Switched at Birth may not be on your great-television radar. It’s an ABC Family drama series about two teenage girls who discover, of course, that they were switched at birth. One of the girls, Bay, has grown up in a rich white family and is hearing; the other, Daphne, has been raised by a struggling Latina mother and went deaf at an early age.
In addition to stirring up drama, as might be expected, about parental affections and boyfriends, the show explores the privileges that Bay and her family have over Daphne and hers in ways both big and small. Bay and Daphne themselves are three-dimensional female characters who defy the virgin/whore dichotomy and also the tomboy/girly-girl one prevalent in kids’ franchises.
The latest episode takes place just after the Kansas City school board has decided to shut down Carlton School for the Deaf. The episode, which (apart from the brief opening scene) is presented entirely in ASL, follows the student protest that arises. It touches upon issues related to the educational mainstreaming of deaf students, the potency and problems of youth activism in the age of social media, and a similar protest that actually took place in the 1980s at Gallaudet University.
It’s a particularly powerful episode in a series that explores privilege more broadly and deeply than most other TV shows and probably any aimed at teenagers. You can watch it online here.