Why is it so hard? What’s so difficult about NOT using the “r” word? I find it exceptionally difficult to believe that everyone who uses that word (and trust me, there are a lot), doesn’t have SOMEONE in their life that this word targets. The guy who bags your groceries at the supermarket? Your cousin? The kid you saw sitting alone in the high school cafeteria? Your neighbor? Your best friend’s child?
Show me a person whose life hasn’t been touched by someone who the “r” word targets and I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
The thing is, you might not even know that the person behind you at the zoo while you tell your child to “stop being a(n) ‘r’” (true story happened to a good friend) has a child with special needs. You might not know that the kid bagging your groceries every week has Cerebral Palsy. You might not know that the cashier at that super expensive department store you bought your shoes at is working a second job to pay for therapy for her child with Autism. You might not even know that your boss, who you see and talk to every day, has a sister with Down Syndrome she helps care for. The truth is, it shouldn’t matter who’s around you, and what their or your connection is with people the “r” word targets. Because integrity is what you do when nobody is looking, and using the “r” word is disgusting, ignorant, and hateful.
Movies like “The Change-Up” and “Tropic Thunder” are movies that prey on people for profit. When Ryan Reynolds tells Jason Bateman in “The Change-Up” that one of his twins looks a little “downsy” and people let it go in the name of “comedy” we tell each other that there are people in this world that matter so little to us they are nothing more than a punchline. I know, I know, comedians and movies make fun of people and groups all the time. Heck, I’m a lesbian mom with two kids, I’ve heard plenty of gay jokes (not that I think they’re ok either). But guess what, I can stand up and defend myself. I’ve been called a “dyke” in the store and been able to make a decision about whether or not I do something about it. The people that the “r” word targets don’t have that ability.
There was an entire campaign awhile back on television to remove the phrase “that’s so gay” from common vernacular. You can watch one of them here:
“Imagine if who you are was used as an insult.”
Now, imagine if who you are was used as an insult and you were powerless to do anything about it.
Why is it that Hollywood champions the cause for us LGBT folks but continues to use people with special needs as a punchline? Because the “r” word still gets a laugh, and people still make money.
There’s only one way to stop that. And it requires using your pocketbook. Or not using it, as the case may be. GQ recently lost subscribers over an article about regional style in which the “journalist” said Bostonians had a sort of “style Down Syndrome.” GQ later removed the statement from the article but has yet to make a statement on the issue. I don’t know if I know anyone who subscribes to GQ, and I don’t know anyone (I don’t think) who plans to see “The Change-Up.” But if you stand with me in making sure people with disabilities are portrayed as more than a punchline, at the very least do the one thing you can, and refuse to give your money to this trash.
A few months ago, I stood in line with my five year olds to go through security at the Glee Live concert. Yes, my five year olds watch Glee. Most of it is right over their heads, and all they care about is if Finn and Rachel are singing. But while they watch, they get to see a gorgeous girl play the role of Becky, a cheerleader with Down Syndrome. They see her as part of the school: active, contributing. And while we stood in line a young girl (12 or 13) was in front of us waiting with her mom. She was holding a sign and wearing a puffy painted shirt expressing her love for all things Glee. As she turned around to show us her sign I saw that she had Down Syndrome. And my eyes filled with tears as I realized that more than teaching my kids that people with disabilities are equal and contributing members of society, Glee has given kids with disabilities a show on tv that celebrates them, includes them, incorporates them as simply part of the high school landscape. Shows like “Parenthood” tackle the very real challenges of raising a young child on the autism spectrum, but in the very next scene delight in the joys and successes of that same child. Target includes kids of all abilities in its circulars. There are PLENTY of options out there to enjoy popular culture and spend your money without supporting people and organizations who treat defenseless people as worthless.
Money talks. Use yours for good. And if you use the “r” word, please stop. And Pledge to never use it again here: http://www.r-word.org/