Positive Use of Hearing Privilege in the ASL Community?
August 26, 2019
Hello, ASL community! I’m in an airport lounge, on my way to Kansas to hang out with Deaf youths and give a workshop for ASL professionals. Today, my thoughts begin with Captain Valor, a YouTuber that posts song interpretations. He recently made an effort to raise some funds so he could make more of his videos; the Deaf community reacted with outrage, demanding that he cease his efforts. You can read his response, I’ll include a clickable link to it in the section below this video. Here’s what I think of his article: *slow 80’s clap – not sarcastic* After doing his due diligence (researching the matter), this man issued an apology to the Deaf community. Not only that, he then proceeded to lay out an articulate explanation of privilege, what it means and how it relates to his work, song interpretations. So not only did he show much respect to the Deaf community, his words serve to educate people inside and outside the ASL community. Now, I’d like to discuss privileel;42 [hand error 404] ugh, can’t spell… privilege. [here’s how I sign it] Privilege is when society assigns certain persons an elevated status, affording them a freeness of movement through society that others do not enjoy. Truth time: I’m a white, straight male in his late 30’s who is hearing… I’m pretty much the poster child for privilege! Society has granted me an an exceptionally elevated status. This being the case, I often wonder: How do I use my privilege? I recently came across a video of a black woman relating an experience she had while grocery shopping which includes a discussion of privilege… My sister-in-law, who’s half black half white, but looks white: Blue eyes, whiter than most white folks. Very white. She and I, we kind of grew up together. We raised our children together so they’re first cousins and we, you know, it’s a wonderful very very multicultural family. So we’re going into Safeway one day and Kathleen, my sister-in-law is in front of me and she’s writing a check for her groceries. Now my daughter, who at the time was ten years old was standing with me and I was directly behind her you know, getting ready to get my groceries. So Kathleen comes up and the checker, who’s a strawberry blonde, freckled, very delightful warm… you know, the checker, this young woman, is talking to Kathleen: “Hey, how you doing? Isn’t it a nice day today?” They’re just chatting up. So Kathy writes her check and she steps off to the side with her groceries cause she’s waiting for me. Of course, again, Kathleen looks white, right? So I come up… No conversation, she looks up at me absolutely no… just… little chatter, and I write my check. My daughter, however, is ten and notices immediately the difference in how she responds to me. So I write my check and she goes, “I’m gonna need two pieces of ID.” At which point my daughter looks at me and she gets very, very embarrassed and tears are kind of coming up in her eye like, “Mommy you’re not gonna… not gonna let her do this? Why is she doing this to us?” Right? So I’m trying to figure out what I should do. Behind me are two elderly white women, right, I’m thinking, “Ok… so then I become the ‘angry black woman.'” Right? And they’re gonna be… and I’m just trying to second-guess all the drama. So then I just give her the two pieces of ID. You know, some things you gotta choose your battles, right? Then it gets worse. She pulls out the ‘bad check book.’ Right?! This is the book that shows the people who have written bad checks. So she starts searching for my license in the bad checks, at which point it is out of control. Just as I’m standing there, trying to decide what to do and this is really, deeply humiliating … now my daughter is full-blown emotionally upset (she’s ten)… my sister-in-law walks back over and she steps in and she says, “Excuse me, why are you doing this?” The checker goes, “What do you mean?” [Kathleen] “Why are you taking her through all of these changes? Why you doing that?” [checker] “Well… um…. this is our policy!” [Kathleen] “No, because you didn’t do that with me.” [checker] “Well, I know you, you’ve been…” [Kathleen] “No no, SHE has been here for years, I’ve only lived here for three months.” At this point, the two white elderly ladies go, “OH! I can’t believe what this checker has done with this woman, it’s totally unacceptable.” At which point, the manager walks over! So the manager walks over and says, “Is there a problem here?” My sister-in-law responds, “Yes, there is a problem. Here is what happened….” So, you see, she used her white privilege and even though Kathleen is half black half white, she recognizes what that means and SHE made the statement. SHE pointed out the injustice and SHE as a result of that one act, influenced everyone in that space. What would have happened – I can’t know for certain – had the black woman said, ‘This is unfair. Why are you doing this to me?’ Would it have had the same impact? Kathleen knew that she walked through the world differently than I did. She used her white privilege to educate and make right a situation that was wrong. That’s what you can do. Every single day. Extraordinary! This woman’s story gives me pause: How do I, and other hearing members of the ASL community, use our privilege? Do we use our elevated status to unwittingly trample upon the Deaf community? Even if that’s not our intent, at the end of the day, it’s not about our intent; it’s about our impact. It’s all about our impact. Or, on the other hand, do we use our privilege to create opportunities for Deaf community members, creating positive impact? It’s not just the Deaf community; members of underprivileged communities often cry out for support from those who have privilege, in essence saying, “We’re in this together, where is your support?!” As hearing members of the ASL community, it’s our responsibility to use our privilege to the advantage of the Deaf community. Here’s my question for you: What are some ways that we can use our hearing privilege to the benefit of the Deaf community? I’d love to see your comments and thoughts below this video, either typed or filmed. To see the previous episode, click here! All the links for everything I’ve discussed can all be found below this video. Here’s my name sign; ASL Power!