My Ethics Class: Power, Privilege, and Oppression Discussion

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Currently, I am enrolled in Interpreting Ethics, a class in which we examine models for ethical decision making and practice how we would use the Code of Professional Conduct and core values to respond to real-life situations in the interpreting field. Our last unit was about power, privilege, and oppression, and we were assigned three videos: 1) Dear White Interpreters (a panel of BIPOC CDI), 2) Town Hall with Black Interpreters from 2020, and 3) BIPOC Providers, Part 1. Not all of these videos are made public, but I do want to discuss the content and what I learned. The questions are from my professor:

List at least one thing you learned from each panel we’ve watched in this module (three in total):

In the Town Hall video with Black Interpreters in Alabama, I learned even though Black interpreters are a cultural match with Black History Month topics and plays about experiences of Black life, we also need to consider that the topics discussed may be harmful to a Black interpreter, because the topics are often harrowing. How can we better support the interpreter, make sure they are cared for, and what do they need in terms of allyship? I found this moment in the video interesting because Black interpreters are in high demand in February, despite being skilled individuals all twelve months, and the topics during Black History Month may be triggering.

In the BIPOC Providers/Interpreters video, I learned that interpreters of color believe they should be paid more than white interpreters because they bring cultural competency. After hearing the stories of what BIPOC interpreters face in all three of the videos assigned, I understand better what Benro said, a little tongue in cheek, about there being a need to pay “emotional fees.”

In the Dear White Interpreters video, I learned that there is either laziness or a miscommunication about how different cultures can join together. For example, white interpreters have asked a Black CDI how they can improve their signing skills to better understand Black consumers, but they won’t go to the Black Deaf conference, claiming it’s just for Black people. The Black CDI ensured that everyone is welcome, so either white interpreters feel like they’re intruding on another culture’s space, or they don’t really want to put in the effort to improve their skills.

In the BIPOC Providers video, one panelist noted that white interpreters may hastily label a Black Deaf person as having “low signing competency” because they use a different style or have a different culture, so the need to learn from Black communities that invite everyone in is pivotal.

How will you incorporate what you’ve learned from this module into your practice as an interpreter?

One thing I took away from the BIPOC Providers/Interpreters video is that we tend to team with the same interpreters (white women), possibly because we’re comfortable with a certain person, but should reach out to team with interpreters of color. I think it’s a chance to observe/learn from another culture on the job in a way that doesn’t affect the interpreting situation and consumers. Plus, doing something–reaching out–is allyship, I think. You’re not actually doing something for the other interpreter (advocacy), but you are supporting their goal of showcasing how skilled they are (allyship).

However, teaming with interpreters of color on most jobs is different from the specific example of a white interpreter who took a job teaming with Melva for a Cinco de Mayo festival in Chicago because they wanted to learn Spanish. Everything was in Spanish, so that white interpreter couldn’t provide access or cultural competency.

What could you say to an agency about the importance of providing interpreters that are a good cultural fit?

On the most basic level I could say that according to CPC 4.4 we are required to facilitate communication access and equality, so if I don’t understand cultural nuances or idioms, I’m not truly providing access OR equality. On a deeper level, allyship is an important tool to give other communities and cultures the space to be at the forefront. How so? Sometimes stepping aside and providing the contact information of a BIPOC interpreter or BIPOC-owned agency is the easiest way to be an ally. Otherwise, if I say it’s not my responsibility to get out of the way, I’m contributing to a racist system that oppresses, discourages, and chases off skilled interpreters of color.

Published by Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame, which inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing. I also have an MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I used to teach composition, creative writing, and literature in higher education, then did a brief stint at a civic theater, followed by two years at a references desk at a public library. I'm now working toward my ASL Interpreter license.

6 thoughts on “My Ethics Class: Power, Privilege, and Oppression Discussion

  1. Interesting! The problem would probably be even more acute in Australia because Black (Indigenous) culture is more separate. I wonder if Auslan is even used beyond the Indigenous middle class. A lot of Indigenous Australians from remote communities have English as a second, third or fourth language.
    (i remembered to tick Notify me of new posts this time)


    1. I don’t know anything about Auslan other than what I read in Jessica White’s book and from following Asphyxia’s blog, which is WONDERFUL. It’s challenging thinking about the overlapping parts of a person’s identity that cause them to be oppressed. Sometimes I miss the most obvious. I realize someone is Deaf and a woman and Black but then forget that she’s elderly, which is another population that may have privilege, depending on the culture, but also the location. Is an elder valued the same at church as they are in a hospital, for example.


      1. If you were ever interested, I could probably put you in touch with a woman who interprets for our state Premier. I don’t know her, but we’re Fb friends and she’s the wife of my deaf truck driver mate.


        1. That’s very kind of you. I’m not sure what I would say to her, especially since I don’t know Auslan. Also, I did not realize you had a friend who is a Deaf truck driver. How do you two prefer to communicate?


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