Cultural Appropriation on National Television, Audism on Facebook

When I first posted about “church sign” way back in 2011 , I knew I would see it again and again. But still, I was not prepared for the discussions I witnessed, and took part in on Facebook last week.

On morning talk show programme Smile Jamaica‘s Facebook page, the following video was posted:

Smile Jamaica Post1

Posted on the 26th of May, 2016

After that, in the very public domain of this video’s comment section (see the globe icon to the bottom left of the video?), a some Deaf people posted the following:

Smile Jamaica comment 1
Smile Jamaica comment 2

Smile Jamaica comment3

R’s comment is absent at the time of writing this, possibly deleted by the commenter, so I respect their privacy by obscuring their name.

Some (clearly hearing people) disagreed with these Deaf people:

Smile Jamaica comment4

Smile Jamaica comment5

In mentioning that the gloves are distracting, Ms Morant is possibly referring to my own posting of the video on of my other pages:

Smile Jamaica Keneil Thomas post1

Honestly, if I were Deaf, I would be very upset and offended by the comments of these hearing people. I know some Japanese, but if I were to write a Japanese song or poem, and then react like this to a Japanese person telling me that I am wrong, then that would be an insult of the highest degree.

Ms Morant commented on my post, and we had the following discussion:Smile Jamaica Keneil Thomas comments


Disrespecting the church is not my aim. I simply wish for this kind of offensive action against the Deaf community stop. It is not only churches that do this. Hearing people of all walks of life spend a couple weeks learning “sign language” to perform at graduations, concerts, and other such events; hearing people that, sadly, could not hold a decent conversation with a Deaf person if they met one. Without properly understanding the language and culture of the Deaf, these kinds of performances will always be disasters.

The point is: Deaf people have a long history of being oppressed and discriminated against because of their language. In oralist schools, they were forced not to sign, and punished if they did. (And that’s not even half of the story!) So, to have hearing people claim the natural language of the Deaf, use it in their ministries and performances, and declare how right they (the hearing people) are in their use of the language when Deaf people say they don’t understand…

One must wonder: Who are these hearing people doing it for? Clearly it’s for themselves, and other hearing people.

Is that not cultural appropriation? Is that not audism*?

In my humble opinion, the “blessing” of “souls” should not be done at the expense of offending an entire culture. There are so many other forms a ministry can take, a performance can take. Why can’t we hearing people pay attention to the Deaf?

Interpreting a song into sign language is fine. Both hearing interpreters and Deaf people do it all the time, and some of these have gone viral. But please, respect and honour the fact that JSL is a language, with grammar and a culture tied to it.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

*Put simply, “audism” is to hearing a ability as racism as to race, and sexism is to sex/gender. The word was invented by a Deaf man named Tom L. Humphries in his doctoral dissertation in 1975. (“Audism“, ASL University)

This entry was posted in Interpreting, JSL, Languages and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cultural Appropriation on National Television, Audism on Facebook

  1. Robyn says:

    Ooh this need more publicity. Why can people never understand when what they’re doing hurts other people, regardless of their intent. It’s all well and good to say “I only meant to do x” but the most innocent of actions will always have consequences which must be dealt with fairly.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s