Jazz Hands

By: A.C.

It was reported this week that Manchester University National Union of Students decided  through democratic means to swap applause, clapping shouting approval for the silent  BSL sign of approval “Jazz Hands”, at all of their Student Union Meetings. This code of conduct does not affect the usual ear –splitting rock band, shows or comedy gigs to their Union. Many of whom might not appreciate the silent treatment.

The inews reports what it is that the students are actually doing:

“The policy was proposed in order to encourage the use of British Sign Language (BSL) clapping during our democratic events to make those events more accessible and inclusive for all. We are not banning audible clapping – we understand that some people may be more comfortable to continue using it.” They said the SU is not applying the rule to events held there and is simply “to be encouraged at the Union’s democratic events” which are a relatively small number over the university year. Manchester’s Students Union said: “We recognise that this one motion doesn’t overcome all of the barriers to complete inclusivity and we will continue to work towards that ideal. We do, however, see this as a positive step forward in that regard.”

Commendable inclusive stuff from the students, when one looks at this on the surface.

However, what about students who are blind? They can hear the impassioned debates of proto-politicians at the Union. So it would be natural to applaud. Those with sensory sensitivity might not – as a rule – actually attend just for the simple reason that the overwhelming sights & sounds would affect them.

I am undecided about this obvious student attempt to be inclusive, whilst at the same time ‘excluding’ other sections of the student body.

I think some logical humour and history has to be injected into this po-faced debate.

A University is there to discipline the students in their chosen studies in Logic, facts and being clear in their final analysis of the facts.

One of the Student leaders (Sara Khan)  on being challenged by a reporter about blind students being excluded said:

“It is a very important issue that you raise, but it is important that in the conversation we are having at the moment,  this is where we are, and the solution we currently have”.


Firstly let’s take the use of ‘Jazz Hands’ when casually referring to BSL Applause. That terminology may be lost on younger students, but might cause offence to black students – especially Black American students.  Movie Buffs will know that the term “Jazz Hands” of course, comes from the Hollywood film and First Talkie “The Jazz Singer” (1927)  . This is the fictional story of a Jewish Singer played by Al Jolson, in Blackface, white gloves and all, singing about his “Mammy”.

Personally I applaud the students in BSL or otherwise, for their attempts at inclusivity.

It is what students should be doing after all- show the previous generation how stupid, establishment and non –radical they were in their non–inclusive institutionalised and discriminatory lives. Teenagers with no education do exactly the same thing.

Then again, logical thinking, and seeking facts to think through something before triumphantly announcing it, is why they are at University. To take on board centuries of thinking – right or wrong –  and then think a subject through by research to arrive at new way of doing things.

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