Note: I see from my stats that this post is being hit a lot due to Facebookers. Thanks for whomever is promoting my work. Just a note, however, that the postcard on the Smitherman FordonFord site has been removed. They have acted. Ford, however, still has not apologized publicly for his use of the word. Read on to see what the fuss has been about.
Warning: This post will be using a quote that includes the 'r' word. It is done only for the purposes of information and without the intent of promulgating the use of the word.
Toronto is less safe for people with intellectual disabilities now that people with disabilities are being defamed as part of the mayoralty campaign. I was innocently watching the news when a poster filled the screen. The poster had a picture of candidate Rob Ford beside a word bubble which said: You’d have to be retarded if you can’t see frickin’ water in front of you. I was brought up short. My heart started to pound and my teeth clenched. The 'R' word has a profound and negative impact on me emotionally.
I've always hated that word, or rather, the use of that word in hateful ways for the purpose of devaluing others. It's a word that is an attack on who people with intellectual disabilities are as individuals and an attack on the minority constituency to which they belong. It's a word that is outrageously harmful and it is used, no matter what people say, with full knowledge and intent. That the word hurts others has also been clearly stated by people with intellectual disabilities themselves, by their families and by the organizations that provide them support. This is not news.
At Vita Community Living Services, we were issued a challenge by our self advocate group. We were asked what we were going to do to make the community safer, to make the community a place where they could go without fear of hearing the 'r' word tossed about. We responded by creating a campaign wherein we distributed the words hit cards to all our members and all our staff, eventually we distributed them to self advocate groups and organizations around the world. We wanted to actively engage those who used the word. Further we developed a version of the card for Gay Pride where we marched for the first time. Our goal was both to confront those who use the word as well as to begin to build unity with other groups who have experienced negative taunts out of the mouths of bigots.
Then comes the campaign for the mayor's seat and because we live in modern times the discussion and debate has become nasty. The George Smitherman camp has decided to use words out of the mouth of candidate Rob Ford to bring him down. As such they created a website with electronic postcards that contain various quotes from the public record said by Rob Ford on various issues. One of the quotes uses the word 'retarded' in reference to signage. This campaign was everywhere. I saw it in the newspapers, I saw it on television, I easily found it on the web. I actually sent the electronic postcard to Manuela, Vita's Executive Director, both so she could see it as well as to find out how easy it is to simply forward this kind of hateful stuff onwards - it's easy.
I was angered.
At Rob Ford for using the word in this manner.
At George Smitherman for choosing this quote to highlight and as a result making the 'r' word so visible, so public, so accessible.
I was angered.
By the media for not bringing a disability perspective to the story. I can't imagine the media, had another word been used to disparage another minority, not interviewing or speaking to spokespeople wounded or damaged by that word.
I think Ford and Smitherman and even the Toronto media believe that we are a passive minority that might be offended but that will be silent. I think that all of us who have justifiable outrage at Ford's use of the word and Smitherman's promulgation of the word will simply shake our heads and go quietly away.
No more silence.
I immediately wrote both Ford and Smitherman. I demanded that Ford apologize for his use of the word and that he 'take the pledge' not to use the word again in that manner. I demanded that Smitherman take that electronic postcard off the site, apologize for choosing that quote and 'take the pledge'. I, of course, have heard nothing back from either side.
Here's where you come into the picture. I have a large daily readership. Many of you are faithful commenters. I would like you to take just five minutes from your day and contact both Ford and Smitherman and if you have time also a note to City Television which has a popular news programme here in Toronto. I'd also ask that you leave a comment here in the comment section to let me know that you've done this. It's a lot to ask. But we have to start using the muscle of our numbers and the motivation of our anger to make our voices heard. Don't worry if you are from outside of Toronto or outside of Canada, the international movement against the 'r word' needs to been seen, felt and most importantly heard. I have this wonderful image of those of you who live in parts of the world that are reading this just after publishing at midnight here in Toronto immediately writing letters, I imagine the Ford and Smitherman people openning their emails in the morning to discover international outrage. I imagine and I hope.
