we were a bunch of young kooks.

This incident was just over 20 years ago already, and it still represents one of the most historic moments in our Deaf History.

But did we truly reach the Promised Land that day? No.  But we did pass an important milestone.  There was still more work to do.  However, because we passed that milestone, it became the impetus to yet another important milestone two years later.  The Americans with Disabilities Act.  Now, not only were we empowered to take charge of our destiny in 1988, we were also promoted to equal class citizenship in this country.

But we still hadn’t reached the Promised Land.   Technology held us back.  In 1992, a piece of legislation was passed to mandate that all new televisions include a built-in closed-captioning decoder chip, despite strong resistance by television manufacturers.  I still remember the quote I read by one industry lobbyist before Congress at the time.  “If Deaf people couldn’t afford to buy a decoder, what makes you think they can afford to buy a television?”  What boneheaded statements made about a cheap $5 chip, compared to the spiraling costs of televisions today without any concern by these same manufacturers about its burden to consumers.

Technology has taken a huge lurch forward in the 21st century and clearly benefitted us in the Deaf Community.  Already a close-knit community, we’ve expanded our ability to network amongst ourselves and to quickly be aware of what’s going on out there outside our world.  Information is instantaneous to any of us.  Videophones have virtually replaced all other telecommunications devices we have used and now even our relay conversations with hearing callers are near-instantaneous.

So, are we now in the Promised Land?  There’s still employers out there who discriminate against prospective Deaf hires, who become fearful because they do not understand what being Deaf means and how they would have to work with such a person.    There’s still people out there who think being deaf means you have a lowered sense of intelligence and ability to fit into society.  And there’s still many misconceptions about us that exist out there.

So, when I hear the phrase “Promised Land” repeated often over the past week, I can’t help but wonder what does it mean and did we really reach it?  A single man broke the barrier and won the job of President of the United States.  But to really prove that we’ve reached the Promised Land, America has to prove itself in the years to come.  Sadly, but truly, there will still be discrimination in the workplace, there will still be people walking the streets fearful when they know an African-American is walking behind them, there will still be persistent and negative stereotypes of African-Americans.

But Barack Obama represents the Promised Land for all of us, not just African-Americans.  The plans he has talked about represent some significant changes in how we address institutional discrimination and equality.  But they are not the perfect ultimate plans.  There’s still much work to be done.  The problems we have experienced in our society did not melt away the day Obama was elected, and they will not go away the day Obama is sworn in.

The Promised Land represents two important components to achieve the goals of the Promised Land.  One:  There needs to be a leader.  It appears today that President-Elect Obama is that leader.  Two:  There needs to be followers who march towards that goal.  And it appears we have a significant coalition to help us all march towards that goal.

Hidden in the results of the historic election day of November 4th, 2008 were two sobering obstacles.  While the Electoral College represented a huge landslide, the popular vote was separated by just 7 million votes.  Out of 119 million voters, only 7 million made the difference.  There is still a significant division of ideology in America.   Take for example, California.  The state that voted for a very liberal candidate, also voted for Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriages in its state constitution.  How did a state vote liberally and conservatively at the same time?

But we’re not there yet, and the road still isn’t very clear yet.  How we get there, and when we get there depends on all of us as Americans coming together, regardless of your race, creed, gender, physical ability, or relgious beliefs.

But I do believe the Promised Land is within sight…

Thank you- DEAF DEMOCRATS Editors


One comment

  1. Promised land? You’ve got to kidding. I hope he fails, policy-wise. I am certainly not interested in seeing liberalism and socialism succeed.

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