Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Mutuality of Respect (And Trust)

You and me, we need to go on a hike. Strap on your boots and bring your water bottle.  I've got the first aid kit.  You bring the sunscreen. We're going to hike through some rough terrain, through the woods.  And we're going to talk about respect.

We often talk about respect as a two way street.  Equally traversing between two parties. And this works well if the playing field is level.  But it is not. So how does mutual respect play out on uneven playing fields, between Deaf folks and interpreters?

Not very fucking well. Lets walk in peace for a bit and let that sink in.  

I'm going to go off, ahead of you, into the wilderness of tangents. Wild, tangled vines of things that interlink and connect. Hopefully we'll see the trees, the forests, and the vines as we walk through these woods together. 

I see interpreters wishing there was more respect for their noble profession.  And I see interpreters wishing there was more respect and trust from Deaf folks being sent in their direction.  Especially the trust bit.

This open grove looks like a grand spot to stop for a bit and catch our breath. 

So here I am. And there you are.  We're sitting together here taking deep drinks from our water bottles. The sun is shining down, midday and we've got a long ways to go still. 

I am going to look you straight in the eye and tell you something: Interpreters not receiving enough respect for their profession was never the problem.

The problem has always been that ASL as a language is not valued and respected.  And Deaf folks as a people and culture are not recognized, let alone valued and respected.

It is not possible nor is it even appropriate for ASL interpreters to seek and ask for more respect without this, first.

"How can Deaf individuals trust that there is a modest level of integrity in interpreters if they do not see us learning and emulating models that aim to eradicate stereotypes, prejudices, and the discrimination of Deaf people? - See more at:"

And trust is a choice.  It is. It really is.  And if Deaf folks are choosing not to trust interpreters, there is a damned good reason. You and me, we're on this hike together and we're not even half way there.  And I need you to trust me, first, that I know where we are both going.

So let me lead you through the forest here.  Let me be the guide. How comfortable are you putting your profession in the hands of Deaf folks? Of letting us lead, guide?

I'm also going to reclaim your profession from this point on. What I referred to as yours is now mine.  Ours even.  But especially mine. 

Will you let Deaf folks lead our interpreter conferences? Will you let the vast majority of speakers be Deaf folks? Will you have those conferences only in ASL?  Will you let us head RID and comprise a majority of our RID board?  Will you let us re-examine those Codes of Professional Conduct and re-write them from the bottom up?  How about your tests and certifications? Will you let us test you and pass/fail you?  Will you let us be the ones to oversee grievance procedures?

Do you trust us enough? Our knowledge, our skill, our capacity, our motives? Will you be okay with values that are Deaf-centric and Deaf-first and not Interpreter-Centric and Hearing-First?

Will you let Deaf leaders, grassroots and professionals, and Deaf-led organizations lead the way?  And take charge of our profession?  Because it's not your profession any longer.

Somehow, somewhere we lost sight of that.  Nothing that is about Deaf folks can be done by hearing folks.  "Of the Deaf. For the Deaf. By the Deaf." -  these are the wisest tenants in our community.  They have served us well and will continue to do so.

And if interpreters cannot hear those reasons, or respond without getting defensive as their first choice... then we're at a bit of an impasse here.

Two folks, everything being equal, will share mutual respect.  If someone has more power and privilege... respect is coerced by the system. The one with more power must stand down and let the one with less power stand up- then we can begin to respect and trust one another, on more equal footing.

We've reached an especially gnarly thicket in this part of our hike. And we need to hack our way through. Because I can't see the way ahead, and neither can you.  There's a whole mess of tangled, thorny vines; complicated stuff here. And as far as I can see, I'm the only one doing the hacking.  I think I left you back there, because I don't see you next to me any longer. Did I lose you? Did you get lost. Or did we lose each other?

We all participate in the system. Every one of us. Not a single one is exempt.

And we are programmed to help our helpers. To defer to them. To make sure we do everything we are supposed to do to keep them.  We are programmed by the system that we all participate in to help you, because if you go away, if you are no longer there, then who will help us? I am programmed to be your guide, even here on this hike. 

And don't you see how messed up that is? And how utterly devoid of respect it is? And how much it destroys any possibility for trust? We need you. And you need us to need you.  We pay your bills.  This crazy symbiosis is so inherently unhealthy and so inherently oppressive, it keeps us tied to one another through coercion, and not choice. And if trust is the only choice I have here, when nothing is else... I'm not sure I can give it so willingly. 

How can you possibly fight for a future that includes more respect for Deaf folks, their language and culture when you need us to need you?

I don't know.  It seems easier doesn't it, to fight for the profession itself. More concrete.  And nothing changes. Absolutely nothing changes. You'll still be getting paid. And we'll still need you. And you'll be in charge of my profession. 

I hear you saying it's not your fault. That you're not personally responsible. And I get that response.  I do.

But you also benefit from it more than most hearing people do who actively perpetuate oppression against Deaf folks .  You get paid to be a part of this system.  So you don't get to opt out of being responsible.  More than any one else, you have a front row seat to the oppression that Deaf folks face. More than any one else you know exactly how messed up it gets out there.  And so more than any one else, we have higher expectations of you.  Because you cannot claim ignorance.  You cannot say you did not know.

You must stand down.  Because the only way out of this forest is through you first. 


  1. With RID being unwilling to even recognize a value and need for designated CODA native signers/insider, as a board member I too find it hard to trust. Same old... just more hearing leaders of the deaf community ...

  2. Wow, powerful post! I'm a new ITP student. This is great stuff to think about and digs deep into issues that my fellow students and I should be discussing more. I'm glad I found your blog. I'm going to share it. Thanks for putting this out there--beautifully stated, you're a brilliant writer.