Sherry Shaw, Len Roberson, and Signed Language Interpreting for the 21st Century.

A book hot off the presses about signed language interpreting. Edited by Len Roberson and Sherry Shaw. A quick glance at the author list.

Disappointing. All hearing. All white. All established scholars.

This is a problem.  For many reasons.

But I’m here to talk about how Len and Sherry responded when someone asked a legitimate question about the lack of representation for nonwhite and non-hearing people.

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Sherry’s response tells us a few things: She has a severe case of “White Fragility.” A brilliant scholar, Robin DiAngelo, wrote about this concept.

She also has a severe case of pathological posturing. That is when someone who has been trained to think she is helping people and performing an act of charity for the less fortunate- in our case, hearing people helping poor deaf people- and act surprised that their “help” was… well, unhelpful. Want to learn more about pathological posturing? Go check out Harlan Lane’s books.

What’s “unfair and inappropriate” about asking why a book did not have nonwhite and non-hearing contributors?

What’s “unfair and inappropriate” about asking editors to reflect on how they might have made their processes accessible to nonwhite and non-hearing scholars?

What’s “unfair and inappropriate” about asking editors to reflect on what more they might have done to ensure the success of nonwhite and non-hearing scholars?

Need they be reminded that nonwhite and non-hearing scholars are populations that have traditionally experienced barriers in academia?

Respect them too much to be bullied? What disrespect is there in saying this is what we did and those are the efforts we undertook? Especially when you can leave those people… unnamed?

Sherry’s last line was rich. Collegial and Civil Discourses, so I know it’s possible. 

Are you fucking kidding me?

What exactly was uncivil about asking A) why a book had no nonwhite and non-hearing authors? and B) responding to Len’s response by asking him if the inability for those authors to finish reflected anything about the editorial process that might have not accounted for marginalization and the many ways it manifests in the editorial process.

It’s very easy to claim you had nonwhite and non-hearing scholars onboard and that they just up and quit. That’s what Len Roberson said. They just didn’t follow through. Even though the book was published 4 years after it originally was supposed to be published. Four years and what?

So Civility? We can ask questions only on their terms. Not on social media. Behind secret hush-hush doors.

So Civility? We can’t ask someone if they have done the work to unpack their privileges to ensure a process that was open, welcoming, and ensures the success of marginalized scholars.

Every single time a person with power reminds us that we need to be civil, it is their way of holding onto power, and their way of very nicely putting us in our place.

Sherry, here’s some words of wisdom from Martin Luther King Jr. on your so called call for civility.

“The harvest of waiting was inaction, he wrote. “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” The goal of nonviolent direct action, he wrote, was “to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

I suggest you read the whole article behind that quote. Think twice before you call for civility.

This quote was on the Facebook discussion, I thought it was a good one for Sherry:

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With that, I say, Fuck CivilityOur time has come. 






Why Representation Matters in Interpreting Research

My major critique of Signed Language Interpreting for the 21st Century, edited by Len Roberson and Sherry Shaw, is that the author list was all white and all hearing. The author list was dominated by women, which is representative of the field. There’s a lot to say about why representation matters in interpreting research. I’m going to start with a short list of points below then comment on the obligations of senior scholars.

  1. Consumers of interpreting services are very diverse. Therefore how they consume the services is impacted by those diverse experiences. It makes sense that we account for those differences in our research.
  2. Researchers who come from those diverse populations have better insights and lived knowledges to inform research design, methods, and findings.
  3. What works for white people might not work for nonwhite people.
  4. Lack of representation among authors used in teaching interpreting alienates nonwhite students who do not see people “like them” in front of the classroom or in the learning materials.
  5. Alienating nonwhite students means reducing or limiting our pool of signed language interpreters. We need a bigger pool and that pool needs to be diverse.
  6. Lack of representation among published scholars presents another barrier to underrepresented scholars in academia.
  7. There is value in deaf knowledges and approaches to research. Those knowledges and approaches stand to transform the way we do research. If you’re a geek like me, you’ll enjoy this piece by Robinson & Henner. They talk about how deaf people always knew this stuff about language deprivation and cognitive development from signed languages but nobody paid attention until hearing scholars came along a hundred years later and said, “hey! we discovered something cool about how the brain works with sign language!” Deaf people and their knowledge? Erased. Deaf people in the research lab? LOL- no. That.

Now, what are the obligations of senior scholars in academia?

If you work with, on, about, or for populations that are traditionally marginalized, for example, as signed language interpreters (and interpreting researchers), you have an obligation to work toward empowerment, justice, and access for those populations.

I believe that all academics should work toward this. But especially academics who do this kind of work.

Plus, academia is having a lot of discussions about what it means to “not be an asshole academic.” Don’t punch down on junior scholars. Don’t punch down on the less educated. Don’t be jerks to women, disabled people, nonwhite people, people from working class backgrounds or poverty.

Lift up marginalized scholars. Offer them mentoring and research opportunities. Help find funding for graduate school and research projects. Invite them to co-author. Work with them to develop their craft as writers, researchers, scholars, and teachers. Give them guidance on how to navigate academia. Treat them with respect and as equals.

Otherwise all this talk in academia about value for social justice and “diversity” is just that: talk.

