Deaf studies

Hearing privilege

Privilege in the context of a systemic oppression or dominance is defined, basically, as a set of unearned or special benefits given or available only to people who fit into a particular social group."

Paul Shreeman defined the meaning of privilege in ASL with English subtitle in his YouTube vlog: "As an individual, I stand on privileged ground, by society's own design granted to me. I can exercise privilege and benefit from it. I am permitted the right to progress down this path, marginalizing without thought of consequences. This, my friends, is privilege."

There are several ASL signs for "privilege", ranging from ADVANTAGE, BENEFIT, LIFTING-PERSON, FEEL-NOTHING, etc. See the dictionary on this website.

Scenarios in the Wild

Hearing privilege is not about the capability of hearing but about taking advantages of the marginalized (non-hearing) group. These scenarios illustrate some examples.

Scenario: "For me, 'hearing privilege' means encountering people who wish to profit from some kind of affiliation with me that gives their activities more credibility, while they simultaneously ignore my perspectives and opinions about important subjects." -- Dr. Kristin Snoddon. (Nov. 13, 1, 2015, FB)

Scenario: A hearing interpreter uses a popular song to sign and upload it on YouTube and is wowed and virally shared by naive hearing viewers. Her/his non-native signing skills don't represent culturally Deaf people whose first language is authentic ASL (or other signed language). And, the music videos produced by Deaf talents were marginalized.

Scenario: A hearing interpreter came out of the door along with a hearing man who didn't know ASL while the Deaf mother was waiting with her ASL-speaking baby in a lounge. She greeted the mother in ASL. She chatted with the baby in ASL while the man watched. He asked whether the baby was hearing or deaf. Hearing. Then, he asked why did the interpreter spoke ASL, not English because he was left out. She replied, because the mother spoke ASL. Why was this stranger thinking he had a privilege of English over the baby's own mother and their ASL language?

Scenario: A hearing viewer cannot understand a personal ASL-speaking vlog without a subtitle and made a request or sometimes a demand, "Captions please!" Hearing audience [privileged system] may perhaps politely ask for a subtitle but cannot expect accessibility from the oppressed minority. Just as English-speaking people cannot just yell for an English subtitle of French-speaking or Spanish-speaking vlogs for accessibility.

Scenario: Arranging through an agency in Nepal for learning Nepali Sign Language prior to my stay in Nepal, I later discovered that a hearing "interpreter" (the only one in the area) was the first person on the phone that the agency contacted and looked for a Deaf tutor that I requested. He took the privilege of being the first person to answer. He assigned himself and shamelessly took financial opportunity away from local Deaf Nepali. In my first days, I met some Deaf Nepali and had my first tutoring sessions with the interpreter. Immediately, I contacted the agency and told them to fire the interpreter and gave them the names of local Deaf natives that I intentionally hired. In addition, I hardly could understand the non-native "interpreter" whereas, I learned Nepali SL at ease from other Deaf Nepali signers, using negotiation of meaning and other various strategies efficiently.

Scenario: An interpreter is praised for their interpreting job. Was it the interpreter's voice or the Deaf presenter's voice (as in conveying the message)? There's a possibility that the Deaf presenter is doing the interpreting job in text for the interpreter.

Scenario: A hearing dance performer wanted to use ASL integrated into her dance performance [cultural appropriation]. She hired an interpreter "Dave" [marginalization, privilege, since English-ASL interpreters are not ASL instructors]. In parallel, a Deaf artist longed for a work experience in performance of any sorts. She had struggles for the lack of opportunities and was sad. She attended the art college and chose Dave, one of her interpreters for her courses. Coincidentally, the dance performer came to her college to give a lecture. The Deaf artist learned that the performer planned to do a next performance using ASL again [cultural appropriation]. Seeing this rare opportunity, she came to the performer to offer her to mentor ASL. The performer declined, not wanting to pay double for her [marginalization] and the interpreter [privilege] so she preferred an interpreter only. The Deaf artist then offered to volunteer [self-underprivileged for the opportunity] yet the dancer declined [power]. To convince, she explained that it's best to learn from a Deaf person for best results. Still, no luck. Finally, she asked the performer who her ASL 'teacher' was in her latest dance performance. It was Dave. It hit her hard. She reasoned she gave Dave a paid job in interpreting yet he tore her opportunity down. This scarce opportunity was taken away from her in name of his hearing privilege as both an interpreter and 'private instructor' that shouldn't be his role. It's how this small scale of the system of oppression works. Naturally, the Deaf artist never hired Dave again in the following semesters.

In this situation, the interpreter should make a clear statement to the performer about his role that teaching ASL is not an interpreter's job [allyship]. Interpreters remain as an interpreter to faciliate communication between two worlds with the aim to bridge them. Their duty is not to teach ASL or act in other roles that would take away opportunities from Deaf people and the opportunities are meant to belong to Deaf people.

Scenario: Within the first weeks of my two-year Masters, a few professors or instructors once joked that my interpreter could receive a Masters degree by just interpreting with me throughout. The interpreter took it as a compliment while I was deeply offended. Annoyed and disturbed, I straightened out the fact that the interpreter forgot everything after each session. I paid tuition fees, did research work, developed work, exchanged discussion with others, and everything.

Scenario: "Anyone [meaning a hearing person] teaching ASL should be celebrated rather than debated" or "It's wonderful to spread more ASL" or "the more hearing people learn more ASL, the better." [denying hearing privilege, defending hearing systemic power, reinforcing paternalism].

This can go on and on with numerous examples. These give you a general idea.

Related posts

Related post: Cultural appropriation, Allyship, Privilege abuses

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