In black sign language, a relic of segregation has become a sign of solidarity
“A person signs the word ‘now’ in ASL.” (Washington Post photo illustration;iStock)
by Frances Stead Sellers
“Felecia Redd always communicates more than the words she hears when interpreting in sign language. She enlarges and dramatizes her gestures when conveying the soaring rhetoric of a black preacher. She shifts her facial expressions to reflect a speaker’s emotions and vocal styles.
“’I try to match them,’ said Redd, a sign language interpreter for 19 years.
“Redd, who is black but was taught to sign by white teachers, said she did what came naturally, not thinking about the racial aspect of her signing.
A 30-minute documentary changed that. ‘Signing Black in America’ describes how a distinctive black signing system, or Black ASL, has evolved, reflecting the historic isolation of members of the black deaf community and their contemporary sense of solidarity.
“Interpreters demonstrate distinct signs for “well-dressed.”
“The signs are often larger, involving two hands when white signers use one, and gestured closer to the forehead than the chin. Some words are represented by completely different signs.”
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