The Deaf community was outraged after Jamie Foxx faked sign language on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Fallon was cutting to a commercial break and Foxx seemed to be pretending to interpret what Fallon said, but there were no intelligible signs, according to Nyle DiMarco. The Deaf celebrity and winner of both America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars, tweeted soon after the event, saying, “.@iamjamiefoxx, It is straight up disrespectful to make up sign language. Everything is in gibberish.” The tweet was accompanied by a video of Foxx moving his hands in random motion.

DiMarco also released a statement via Twitter.


Marlee Matlin, Deaf actress, and Oscar winner, also spoke out on Twitter, saying: “Mr. @iamjamiefoxx. I’d be happy to give you sign language lessons so you could be funnier.”

Some people argued that’s exactly what comedy is: Making fun at the expense of various communities or people. However, in 2015, comedian Sarah Silverman argued that comedy should evolve with education.

“I do think it’s important – as a comedian, as a human – to change with the times,” she said, “to change with new information. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with changing with the times.”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld stopped touring colleges because the younger generation does not find “offensive” jokes funny, but humor has been evolving in recent years, especially as people become more educated on feminist, racial, and gay/transgender rights issues. Some people argue that millennials can’t take a joke, but a popular social media post claims the opposite.

Often, people in marginalized or oppressed communities no longer want to let offensive jokes slide by.

The Deaf community, in particular, has been fighting to be a full part of society in the United States for centuries. From the founding of Gallaudet College in 1864 to its “Deaf President Now” protest in 1988 to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to the requirement that cable television be captioned in 2006, many Deaf people have fought for their rights as a community to use American Sign Language in education and to be granted equal opportunity along with their hearing peers.

Understanding the kinds of humor that hurt communities can lead to better empathizing with groups that may not be totally relevant to one’s experiences. Marginalized communities standing up for each other can only lead to more places at the table for all of us.

 

Information

Lowercase “d” deaf is generally used to describe the people who have some level of hearing loss in a medical sense. They may not want to identify themselves with Deaf culture as a community.

Uppercase “D” Deaf describes aspects of or individuals who are part of a culture that celebrates Deafness instead of finding it a hindrance or disability.

I used Deaf in my article to discuss issues pertaining to those who identify with that community and movement. If something came across as rude or offensive, I did not mean it that way. Please comment if there is something I should change, or feel free to share your experience as part of a community that has dealt with unfair treatment.

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