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.

Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption By Brandi Rarus and Gail Harris

Finding Zoe is very much a feel-good book about stars aligning. Brandi and Tim Rarus find the daughter they want in Jess and BJ’s baby girl not only because she needs a home, but because they are the right home for a deaf infant.

— thoughts by Melanie Page, originally published at Grab the Lapels

On the Beat of Truth: A Hearing Daughter’s Stories of Her Black Deaf Parents by Maxine Childress Brown

Childress Brown chooses anecdotes that allow the reader to see how being black, Deaf, poor, educated, and living before the Civil Rights Movement are all intersections where her parents exist.

— thoughts by Melanie Page, originally published at Grab the Lapels

The Hearing Eye by Catherine Coppes

“But the real issue, which Coppes describes both fairly and sternly, is how to train everyone else to communicate. Basically, communicating with a hard-of-hearing person means following polite rules, but because we love our family, know our co-workers, and trust out friends, they sometimes lapse into more casual conversation mode.”— thoughts by Melanie Page, originally published at Grab the Lapels

“What Do You Do?”

At some point in recent memory, I’d read that it is a fairly American (U.S.) tendency to ask someone 1) their name and 2) what they do. Are we truly so interested in the work of someone we just met? If their job is in a field we do not understand or don’t have an interest in, we may even tune out their answer or choose not to ask clarifying questions to better understand this new person.

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In the piece that I’d read, the suggestion was instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” ask them, “What do you enjoy?” Part of the problem is that we ask about employment so we can judge other people, even subconsciously. How do you feel about a stay-at-home dad? An adult fast food employee? A person unemployed who isn’t even looking for work? A part-time lifeguard in their thirties? Someone who makes money on the side selling Avon or Pampered Chef, or drives an Uber or Lyft? Let’s face it: we all have feelings about jobs and make judgments about people based on what they do. We’re basically checking, “Do you meaningfully contribute to the economy?”

For the first time last night, I asked a new person who joined my meditation class 1) his name and 2) what he enjoys. He was utterly flabbergasted. He said he’d just moved from Oregon to Indiana a month ago, but he didn’t know what he enjoys. He said, “I had the What do you do? answer loaded and ready to go.” I explained why I did not ask what he does, and eventually, he came to answer gardening, short horror fiction, and breweries.

Pretty soon, we were comparing horror movies we’d seen, which were our favorites, etc. and the conversation kept unfolding in a natural way! If I had asked, “What do you do?” and he said (which I learned later) that he’s a stay-at-home dad of four children ages two to nine, I wouldn’t have had anything else to say. I have no children. I could have responded, “Cool, my brother has four kids, too.” But then where would we go from there?

In the future, when you meet someone new, consider asking them what they enjoy instead of what they do.