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Crab Theory in Deaf Community: Gallaudet

ASL VIDEO - Crab Theory in Deaf Community: Gallaudet University.

The "Crab Theory" is used in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community as a metaphor to describe the tendency of some Deaf people to criticize or put down the successes or achievements of other Deaf people. It may take several different forms: malicious and negative gossip, grudges, social rejection, etc., and is directed against Deaf community leaders, successful Deaf business entrepreneurs or educational administrators, Deaf individuals who go to college while their Deaf peers never get beyond high school, Deaf people who "don't act Deaf enough", even ordinary Deaf individuals who do such positive things as buying a new car or marrying a good person.

The analogy is to a bucket of live crabs: whenever one crab attempts to escape the bucket by climbing out of it, the others reach up and pull it back down. The result, of course, is that no crab succeeds in escaping the bucket. Other groups, especially other minority groups, also use the "crab theory" to describe similar negativity within their own communities, but the "crab theory" is probably more widely mentioned and discussed within the Deaf community than in any other group.

This brief paper cannot attempt an analysis of the sometimes-complex psychological reasons for the practice of the "crab theory". However, certain common elements that tend to contribute to this phenomenon can be identified in the Deaf community.

Jealousy is often involved, of course: one Deaf person sees another Deaf person become successful while s/he still is not, so the first Deaf person tries to minimize feelings of "inferiority" by putting down the other Deaf person's success. This likely arises out of the low self-esteem frequently seen among Deaf people, often brought on from low expectations set for them by hearing parents and hearing educators, as well as from oppression by those same hearing persons (see related Deaf FAQ on Audism). This attitude by hearing authorities and parents that "Deaf people can't" gets internalized by many Deaf persons during their formative years and carries into adulthood. Self-oppression and internecine strife is a common result of low self-esteem in the Deaf community. To learn more about crab theory in the Deaf community -
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