For those of you who have a personal blog, disability themed or not, who are looking for something to blog about, please join in and maybe we can blogswarm this topic. It's inappropriate for public figures to speak disparagingly of any member of the disability community. If you do blog about this, put the link in the comments so we can all visit and get a sense of the length and breadth of our community.
Here's how you get in touch:
Rob Ford who used the word:
245 Dixon Road
The George Smitherman Campaign who is distributing the quote containing the word:
70 The Esplanade, Suite 201
To a media outlet in Toronto:
The world needs to be made safe for all - and we are finally realizing that we are part of 'all'.
Thanks 'y'all' for reading, for writing, for protesting, for expressing outrage.
Dave, I haven't sent the emails yet but I do have a blog post up. I'll bcc you on the email.
Emails are sent and it should be in your inbox too.
I have written an email to Rob and will write emails to the others tomorrow.
Have emailed to the two individuals. Good luck.
I share your outrage and I have emailed Rob Ford and George Smitherman as well as the news media. I hope this gets the coverage it deserves in the media and the word gets out that this language is not acceptable for anyone in any situation. Thanks for bringing this to our attention as we are not part of the greater Toronto area and would not have been aware otherwise.
I emailed Rob Ford with a cc to the two others. This is what I wrote:
Dear Rob Ford and staff:
I am writing to you to ask that you please stop using the word "retarded" as an insult. When you use this word, you not only insult the people who you intend to target with this slur but you also cause great offense to people with intellectual disabilities.
People with intellectual disabilities themselves tell us that terms such as "retarded" or "retard," when bandied about casually as insults, not only hurts their feelings but also causes them to fear for their personal safety. When people think nothing of causing such great offense to a whole group of people, it leads them to wonder what other things people might feel is acceptable to do to them.
People with intellectual disabilities at one community service organization in Canada, Vita, posed a challenge to the staff at Vita: How will you protect our safety in a society that considers it "okay" to use a slur that is as offensive to people with intellectual disabilities as the word "nigger" is to African Americans? Vita (http://www.vitacls.org/) responded by launching a campaign to educate people about the way that the word "retard" hurts ... like a fist. This campaign has empowered many people with intellectual disabilities to take the lead in approaching the people in their daily lives who use this term and tell them, "Yes, I heard you. Yes, I understood you. Having an intellectual disability doesn't stop me from understanding that it is me you insult when you use this term! And, yes, it hurts ... like a fist."
Rob Ford, surely you can find other ways to express your meaning without resorting to a term that makes an entire group of people feel afraid and unsafe and targeted for persecution--issues they often know from first hand experience with bullying and hate crimes are issues they have genuine cause to worry about. How about vocabulary such as "oblivious" or "dense" -- words that convey roughly the same meaning I think you had in mind but that avoid singling out a population that too many people consider "safe" to insult and even harass and bully with little or no consequences?
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please know that it is not only Canadians but also Americans watching what you do,
[signed with my name, email, and city]
I have now sent a separate email targeted to the news outlet, CityNews. I sent a bcc to you. It's the email with the subject line that begins as "Missed CityNews story."
I should add a belated apologies to all readers for use of the "r" word and the "n" word in my past comment-- I hope it is clear that my use of these terms is intended to highlight their offensiveness.
I have responded with a blog post and will be working on the email. :D
I placed phone calls to both.
E-mails sent to all from Wisconsin.
First, thank you for being clear about the R word being bad when it's being used as an insult, in hate speech, in only a negative way. It's a horrible, horrible thing and should stop.
Meanwhile I've shared this on the mighty and powerful(ly evil) Facebook and have especially asked my friends in the Magical Land of Canadia to contact these clowns.
Emails sent, Dave. Thanks for giving us a way to take action.
I wrote emails. I hope your call for action results in much of it.
Independent thinker that I am, I have written my own letters to the two candidates.
Done, done and done!
I have outraged out loud!
Thank you for the call to action!
Sending e-mails right now. Outrage moving to action, nicely done as per usual, Dave.
Thank you, Dave! I'm in the US but will definitely send your countrymen e-mails regarding their use of the "r" word and will also contact the news media regarding their cavalier attitude toward use of the word! My grand-daughter falls into the category being demeaned and I will fight till my last breath to ensure she is treated with dignity and respect!
