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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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On the Beat of Truth: A Hearing Daughter’s Stories of Her Black Deaf Parents
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Arnell repeated the word “nightmare” several times.

“Oh Lawd, please, please Herbert, let it go. Dis here has been a nightmare. A nightmare, I tell ya, a plain nightmare. Let it go,” she pleaded. “She’s poor. You’ll git nothin’. And it’s goin’ to cost you a whole lotta money to hire a lawyer, too.”

My father told me to tell Arnell that the woman owns her home. And then he asked Arnell, almost as an afterthought, how much a lawyer would cost.

“Well, you tell him, Maxine, that it’s gonna cost him hundreds and hundreds of dollars.” As I translated this for Daddy, I saw him become devastated as the prospect of justice visited became a piercing disappointment; he knew that his sixty-five-dollar- a-week salary wouldn’t allow him to pay for a lawyer.

“I sue her,” he repeated it several times.

But Aunt Arnell was just as adamant. “Let it go,” she pleaded. “The woman is poor. You’ll git nothin’.”

I signed, “No money from woman. Woman poor.”

My father reminded Arnell for a second time that the woman owned her own home, but Aunt Arnell resorted to a threat: “If you do this, I’m not gonna help you.” As I interpreted these words to Daddy, I saw him stare at her, seething, not believing she had the audacity to refuse to help him. He stood up, and without saying good-bye to his sister, he walked out of the room, turned, and beckoned for me to join him.

“Come, we go home.”

We put on our coats and walked into the dark night, down Twelfth Street to H Street, where there were many lit shops dotting the bus route where we waited for the X2 Seat Pleasant bus. As we stepped onto the nearly empty bus, I picked a seat near the driver and squeezed my body by the window, allowing Daddy lots of space next to me near the aisle. I looked over at his face, no longer beige, but now a pasty taupe color. The muscles in his face were tight, his lips rigid.

As I stared out the bus window, I couldn’t see through the glass since the overhead light inside the bus made the window a glaring reflection of myself. Looking at the window as if it were a mirror, I witnessed Daddy’s woeful despair. That’s when the image came to my mind of deaf people talking about Daddy, thinking he was guilty, even though he was found not guilty. I could see them now, signing, “Herbert must go jail. He show children his . . .” and then they would point to that part of the anatomy between their legs at the crotch of their pants and use the sign of the pointing finger shaking up and down. Some would shake their heads in shock, others would snigger and make fun of him, and still others would say something like “He like many girls, I not surprised.”

Yes, I now understood why he felt so humiliated, ashamed. And maybe some of his hearing friends at work believed that he could do such a thing, too.

Then I thought about that woman in court, who was so adamant that my father was the one who exposed himself. I thought to myself, “Daddy! Daddy! If it would make you happy, then you should sue her.” But I didn’t say anything to him and just kept my hands in my lap.

Several years later I realized the extent of Daddy’s determination to seek retaliation against the woman who made the charges against him. He paid a heavy price as a result of her accusation: loss of reputation, personal shame, and a feeling of general humiliation for deaf people on the whole. Perhaps my father minimized the price the woman herself may have paid: the impact of her daughter’s frightening experience. In his mind, the prices they each paid were not equal. The woman and her daughter did not pay a heavy enough price since they both could resume their lives, and the mother could encourage her daughter to move beyond the egregious incident. Daddy wanted to level the playing field by suing the woman, so that she would suffer as he had suffered, and would continue to suffer in the years to come.

Yes, Herbert wanted to get his revenge. But he didn’t know how. He never sued the woman. But he never was able to let the anger go.

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