BHM is over, but Black history celebrations happen all year ova here, so let’s get into this.
- Black American Sign Language(BASL) exists.
- BASL is distinctly different than ASL.
- BASL is JUST as valid as ASL.
The history of BASL has similar origins to a lot of Black history, racism and discrimination. When the first educational institutions for people with hearing loss were formed, America was still segregated.
The first permanent school for people who are deaf opened in 1817, and they did “allow” a Black student in 1825, but otherwise, white people went to certain schools and Black people to others. While the idea of integration was still cooking and marinating in the minds of folks, Black students were taught sign language very differently than their white counterparts.
Even though segregation in schools technically ended in 1954, some southern states put off integrating their schools for people who are deaf, until the last possible second – only complying when being threatened with losing their federal funding. States like Louisiana didn’t integrate their schools until 1978.
By the time integration fully hit, there was already a drastic difference between ASL and BASL – with BASL users establishing completely different signs for words (in some cases) and different mannerisms and gestures. Essentially, we threw our own drip on it. 💧
Much like the differences between standard English and AAVE (African American Vernacular English), BASL has regional variants and distinct grammar and vocabulary.
Instead of signs that are conveyed near the chin or lower, like with ASL, BASL is oftentimes conveyed near the forehead.
BASL signers frequently utilize both hands to communicate certain phrases/words, while ASL signers use one hand, for the same words.
BASL is flowing with body language and big gestures. It historically has incorporated hip hop movements, modern Black culture and AAVE.
There is a stigma behind BASL though. By ASL signers, BASL has commonly been seen as less than, improper and to be “broken” ASL. Sounds exactly like what those who speak standard English, say about AAVE, doesn’t it?🙄
There’s also the narrative that BASL signers are angry or have an attitude, due to their larger, more expressive gestures. And BASL signers are all too familiar with codeswitching, switching to ASL when their audience is not Black, and back to BASL when around Black folks.
You would think that BASL would be more widely known, seeing as though it’s practically as old as ASL, but it isn’t. Don’t worry tho, those who use BASL, with the help of social media, are trying to change that.
They are showcasing just how lusciously rich BASL and its history are. How Black people threw some swag on ASL and created BASL in all of its extra expressive, perfectly unique, incredibly glory – like only we can.
Check out this clip of BASL:
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com