I went into a Starbucks this morning and they already had the pumpkin spice latte (PSL), pumpkin cream cold brew, and pumpkin cream cheese muffin. The muffin is pretty good, but I think there should be a rule like no wearing white pants or white shoes after Labor Day – no pumpkin at Starbucks until after Labor Day. Wouldn’t you agree?
I am not as offended or concerned about Paul & Tina’s Signalong as some people are. I think exposure to ASL can be a good thing, regardless of who’s signing. Personal experience: the first time I was truly impressed with the beauty of ASL was at a monologue competition in 1985, when a hearing girl spoke and signed a monologue from Children of a Lesser God. I have no idea, in retrospect, how good she was at signing; all I remember is I thought it was beautiful. The fact that she spoke and signed at the same time made it accessible to me. I don’t think I would have gotten the same impression at the time if I had seen a Deaf woman delivering the same monologue, even if it were interpreted. I might have been more intimidated than entertained. I might have seen more differences than similarities. I might not have been ready for the culture shock.
If you read the comments on Paul & Tina’s Signalong Facebook page post about taking down their donation site, you’ll see a variety of views, both supportive and critical, both from hearing and Deaf people. I think this dialogue is a good thing. The comments from d/Deaf people were more supportive than those from interpreters, though, and I think that’s telling. If Deaf signers want to be offended by Paul & Tina, and educate them about their language and culture, that is their job. It’s not ASL/English interpreters’ job to be offended for Deaf people.
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish
Where you start isn’t necessarily where you end up. It’s not Paul & Tina’s job to be Deaf, and they’re not trying to be. They’re just being themselves and having fun with it. They’re not the be all, end all; they’re just doing their thing. Where people take it from there is their business. Time will tell whether future interpreters might have first thought ASL was fun by watching their videos. Eventually, we learn from Deaf people if we get that far. And if we don’t get that far, what’s the harm?
I have encountered bigotry in the workplace as an ASL-English interpreter, but I must stress that it has come from both Hearing and Deaf clients, and has not always transpired between the clients I was interpreting for at the moment.
I usually gloss over the well-meaning paternalism of some Hearing people, especially if the interaction is brief and I sense that what is being communicated is more important than how it is being communicated. Many of the Deaf people I interpret for are familiar with this paternalism that sometimes borders on oppression, and they can handle it themselves. If they don’t handle it, it is usually because they don’t want to waste their time. One of the common errors I see among people who use interpreters is saying, “Ask/tell him/her.” This is a fairly innocent mistake. I will usually interpret it the first time, and see if the Deaf client corrects their hearing interlocutor or not. If they don’t, I usually just change the third person address to second person address in my interpretation.
However, I have experienced situations of bigotry that created a hostile work environment for me. Here are two that stand out:
- A boy in a high school class bullying another boy by calling him a “faggot” and carrying on in that vein deliberately and relentlessly during study time. The Deaf client was not paying attention.
- A Deaf client who used old, deprecated signs for Chinese and American Indian (pantomimes of mockery, pulling the eyelids to the sides with the forefingers while bowing up and down for Chinese, and raising one hand and patting the mouth with the other for Indian) and carried on about hating “faggots” in the waiting room at a doctor’s office
In both cases, my longterm solution was to no longer interpret for those people. My short term solutions to cases like these vary. The first situation I listed was the last straw after hearing occasional homophobia from this student over the previous few months. I chastised the bully, told the Deaf student what happened, and went to the vice-principal’s office. When neither the vice-principal nor the classroom teacher supported neither the bullied student nor me, I walked off the job with an hour to go because I was too upset to carry on. In the second situation I listed, I didn’t bother to say anything. In both cases, I let the interpreting agency who sent me know that I would no longer interpret for these people because I could not tolerate their bigotry.
In 24 years of interpreting, my encounters with insufferable bigotry have been extremely rare. More often, what I see is paternalism among hearing people toward deaf people, and I usually let it roll off my back. I just interpret and let the clients work it out themselves.
Yes, the people I interpret for display bigotry toward each other occasionally, but the worst bigotry I have encountered has had nothing to do with the cultures and languages I was mediating, and instead has been a kind of “environmental” bigotry I just could not stand.
Another botched execution by lethal injection. 😦 The guillotine would be more humane!