We acknowledge that deaf people feel that the interpreting profession is oppressive and functions as a significant tool of oppression toward deaf people. A major aspect of this is being shut out of research and teaching interpreting.

Editors like Roberson and Shaw who reproduce those systems of marginalization through lack of inclusive practices in their editing processes and through their subsequent responses to critiques serves only to allow the system, the field, the profession to continue to marginalize deaf and nonwhite people.  They are reproducing and perpetuating oppression of deaf consumers and nonwhite/deaf interpreting students by producing research that is fully centered in the white hearing framework. THIS IS HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS.

Can you not see it?





History Repeats Itself

The RID board approved the release of new Provisional Deaf Interpreter Certification.

This is a change to certification.

Without members’ approval.

In 2007, the membership was upset with the RID board for unilaterally deciding to accept the EIPA without members’ input. They had a referendum where they voted that the board had to get approvals from the membership for any and all changes related to certification.

They didn’t do this with the PDIC.

Which means they didn’t listen to the membership and what they voted on.

Which is also what they did when they picked an outsider businessman Joey instead of a qualified deaf candidate who would have connected the interpreting and deaf communities.

Which is what the membership voted on when they first wanted to change the leadership structure at RID.

That’s the second time in the last six months that the RID board has flat out not listened to the membership or honored the decisions voted on by the members.

And the PDIC? That’s a new blog post by itself. Let me just start with… “hearing knows best.” Here’s the link to my favorite video of all time:


Thoughts on the search for RID CEO

Emory David Dively blogged about how the RID could build trust in the hiring process.

Nice thoughts but to be honest, after what happened last summer, I can’t think candidates are willing to put themselves in public view to be humiliated. The Board has not shown their ability to be professional or ask professional questions in interviews. I’m adding a few thoughts below.

  1. The hiring committee should be majority deaf. The RID board has a long history of being oppressive toward the deaf members of the RID board. There are many horror stories about microaggressions and marginalization by the hearing people on the RID board toward the deaf people who are outnumbered. Deaf individuals on the board have little power to push back.
  2. The RID board needs anti-bias training. They all need to work on their racism, sexism, heterosexism, audism, and ableism. And while on this: all board members should have professional conduct and anti bias training upon election. Many of them do not reflect well on our profession.
  3. The board needs a workshop (or a dozen of them) on what nonprofit leadership requires. HINT 1: For-profit business skills don’t translate to nonprofit operations. HINT 2: Data science and research skills are highly valuable and sought after traits for both non-profits and for-profits. Anti-intellectualism is not a good look. HINT 3: A good understanding of the issues confronting the organization/nonprofits/the field. HINT 4: Passion for Mission.

Speaking of Passion for Mission:

The RID is in rough shape. We all know that. Non-profit work is not sexy work. You have to do a lot with little money. Your object is not profit but outcomes and services. So your decisions and ability to obtain resources is not enabled by pursuing opportunities for profit. Your decisions and ability to obtain resources is governed by your mission.

Running nonprofits requires a lot of work and commitment while operating on limited resources. This requires heart. This requires a deep-seated commitment to the organization’s mission. This requires passion. This requires that you put aside ego in pursuit of a shared goal. This requires thick skin and the ability to withstand criticism. Nonprofits require a particular brand of leadership. It was clear from the beginning that Joey did not have this. If he had, he would have lasted more than 90 days.

So this means that the RID board really. did. not. know. what. they. were. doing.

Dazzled by neat business spreadsheets and a mediocre white man’s C.V., they were oblivious to a few important facts:

  1. Asking good questions about what drives this person to want to lead this organization that’s in bad shape.  Money or service?
  2. Can this person authentically reach across aisles to reconnect communities? How can a person who’s not of the interpreting world and barely of the deaf world make this connection?
  3. Because this is a nonprofit organization driven by service to mission, not profit, how important is it that the CEO understands the core of RID’s mission- that is, how well should the CEO know and understand the day-to-day work/experience of interpreters as well as the questions, challenges, issues, and future of the interpreting field?

I have more but time has run out today. The RID board needs more non-profit experts or consultants at least.

As for the next CEO of the RID- I would like to see Kelby Brick in the hot seat. But he has a great job now. Would he give up such a sweet gig? I’d be surprised if he does.



Bullying among Interpreters

I witnessed a horrific case of bullying from one interpreter towards another. In front of other interpreters.

Who stood up for the bullied?

The bullied person. She wrote a response reminding us that we should support each other and not tear each other down. Then a few people responded but there was little direct condemnation of the bully’s actions.

Why is it that women feel the need to tear down other women?

Why is it okay for women to be bystanders while women commit violence toward other women?

Furthermore, deaf interpreters don’t get respect or equitable treatment in the interpreting field. If we work against each other, the system wins.

So when a deaf person puts down a deaf colleague, they become part of the system. And they made sure it worked perfectly, just as it should.

When a woman puts down another woman, they become part of the patriarchy. And makes sure it keeps functioning.

Systems of oppression work because of people like that and people who stand on the sidelines saying nothing. Color Me Lesbian (deaf queer woman of color) made a great video about this in ASL.

It was a obvious case of bullying with the intent to destroy a person’s reputation and career.

If that isn’t enough, think about this as a professional. Starting rumors or saying bad things about your colleagues without grounds is a clear violation of the code of ethics.