Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Play with ASL, Play with Fire

At some point we must have given the green light.  We must have nodded our heads and said yes, you can play with our language. At the very least, we let it happen and didn't say anything. Then.

And we are seeing just what comes of that negligence on our part. Did we think it was someone else's job to speak up for and defend our language when it is abused?

Maybe we told ourselves that it would be good, that there would be wide-sweeping benefits to having ASL shared and experienced by hearing people who otherwise wouldn't. That those benefits would trickle down to us eventually, someday. Maybe we told ourselves, clamping down on our own unease, that the ends justified the means- because we could see, even then that our language was being used while completely absent of Deaf people and the community it came from. 

We are learning, slowly, that this is just one more lie we have been told, that we were too willing to believe.

That was then.  

This is now.  

In ever-increasing numbers, Deaf people all over the world are standing up to the abuse of their language, often to the bewilderment of most hearing people and even some Deaf people who have grown used to and complacent about such widespread cultural appropriation of sign language for the financial gain of hearing people and organizations.

Baby signs for hearing babies. Pseudo signing mascots on stages for hearing audiences, with nary a Deaf person in sight. ASL music videos by hearing people. ASL books, videos, and websites run and profited by hearing individuals.

I can almost sense the backlash already.  Don't be so serious.  Sign language isn't serious.  It's just a language like any other language.  Lots of people play with language. Sign language is an especially beautiful and visual language, so of course people want to play with it. No need to be so militant about it.

And here's my response: until every Deaf child is exposed to sign language, until every parent of every Deaf baby is told that their child is not a defect but rather a gift, until those same parents learn ASL to communicate with their children, until every classroom is providing true access to Deaf children, until every interpreter is indeed qualified and certified in every sector, until access for both children and adults is so ingrained and commonplace that it is no longer something we have to fight for.... then I will stop taking it seriously.  Because I will know then that our language is taken seriously. That we are taken seriously.

But we are not.  Our language is taken from us, denied to us, and then played with for amusement by the same people who would oppress us.

Until the day comes when this stops, as someone so succinctly said- I know that sign language is not meant to be played with.  It is for one thing and one thing only, to deliver a message. 

And that message is, get your hands off it.