Power: Privileges, entitlements, and other tactics

Privilege abuse is "The wrongful or unlawful misuse of power in one's duties, either at the expense of others or to the advantage of the abuser." -- thefreedictionary.com

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.

"It reminded me of how important it is that we have the courage to push back against hearing people who consider us damaged and who therefore see us as 'less' than themselves. And who think, therefore, that we are not in a position to 'criticize' them or their misguided ways of thinking about those who are Deaf. We must continue to 'criticize' their oppressive and educate/enlighten them at the same time." -- Lyn Wiley (2015).

The tools of oppression are often disguised or hidden as privileges.

This post looks at some incidents as a case study, highlighting the privileges, entitlements, and such. It reflects on how a privileged person can use their systemic power as a platform. The voices (in quotes) from different sources are compiled into a coherent collage-story to tell the overall picture.

Keep in mind how an unethical act of an (hearing) interpreter or a hearing professional can be upsetting for deaf people [an oppressed linguistic-cultural group within a phonocentric system].

For a starter, let's look at a situation: President Biden's White House announced that they would provide an interpreter for all White House news briefings, which the American Deaf community applaused this. But, when they learned who the interpreter was, they were traumalized by the interpreter's past actions.

The interpreter provided "sign language accompaniments to right-wing videos. Some of these videos have featured vaccine misinformation, conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, and false claims about Michelle Obama being transgender, according to a review of social media posts by TIME." -- TIME.

As a result, American Deaf people demanded White House to replace the interpreter for her past pro-Trumpism actions. The January 6th riots were clearly traumatizing for many Americans and other caring people aboard. Generally speaking, deaf people as an oppressed minority group have the right to have an interpreter required to practice code of ethics, intergrity, impartiality, and so on. By a normal standard, Deaf people can request a replacement of an interpreter for various reasons such as ethical violations, underqualification, conflict of interests, mistrust, and such.

Jon Henner said in TIME, "For me, it would be problematic for someone who has aligned herself with alt-right discourses to be the public face of the White House for the deaf communities ...videos, particularly those relating to overturning the election, could arguably constitute a conflict of interest when it comes to interpreting for the Biden White House." -- TIME"

The CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, Howard Rosenblum, "Federal law defines a qualified interpreter as one that is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially. Consequently, the White House needs to ensure that it properly vets the interpreters that handle their press briefings to ensure that their qualifications meet the federal standard." -- TIME

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf also has a Code of Professional Conduct, which is "designed to guide interpreters and recommends that interpreters both disclose and avoid any 'actual or perceived conflicts of interest' in their work."

"The real answer: trust is both earned and a matter of perception. As this news of her Trumpism spreads, fewer will trust she's conveying the true message - so that trust has already been squandered." -- rm -rf /home/trump. Twittter, January 25, 2021.

Deaf people choose interpreters for assignments that they have put faith in and have the right to request for a different interpreter when an issue or concern arises.

"Serving as a sign language interpreter is a privilege because we welcome (not always willingly) you into the most private aspects of our lives. If you abuse that privilege, we have the right to ask you to depart."

Keep in mind that oppressed groups (e.g. Deaf, POC, etc.) have experienced pains from discrimination, inequalities, and so on from a long history of oppression. We have the right to speak out, to fight for social justice, etc. against oppressions, misconducts, etc.

Playing a card and entitlements

An example of playing the cards is when an interpreter or a hearing professional uses a tactic of playing the cards, when a wrongdoing whether perceived or actual has occurred.

Playing a [fill-in] card is defined as to use a particular quality, argument, etc. in order to gain an advantage.

For example, the interpreter defended herself in her statement, saying "my role as a RID-certified interpreter...", many Deaf responded regarding her actions.

Cartoon by Adrean Clark on Mewshaw
Credit: Adrean Clark, February 12, 2021. myhandsfull.com / www.instagram.com/adreanaline/

Another is example when a person uses a status (e.g. coda) as something to overshadow one's wrongdoing in context of interpreting. There are many wonderful, true-to-heart CODAs whom we fondly love, but not all CODAs are alike.

"As a CODA, I am in-between two worlds, the Deaf and the hearing, and I am in a unique position to unite those two worlds together." The responses were: "Oh man, this screams saviorism..." -- Morgan , Twitter. "YIKES." -- Katy.

With better accessibility and education, virtually all Deaf people in the modern time are bilingual-bicultural. We live in both worlds. We know English but not all can vocally speak. We can communicate via typing-on-phone, writing, sometimes vocally-speaking.

"Interpreting for the White House 'is an honor, not a privilege." -- Jon Henner (Source: washingtonpost.com) Deaf people and organizations choose or accept interpreters, not interpreters choosing themselves.

"...the purpose of the interpreter is for us to be able to participate in the public sphere as fully engaged citizens. The interpreter is not there for your entertainment or feel-good about yourselves moments." -- notanangrydeafperson.

Denial and suppression

Or, when an interpreter defends themselves by claiming that they follow or practice the code of ethics. It's their own word or belief but their action says otherwise.

Instead of listening to the interpreter in question's interpretation of the code of ethics, a commenter reframed the power [empowerment], "We have interpreted her conduct as a violation of CPC Tenets 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Rather than trust her interpretation of CPC, because her interests are involved, we should read and judge for ourselves. Here's the RID document..." -- notanangryperson, Feb 11, 2021.

"talks about the code of professional conduct like 3.8 doesn't exist. '3.8 Avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest that might cause harm or interfere with the effectiveness of interpreting services'. The words "or perceived" are there intentionally." -- Camarie, Twitter, Feb 5, 2021.

"Whelp, any questions I had about whether her identity as the person working with the far right group had been confirmed or whether her ties to that group would effect her work for the white house have all been answered, and not the way she seems to think she was answering them." -- Eterlin Blue, Twitter, Feb 6.

Are Deaf people's voices not be allowed to express? To fight for social justice? Does a person in systemic power have the privilege (definitely not a right) to suppress our voices?

Silencing tactics

Though rarely but not small, the more hearing professionals use any form of exploitation, the louder Deaf people speak out. Then a hearing person in her defense decides to use a threatening tactic against the minority oppressed group, such as a broadcasting statement or a lawsuit. The privileged person may have a network or power tools to use.

"If we communicate we cannot trust an interpreter, what should the interpreter do? Bully the deaf person, go on all the national tv networks to promote further violence toward deaf people, and twist people's understanding of how interpreting works? That is what happened." -- notanangrydeafperson.

Becoming an ally

Being able to look within and unpack -isms, privileges, biases, enabler-ness, and so on, is a healthy process. Listen. Ask questions. Dialogue. Own up any inappropriate words or actions.

Practice ethics in one's profession (specifically English-ASL interpreting). Ethics still counts for volunteer interpreting. Understand how traumatizing it can be for deaf people to have interpreters who act with any degree of ethical violations.

"Deaf people are the experts on our own access needs. Thank you very much. If you are not a signing person ..., then this is not your space. Do not comment. ... You don't have our lived experience as deaf people." -- notanangryperson.

Keep intersectionality in mind. A person may be a Deaf, woman, POC, immigrant, single mother, cancer survivor, and/or others.


"President Biden's First White House Sign Language Interpreter Has Ties to the Far Right" by Abigail Abrams, January 27, 2021. https://time.com/5933592/white-house-sign-language-interpreter/

"Work as Sign Language Interpreters is a Privilege, not a Right" https://notanangrydeafperson.medium.com/work-as-sign-language-interpreters-is-a-privilege-not-a-right-8ac16895da81