Opinion by Lilit Marcus
Aug 23, 2019
Editor’s Note: Lilit Marcus is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), author, and travel editor at CNN.com. Deaf with a capital D is often used to specify the active, proud Deaf community, as opposed to the lowercase-d deaf which simply indicates a person with hearing loss.The views expressed here are hers.
(CNN) – This week, a video of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego working alongside rapper Twista, described by The Root as “the fastest rapping MC in the world,” went viral.
Thousands of people shared the video of Gallego’s interpreting and praised her for her speed and accuracy.
While I’m sure anybody would be thrilled to have total strangers congratulating them on their work performance, I have just one question for the folks going wild over Gallego’s interpreting — do you understand anything the signer is saying? If the answer is no, I want you to think before you share that video, especially if you’re doing it to feel more engaged with the Deaf community.
Gallego, who is hard of hearing herself, is known as an interpreter who works often with rap and hip-hop musicians, and a self-professed ally in the Deaf community, but she’s hardly the first interpreter to go viral. There’s clearly just something about these videos that fascinates or excites people.
But when you treat other languages like fun, exotic modes of performance instead of like utilities, you are praising people who interpret for the deaf — while ignoring the deaf. Too many hearing people see signing as performance art instead of a living, breathing language that many people use to communicate basic thoughts and needs every single day.
Centering hearing people in Deaf experiences and presenting ASL as amusement for hearing concert-goers instead of as a mode of communication for the Deaf does a huge disservice to interpreters and their profession. For the dozens of profiles and hot takes written about Gallego, there are no such accompanying stories about discrimination, lack of access, and other real-time issues facing the deaf community.
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