In the same way that you can add a ‘Blackcent’ to your style of speech, it can also be done when communicating in sign language. Now, a 22-year-old TikTok user is being credited for making the Black version of American Sign Language more widespread.
Nakia Smith became a popular influencer on the social networking app through her daily videos that included sign language lessons and educating people on some of the issues deaf people face, Dallas Observer reports. Her popularity even resulted in a deal with Netflix’s Strong Black Lead where she appeared in a video teaching people “How To Sign In BASL (Black American Sign Language).”
“The biggest difference between BASL and ASL is that BASL got seasoning,” Smith joked in her Netflix feature. She went on to share the history of BASL that started after Black people were prevented from attending the first American school for the deaf until 1952.
“TikTok is a huge platform, so I knew everyone was going to see it. I felt it needed to be out there. Everyone loves to learn something new,” Smith told Blavity last year.
Smith comes from a four-generation family of deaf people and has shared the warm response she’s received from TikTok users interested in learning more about the deaf community.
“I felt like a lot of people didn’t know about BASL until my video went viral. They were really curious and wanted to learn more about BASL and history. I told my grandfather that the video went viral and he said, ‘Keep it going,’” she said. “I knew I couldn’t answer everyone’s questions. From there, I knew that I’d have to continue teaching people what they need to know. People do need to know that Black ASL is not slang — it’s a language itself.”
Now a new center at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. will educate the masses on BASL. Launched last August, the center serves as an outreach center for teaching and learning about the Black deaf experience, Blavity reports.
Led by professor Carolyn McCaskill, Ph.D., the Center for Black Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University aims to share the history and identities of Black deaf people in America.
“Once integration happened, there was no discussion with us about the language. There was no recognition,” McCaskill said. “I was very excited that the Center was established. This has been a lifelong dream of mine.”
With the help of Smith’s popular TikTok videos and a growing interest in BASL, centers like the one at Gallaudet University will serve as a viable resource to providing context to an aspect of the Black diaspora that has long been ignored.