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Sign Language

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With over a million views on TikTok, 900k views on Twitter, and some assistance from her deaf 95-year-old grandfather Jake, 22-year-old Nakia Smith is bringing greater awareness to Black American Sign Language (BASL), fostering conversation for its spread and preservation.

Nakia is fifth-generation in a family with hereditary deafness, and she made her TikTok videos with her grandfather’s encouragement. “I told her why don’t you just keep going so others will notice her. They will see that Nakia can do anything through her teachings. Keep going. I always love to encourage all of my grandchildren,” Jake, Sr. told her.

In her interview with the Daily Moth, Nakia revealed, “I did not expect this video to go viral. I posted the video on Twitter, and also went viral there. That’s what people want to see- Black Deaf families. There are more out there.”

The popularity of that one video, though, led Netflix to reach out to her and produce a video for its own YouTube channel, where she goes into further detail about the language. Smith jokingly signs, “The biggest difference between BASL and ASL is that BASL got seasoning,” and then proceeds to deliver a more sobering history lesson. In less than two-and-a-half minutes in length, Smith explains, “It was developed by Black deaf people in the 1800s and 1900s during segregation. For reference, the first American school for the deaf was created in 1817 but only started admitting Black students in 1952. So as a result, Black communities had a different means of language socialization, and BASL was born.”

Recently, Nakia has even recently weighed in on how to sign for President-elect Joe Biden. In reference to his frequent use of aviator sunglasses, Biden’s highly suggested sign is to make a “c” shape around an eye. However, the making of a “c” can also allude to Crip culture, and she made it very clear how some misunderstandings could come from that. In one of her videos, she signed, “We BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) completely disagree with that [sign]… [The sign] feels so unsafe for us…” She even took to her Instagram and referenced her comments by stating, “He said he got our back (as Black Americans) so we ain’t (trying to) make him look stupid.”

You can see more of Nakia’s TikTok videos by clicking here.