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for Digital Immigrants
by Doug Bowen-Bailey
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A little over a decade ago, I bought a T-shirt from a local activist who I had the honor of working with on issues of racial justice. On the front, the shirt read “Got Privilege?” following the marketing campaign from the Dairy Association with its phrase, “Got Milk?”
On the back, was a suggested three-step approach for people who answered “yes.”
- Know it
- Understand it
- Change it
As someone who experiences the world with a lot of privilege, these are three steps I am continually challenging myself to work through. So, in this column in which I claim to provide advice, I am instead looking for a little myself.
One of my favorite intellectual developments is the diversity of podcasts that are available. Great journalism and conversations that used to only occur during specific radio time slots are now available to listen to when I want to. (As an avid cyclist, that tends to be when I am on a long ride.) Having access to the information in these podcasts helps me in so many ways – in my work as an interpreter educator, in my work as an interpreter having a broader fund of knowledge, in my work as an activist, and in my own personal life.
Yet clearly, having podcasts play such a significant role in my life is tied to my status as someone who can hear. Being able to bike 50 miles and be exposed to new ideas that shape the way I see the world at the same time leads me to answer the question, “Got Privilege?” with a resounding, “Yes.” So, I know it.
The challenge is to more fully take the next steps: understand it and then change it. What do I do with the knowledge I gain from this privilege that can work towards positive change. This is a process I am still working on figuring out – and feel the need to turn to colleagues and ask for insight.
To me, this is one of the dilemmas of the digital age. As technology grows, there is an increase in access in many ways – but there is also an increase in the material that is inaccessible.
In attempt to change the dynamic of the privilege, I have contacted National Public Radio – which is the sponsor of a number of the podcasts I listen to – asking them to consider creating transcripts of the shows. (Some do but many don’t.) That type of change is slow, and so I also want to take some personal steps. It is a drop in the bucket on the task of changing the privilege, one step I am setting as a goal is to start creating ASL summaries of episodes that I find insightful. I want to share one here:
A Sample Podcast from Hidden Brain
“The ‘Thumbprint’ and the Culture: Implicit Bias and Police Shootings.”
This is an episode of Hidden Brain which is hosted by Shankar Vedantam, a journalism who focuses on social science research and how it impacts our lives. This story was particularly impactful for me because I serve on the Citizen Review Board for my city’s police department and our department is planning a training on implicit bias for all of its officers.
The podcast begins by explaining the Implicit Association Test which was developed by Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek (University of Virginia). This test uses categories of people and different types of words to test how easy it is for someone to associate the two. For instance, there is an Implicit Association Test which focuses on gender and science – and the results have shown that as a nation, we have a harder time associating women as scientists than we do men as scientists. This “implicit bias” may be in direct contradiction to what people state as their values. For more information on the Implicit Association Test or to try it out, visit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.
This online project has generated a significant amount of data about the implicit biases around the nation. People take the test, and though anonymous, part of what they share is where they live. Eric Hehman, a researcher at Ryerson University in Toronto, is using the data in a new way. Rather than looking at how implicit biases affect individuals, he is looking at the larger social effects. A recent study focused on the use of lethal force in policing. The study found that by looking at regional racial biases, researchers were able to predict where there would be more lethal use of force by police officers. That is, where there is a higher level of racial bias, there also exists a more disproportionate use of lethal force. These predictions were made without paying attention to an of the details about the force. So, rather than implicit bias being a commentary about any individual, it instead represents “the thumbprint of the culture” in one’s own psyche.
How this Applies to Interpreter Education
In our work to produce more culturally competent interpreters, it is critical to look at our own biases. Additionally, we need our students and proteges to become aware of their own. Yet to be effective, our work cannot only stay at those levels. If we don’t address the biases that are built into the systems in which we live and work, the “thumbprint of the culture” will remain with us and our students.
Living with the Dilemma
I hope by sharing this example of something that I discover in a podcast, it is both clear the value of what I learn and the challenge in the fact that it comes through hearing privilege because the systemic bias of this culture tilts to people who can access information auditorily. So, on the one hand, I learn more about bias and gain tools to and on the other hand I benefit from the bias that provides me access to this information and denies it to others.
It reminds me of Audre Lorde’s essay, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. (Lorde, 2007) Can we resources that are visually totally inaccessible be helpful in overcoming systemic audism? That is a question for me that technology has raised, not answered. I am wondering if any of you have any advice for me to consider.
Vedantam, S. and Penman, M. (Producer). (2017, June 6). The ‘Thumbprint Of The Culture’: Implicit Bias And Police Shootings [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2017/06/05/531578107/the-thumbprint-of-the-culture-implicit-bias-and-police-shootings
Hehman, E., Flake, J.K., & Calanchini, J. (in press). Disproportionate use of lethal force in policing is associated with regional racial biases of residents. Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider : Essays and speeches. Berkeley, Calif.: Berkeley, Calif. : Crossing Press, c2007.