dimanche, mai 22, 2005



Many times during her career, Eni Orlandi had had many happy insights to make challenging questions that forced progressive scholars to rethink assumptions and face their own prejudices and misconceptions. One of her recurrent questions was about the relation between the self-proclaimed Pro-Indian Whites and the Indians themselves:
Why do we assume that it is the Indians that need our help? Why couldn't the Indians think that it is us who need their help?

Many disliked such question because the answer uncovered the denied presupposition that our White Western civilisation is superior to the Indian ones and that we the Whites know the truth and they do not, etc. In brief, her question made us see our paternalism covered by an intended progressivism.

The same question could be somehow transferred to the World of the so called handicapped and the status of Sign Languages in our society, where the individuals seem themselves as normal and abnormal. There is no a priori strong reason to believe that the Deaf and the Blind are the ones who need our help and that the contrary does not happen. Blind people develop other abilities that we the Sighted often do not, just like the Deaf in comparison to the Hearer. I, for instance, cannot always tell what someone is saying just by looking at his lips, and cannot guess what physical characteristics someone possesses just by hearing his voice.

If natural endowments plainly justified the paternalist attitude described above, different groups could claim the right to practice a form of conversed paternalism. For instance, any Deaf, having developed certain abilities and knowing Sign Languages, could feel piety on the Hearers and perhaps start a philanthropic and charitable movement to help them to live without being dependent on their ears.

My hypothesis, which is shared by many others, is that the paternalism and the charitable and philanthropic characters, which had in the past been often present in movements and organisations in favour of minorities and oppressed groups, had nothing to do with the acknowledged disadvantages of such groups, but with the necessity of preserving the power structure without changes in the social hierarchy. The unconscious idea was that such groups could be somehow included in the mainstream society, have their difficulties mitigated, be accepted and even enjoy some degree of apparent equality of rights, but might not share real power, which should remain in the hands of the prevailing normal groups. The superiority of the so called normal would accordingly rest in the rule we help you, but not vice-versa.