I wrote and sent my other 2 emails!
E-mails have been sent from Springfield, MO Dave!
Just to let you know that I did receive a reply from Rob Ford offering me an apology and saying that he has never been known to be politically correct. I refused his apology and suggested that a comment made in the heat of the moment, could be construed as not politically correct but an add campaign that uses the "r" word that makes a portion of his constituents feel unsafe, threatened and hurt is nuch more than that. Thanks again Dave for the forum and a way to address an issue
I received the same reply from Mr. Ford that Jan did.
Thanks, Dave. I'm sending e-mails and have just written a new blog post. http://thebatesmotel3.blogspot.com/2010/08/one-at-time.html
I must say that I received a rather nice response from Rob Ford and while I'm sure it was just that, a nice response. It wasn't a form letter. It addressed what I mentioned specifically. If nothing else, he responded. It isn't enough, nothing will be. This word when used to describe a population effectively sentenced whole generations to a captivity that many of us can't fathom. I wrote a paper once about the deinstitutionalization of Ontario and believe it to be one of my better works, but I learned quickly that the attention paid to this topic is surface-level. Nonetheless, the only way to delve deeper is to scrape at that surface and this was done today. So very proud to write in the same spot as you fine people!
Emailed all three.
Thanks for letting us know.
I have reposted, and as soon as I am able the emails are going out. Thank you for posting this.
Done and done!
emails sent to Ford and Smitherman. Will email City TV tomorrow, if my shoulder will let me.
Consider it done, Dave.
While politics appears to be the venue of the moment, someohow Mr. Ford has missed the point.
So, let's be perfectly clear.
Mr. Ford, you are currently in the political limelight, but this is NOT a political issue: this is an issue of ethics, morality, citizenship, and just plain old every day common sense. People attempting to gain public power can't afford to be ignorant!
I was out with a friend the other day and her friend used this word repeatedly. I cringed.
email should be in your box.
I didn't understood well... (my first language is french not english)
The Smitherman's page is using rob's phrases against himself... It's that?
(if it's that or not don't change the horror of their use of this horrible shitword, but it will change the way I'm going to phrase my E-Mail!)
I didn't mail them, I'd n't know what to say, but I am putting your URL on my Developmentally Abled Movement on facebook to garner support. I have a developmental difference and am impacted by the R word. I found this link on the FB Spread the word to end the Word page. May your efforts bear fruit!
RE; PARKING FINES FOR PARKING IN YOUR OWN DRIVEWAY,(WHAT NONCENSE)!
I OWN A HOME IN ETOBICOKE AND MY HOME SHOWS PRIDE OF OWNERSHIP. I PAY HUMMUNGOUS TAXES ON MY PROPERTY
NOW THE GOVERNMENT IS TELLING ME HOW I CAN USE MY PROPERTY. 1 CAR GARAGE ALLOWS FOR 1 CAR IN DRIVEWAY
THEREFOR IF I HAVE 3 KIDS LIVING AT HOME WITH LEGAL LICENESES AND CARS, (MY DRIVEWAY) WHAT ARE THEY TO DO PARK ON THE STREET AND GET TICKETS EVERY NITE. ON THE OTHER HAND EVERYONE HAS QUESTS THAT STAY OVER, WHERE DO THEY PARK? THIS IS MY PROPERTY, I SHOULD BE ALLOWED ACCESS TO IT IN ANYWAY I PLEASE. WE ARE GRADUALLY GETTING SQUEESED TO CONFORN TO THE GOVERNMENTS YING YANG. WHATS NEXT, DO WE HAVE TO CLICK OUR HEELS TO GET PERMISSION TO DO WHAT WE, AS FREE PEOPLE ARE ENTITLED TO. WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR RIGHTS? IN THIS WONDERFUL FREEDOM OF CANADA, (THIS IS BECOMING A CONTROLLING GOVERNMENT THAT HAS EVERYONE SQUIRMING AND IN A DOWNWARD SPIRAL TO WHO KNOWS WHERE.
ROB, COME QUICK TO HELP US
WAITING TO EXHALE.
JJ , ETOBICOKE
JUST WAITING TO EXHALE.
ROB, PLEASE HELP
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