Sign Language is not Performance Art

The exoticism of signed language interpreters and signed language gets uptake in mainstream media, but deaf people’s views are ignored. Here’s one response to this phenomenon, written by my colleague, Dr. Caroline Solomon, a deaf professor of biology and her brother, Jeffrey Archer Miller, a hearing lawyer who regularly represents deaf people.

The subtle subtext of the media’s approach has been to introduce its readers to American Sign Language as an oddity, more in the vein of a story about Cirque du Soleil than as a window into a sophisticated means of interpersonal expression. Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Williamson delights in describing how Mr. Painter interprets “fiscal cliff” and “kick the can down the road” from English to American Sign Language. Would its readers be equally interested in a story about an interpreter translating arcane Washington bureaucratese into Spanish? We suspect not.


Reflections on Adoption, part 3

Part 3, from philosopher and adoptive parent Brynn Welch.


Social convention 3: be excited for adoptive parents, not proud of them.

What happens in the absence of this convention: adoptive parents find themselves getting loads of praise for adopting a child. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Who doesn’t like praise? However, the praise very quickly starts to imply that one views adoption as somehow similar to mission work, which makes it seem like there was a reason we *wouldn’t* adopt our children. I wanted to parent for the same selfish reasons others want to parent. (I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m perfectly at peace with the selfishness.) Although now I am of course motivated by a fierce love of one particular little dude, my desire to adopt was motivated by my desire to parent, and my desire to parent was exactly the same as anyone else’s desire to parent. I wanted to have that kind of relationship in my life even before there was some specific person with whom I might have that relationship, and adoption was the path that made that possible. I was not doing mission work; I was just trying to become a mom. Praise for having adopted is particularly strange because a successful adoption makes adoptive parents feel unbelievably lucky. PowerBall lottery winners have *nothing* on someone who hears a judge declare s/he has all rights and responsibilities of natural parents. I thought I was being a little nutty and overly sensitive about this until I spoke with other adoptive parents and read several books about adoption, and it’s apparently a pretty universal experience that adoptive parents are a) praised for having adopted, and b) uncomfortable with what that praise seems to imply about adoption and/or the adopted child. There is no question that much praise in the form of “he’s so lucky to have you” or “I’m so proud of you” would have happened had I given birth to my son, but there’s also no question that some of it wouldn’t have. The latter category is bad but unfortunately often indistinguishable from the former. I freely admit that this may be a situation where adoptive parents are reacting to all praise badly even though much of it is totally unproblematic. Nonetheless, in the absence of this convention, we are praised, and though there’s no earthly reason someone who hasn’t been through it would know this ahead of time, the praise is uncomfortable. Hence the new social convention.

If you have friends or family who have adopted, be excited for them and with them, but do not praise them. Even if you disagree about the implications of such praise, resist praising because that praise will – rightly or wrongly – make the adoptive parent(s) uncomfortable. In fact, the best response to someone who adopts is “Congratulations! You’re so lucky!”



Sally Haslanger receives Ford Chair at MIT

Fantastic to see awesome feminist philosophers getting recognised. (Yay Sally!!)

Deborah Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, has awarded professor of philosophy Sally Haslanger a Ford Chair. “This honor is in recognition of Sally’s significant and distinctive research, and her distinguished leadership within the field of philosophy,” said Fitzgerald.

Thanks, Mr Jender!