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: