EDITOR’S NOTE: Multiple Kappa Gamma members contacted Deaf Vee Journal, as they felt it was necessary for us to add some of their statements, including the statement that the posted image of Joel Barish was posted as a retaliatory measure against Joel himself due to a bad business deal. The Kappa Gamma brothers also wanted us to ensure that the community understands that while the fraternity has had a long history of wrong-doings, the fraternity is working on improvements.
As of yesterday, Deaf Nation lost their contractual collaboration with Convo Relay as evidenced in Convo Relay’s public announcement: “Convo has decided to terminate our live programming agreement with DeafNation. In the coming week, we will share a new plan for our future live shows.” Convo felt it necessary to terminate their agreement, and it appears to be because of the anger community members have expressed towards Joel Barish, one of Deaf Nation’s owners. Community members base their argument that Barish is racist on photographic evidence, his own words in his response to the photos, and his past behavior in separate instances.
A single chapter Deaf fraternity at Gallaudet University, Kappa Gamma is well known for their elitism as they have a historical pattern of accepting pledges only from privileged backgrounds. Some photos have surfaced of Kappa Gamma from the 1989-1990 academic year–with at least one involving Joel Barish. In the first photo, (removed at the request of the Fraternity because of other members in the picture), Barish is shown with 9 other Kappa Gamma brothers, and most of the brothers are using what appears to be the anti-Semitic Nazi salute with their right arm fully extended outwards and their fingers put together side-by-side. (The individual that took the photograph stated that the members were not keeping their hands in one place–they were just trying to distract him. At this particular time, it just so happened that all the members had their arms straight and some of their hands with their fingers pointed straight up, not parallel to their arm, indicating that the Nazi salute would be an inaccurate interpretation of their intentions.) A second photo, available online and shown below, displays the entire fraternity using the Bellamy salute but with their faces covered, meaning that it was not possible to identify the brothers by name. Word has gone around that high-ranking Deaf White men, including Tim Rarus and Gregory Hilbok, are in these photos. (Rarus and Hlibok are presumed to be in the photograph below). An anonymous source told us that Kappa Gamma did not discontinue the use of the salute until 2000. The brothers who contacted Deaf Vee Journal also stated that the Bellamy salute was indeed held on for too long; however, this was never done publicly and the photograph below was at a private member’s only event and was not intended to be offensive.
The Buff and Blue, Gallaudet University’s newspaper, published an article last year on the history of Kappa Gamma through a racial lens. Photographic evidence of the fraternity’s social activities were cited in a “previous article,” but the article in question is nowhere to be found in The Buff and Blue’s archives. It is rather odd, but not unusual when there are involved parties who have something to hide.
Barish’s blatant denial of the impact of his actions is happening two days after he himself posted a declaration that Deaf Nation stands with the Black Deaf community. While the initial post on June 2 did mention that Deaf Nation would take a break from filming, it also did not elevate the Black Deaf community. With the next post on June 4, Barish is rather defensive and states that he is not and never was racist. Barish dismissed the allegations as “misleading,” stating that the photos were taken when the fraternity brothers were trying to cover their faces from multiple cameras.
Based on two instances of previously demonstrated lack of integrity on Barish’s part, his response seems questionable.
The lawsuit with Language People is the first instance. When Barish had initially sold Deaf Nation to Language People in Southern California four years ago in 2016, he made a vlog that included a brief disclosure of the sale. A short time later, Barish abruptly took down the vlog and claimed that nothing really happened. Ricky Taylor did an investigative piece on Barish’s integrity when it came to Language People and the sale where he discovered paperwork and other documents, including the bill of sale. Of course, Taylor’s investigative work was done only after he attempted to contact the Barish brothers for clarification on what was going on and neither one was willing to share any information with him.
A month ago, a website was created with an open letter directed at Barish: “In the last 40 years, you have never apologized to your bullied victims, to your racial-slurred victims, to your cheated victims, and to the families of deceased victims. The latest incident is unfortunately the last straw for any tolerance. Please take a second to think about what you’ve done, please reach out to EVERY VICTIM a sincere apology. They are not asking you to apologize, they WANT you to apologize.” UPDATE, 06/22/2020: The website has since then been taken down.
To the best of Deaf Vee Journal’s knowledge, Barish has not publicly apologized to his victims. Barish has a powerful platform with a large following, and he would be remiss not to use it with his White followers in ways that truly benefit the Black community for actual action towards racial equity.