Dear White Interpreters, It’s Time for Us to Listen

By: Kyleigh Camp | June 14, 2020

“The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out – blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?” 

-Robin Diangelo, White fragility: why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism 

The act of listening spills open a whole bottle of truth that we’ve been neglecting for generations. It’s more than our ancestors would have done, but it’s only the first step. It’s scratching the surface. 

We as white interpreters should no longer be resistant to the reality of what is happening in our country and how that parallels our field of work. The word “we encompasses all of us because we have all neglected this topic for so long and it’s time that we pay attention. If we feel uncomfortable reading this, that means we’re learning something, we’re growing out of our comfort zone, and we should definitely keep reading. 

The system was built for us white people to advance, which means that other marginalized communities were never given a fair chance. We need to be vastly attentive when the Black Community and other communities of color, both Deaf and hearing, tell us that they are being treated unfairly in this country. Right now, our country is built on the ideology that “whiteness is the norm and white people are perceived as superior while Black people [and other people of color] are seen as inferior” (Player, “Dear White Deaf People”). This applies to interpreting too. The interpreting profession is less than 60 years old and yet, we still have a disproportionate amount of white people flooding into the field. Our profession is not diverse. Is there an issue with this? Absolutely. 

It’s clear that there’s a lack of representation which is a huge problem. This entire article was inspired from a conversation that I had with David Player, who just published his article, Dear White Deaf People. David expressed to me that we white interpreters overlook quite a lot,especially when we’re working, and he’s 100% correct. He had asked me two questions, “Have white interpreters ever had to think about the color of their skin while interpreting?” and “Have white interpreters ever had to worry about code-switching [culturally] to match their consumer(s)?”. The answer was obvious; most of us have never had to think about our whiteness or code-switching while working. As much as our job is incredible, it can also be stressful and difficult, but worrying about other factors on top of the work is an additional layer of processing that we haven’t had to contemplate. Rarely have we thought about how our Deaf consumers of color feel when we interpret for them. As such, they code-switch in order to match the linguistic majority for our benefit. This means that “Black Deaf people [and other Deaf consumers of color] are not accurately being represented” (Player)This is also something we need to unpack. Again, this is just scratching the surface when it comes to our white privilege in the interpreting community. 

Moreover, we as white interpreters have also neglected the experiences of interpreters of color. For instance, we’ve asked our colleagues where they are “really from”, and we’ve mistaken them for other people or forgotten their names. In addition, we don’t correct ourselves, nor do we correct our white colleagues when they “accidentally” say something racist. These microaggressions are a result from the unconscious biases that we carry. Consequently, we have failed to listen to people of color and open our minds up to the fact that our actions perpetuate the problem. We have dismissed their struggle and that’s unacceptable. 

While there are a myriad of ways to approach this problem, shying away is not one of them. This type of action merely ignores the issue which leads us nowhere. On the other hand, we should be more proactive – starting by holding ourselves accountable. Now more than ever we need to be listening to people of color within the signing community, processing their perspective (even if it feels foreign to us), educating ourselves, and continuing to strive to be anti-racist. This means that accountability plays an indispensable role in this journey. We have to be introspective and honest about our mistakes that we’ve made and will make. This cycle of self-reflection can never end. We cannot stop. 

The journey towards being anti-racist will not be easy. That process of unpacking our unconscious biases, feelings, and emotions will feel intensely uncomfortable, but it is necessary. This needs to be a daily occurrence. That is why it’s imperative that we continue that cycle of self-reflection, education and action. We need to break free from any ideologies that have been rooted within our privileged subconscious. It starts with us making those shifts and abandoning that comfort zone we have been in for so long. Our daily actions on a micro-level will eventually cause macro-level change. 

It is crucial that we work alongside communities of color and follow their lead. Let us listen to those who have been wronged and stand with them to make things right. It’s time for a change, are you willing to listen?

Writer’s Note

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Here are some books and films that friends have either recommended to me or are from the resource section of Robin Diangelo’s novel White fragility: why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Also, if you haven’t yet, please check out David Player’s article Dear White Deaf People. He opens a whole new realm of discussion towards the topic of White Deaf privilege which is incredible. These resources are a great start towards educating ourselves on how to be anti-racist. Again, this is just the beginning. We should never stop researching, reading, or learning on how the system is unjust and how that leads to treating people of color unfairly in this country.

References

Diangelo, Robin J. White fragility: why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.

Player, David A. “Dear White Deaf People”. White Deaf Privilege – Is white Deaf Privilege Real?, WordPress, May 27, 2020,(https://whitedeafprivilege.wordpress.com/).

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