Persistence of African-American/Black Signed Language Interpreters in the United States: The Importance of Culture and Capital

March 2, 2015


This study investigates cultural competence in the field of signed language interpreting and the persistence of African American/Black signed language interpreters in the field. To date, no research in the discipline of signed language interpreting studies has looked at how the cultural competence of practitioners impacts colleague dynamics, nor has there been identification of how cultural competence impacts interpreters’ persistence in the field. Data for this study were collected over a period of several months utilizing ethnographic research methods. Face-to-face focus groups, a large-scale questionnaire, and follow up interviews were conducted. A search of the literature revealed that while a lack of cultural competence does impact colleague dynamics and the provision of services within the field, the larger issue may be the African American/Black interpreter’s lack of social capital. This study found that African American/Black interpreters regularly experience subtle instances of racism directed toward them from consumers and colleagues. In large part, African American/Black interpreters view their White interpreting colleagues and educators to be lacking in cultural competence. This places an added psychological burden on the African American/Black interpreter that impacts their social capital and the effort they must expend in order to connect with their peers. The result may be burnout and the desire to viii change careers. To increase the culturally competent provision of services and improve colleague dynamics within the field, African American/Black Deaf consumers and African American/Black interpreters alike desire recruitment of interpreters from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.


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Citation: West Oyedele, Erica, “Persistence of African-American/Black Signed Language Interpreters in the United States: The Importance of Culture and Capital” (2015). Master’s Theses. Paper 19.

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(New York)