I have a good sense of humour, I can assure you. My friends will all tell you how I like a laugh – like most people. But some jokes cross boundaries. And for me, mocking sign language is one of them.
So when Twitter fans complained to deaf model & TV star Nyle DiMarco that he needed to “learn to take a joke” when he spoke out about an actor making fun of sign language on live TV, I couldn’t have felt more enraged.
Actor Jamie Foxx had appeared on Fallon Tonight and was shown signing gibberish in an attempt to impersonate either an interpreter or a deaf person.
This appearance sparked a shocked response from Nyle DiMarco who is a deaf sign language user and winner of America’s Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars. He stated online;
Nyle’s message has received enormous support from the deaf community but he has also been subject to complaints of being “overly sensitive.”
I believe Nyle’s response was completely reasonable. A language that has been oppressed, argued against and denied for so many years and is hardly ever seen authentically on television does not deserve to belittled.
It reminded me of the Nelson Mandela funeral “fake interpreter” – that same sense of having our language torn apart and insulted.
Of course Jamie Foxx and Jimmy Fallon wouldn’t understand. They probably didn’t grow up being told not to sign because it’s “embarassing.” They didn’t get kids telling them they spoke “weird.” They didn’t have to fight for a language they feel most comfortable using.
They probably didn’t have to put up with school peers jeering at them in fake sign language.
They didn’t perform (like I did the following night) to a live audience and have three people in the crowd laughing and pretending to sign before they were told to leave.
These kind of people don’t know the struggle for sign language access. To ‘them’, signing just looks funny. Our language is amusing.
Did I miss the joke?
Because to me, to belittle another language is a sneaky way of playing the superior card. It’s almost like saying “you’re not normal, you’re the minority and so it’s okay to make fun of you.” And then all the sheep will think that’s okay and laugh along.
But it’s not okay.
A language that has been a sensitive topic of controversy for years and underrepresented in the media deserves more respect.
Get some real deaf stars on your show, Jimmy Fallon. And do us a favour, Jamie Foxx, learn some proper ASL and use that on live TV next time.
You can read more about the incident here:
By Rebecca-Anne Withey. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.
Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health.
She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader.
Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki.
She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out about the Deaf fashion bloggers taking on the world!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Cast Theatre, Doncaster: The UK's the UK’s first fully BSL integrated pantomime
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Ozen: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Deaf Independent: Deaf care and support services
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people