Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Jennifer From Dave

Dear Jennifer Aniston,

I wasn't going to write you this letter. Really, I wasn't, even though readers of this blog asked me to publicly and privately. Most wanted me to put into words the anger that they felt towards you and the controversy that your insensitive use of 'R#tard' had sparked. To me your lack of public apology told me everything I needed to know about you. Until yesterday I thought I had said all I had to say.

But then I learned of him.

Of Ernie Hernandez Jr.

You don't know his name do you Ms Aniston? That's no great surprise. Ernie lived his life quietly being distinguished only by his desire for do a good job, his love of his personal independence and his manner of contributing to the lives of those he cared about. But his freedom came at a cost Ms Aniston, do you know why? Well his mother reported that he would come home and tell her about people in the mall teasing him, taunting him and calling him 'r#tard'. He was fearful but his fear didn't stop him. He had the kind of courage that you and I can only dream of. He wanted to live in the community and he would do so even though there were bullies out there who attacked his very existence.

You may wonder Ms Aniston what this has to do with your casual use of a word. Well, here's the thing. You made the word 'cool' to talk about, your defenders loved the opportunity to tell everyone that you had a God Given Right to speak your mind. Here's some of the company you find yourself in, I am not altering or censoring the words written, their impact may hurt other readers, you, of course, may not care:

You people are retards that are spinning this into something offensive and not politically correct

This PC has gone too far. It is friggin retarded. Unbunch your panties you liberal pricks.

i act like a retard so come slam on me now....piss off everyone is human and says and does things in there life thats others might not think are "right" fredom of speech people we are in AMERICA.

You all need to fuck yourselfs and the retards you rode in on.


Does that give you a sense of what Ernie Hernandez Jr. experienced when he was out for a walk or meeting with friends? Does that give you a sense of what happens to people with disabilities? You see no one much takes the word 'r#tard' seriously. No police officer, few teachers, probably no security guards would intervene. It's a word that everyone uses, even America's Best Friend, Jennifer Aniston. You normalized hate speech. You took a hateful word and trivialized it's impact. You brought out the hate hyena's to bay all over the Internet, all over neighbourhoods, all over schools.

Do you know what happened to Ernie Hernandez Jr., Ms Aniston?

Well the police report stated that the murderous attack on him was violent and vicious. He was stabbed multiple times. He died in the community that he had fought to live in. He died after reporting time and again about being called names, being taunted, hearing 'r#tard' echoing on streets and in passageways.

Modesto California has lost a citizen.

We, people who have disabilities, have lost a brother.

Ms Aniston, you and your thoughtless, meanspirited, language made his life a little harder. You have made our battle longer.

I did not know Ernie, but I mourn him. I mourn that he died too young. I mourn that he experienced social and verbal and finally physical violence. I mourn that the world he wanted to live in did not embrace him.

Ernie, brother, rest well.

Dave Hingsburger


Amanda said...

One problem that I think a lot of people have in understanding situations like this is that they never identify with the person who is getting hurt, or killed.

If you identify with the person then you know it is wrong.

I know that what happened to him could have happened to me, or any number of my friends who like me have been called names like 'retard' our entire lives, including adult lives.

I know this in a very immediate way. It's not abstract to me. It's real. It's fists and blood and bruises and worse.

To people like Jennifer Aniston it's not real. It's just a word. A word for people like me (people like her see all people with developmental disabilities in this way, it's not about specific diagnosis, the r-word is used against a broader group of disabled people). People who don't look right. People who aren't really people.

They did a study once that showed that "ordinary" people's brains lit up in the same pattern whether they were shown a homeless person or an overflowing toilet.

People who use words like 'ret4rd' on us see us as like an overflowing toilet. Disgusting, not human, not even necessarily alive. They see us as things not people. And you can't hurt things (in their world anyway -- in my world you certainly can). So they go on treating us as things and we go on being killed. Next it could be me. Or my friends. Or anyone who gets the r-word thrown at us.

If more people identified -- really identified -- with the people who are targeted by this stuff. Then this wouldn't happen again. I'm not saying try to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, because that's not possible. But it's possible to imagine being tormented and then killed. It's possible to imagine that the way you imagine it when it's not a disabled person. And I still think that this is a vital part of stopping the dehumanization, even if I'm not necessarily wording it properly, I feel like I'm speaking around the topic rather than saying it well. It's late and I have language problems at the best of times. Oh well. Hope it made sense.

theknapper said...

I just lit a candle for Ernie Hernandez.....I have no words to add. Thank you for such a moving post.

Kristin said...

Dave, you continue to blow me away with the power of your words. Preach on Brother Dave!

Kat said...

Unfortunately I have found that no matter what the circumstances people are who they are and theres not much you can do to change them. I try very hard to bring attention to those who use the "r" word, and in my presence they apologize but its usually not sincere and the apology is more about me and not the true sense of why that word is inappropriate. You'd think a person with such influence would at least try to be sensitive with their words but again people are who they are and sooner or later they show their true colors.Its a shame.

Gregor Ronald said...

I think the real problem here is that people take tv comedy bimbos seriously. It's not as if the President or the head of the UN said it, she's a bloody actress for crying out loud. She doesn't get hired for her brain or her social and political wisdom. Forget about her and go worry about something that matters.

Anonymous said...

Gregor, the problem is that people DO take "tv comedy bimbos", as you so charmingly put it, seriously. That is precisely why they need to pay as much, if not more attention to what they say as the President or Head of the UN. Most teenagers don't listen to world leaders...they do listen to Jennifer Aniston though.

Sher said...

Cigarette companies know it, junk food companies know it and drug dealers know it! If you want to effect lasting change you target the youth of a country. Smoking, junk food-eating, drug addicted youth become smoking, junk food-eating, drug addicted adults. Most youth are probably listening to and reading about TV personalities more than the Head of the UN, therefore are influenced by them more. I'm pretty sure that very few people, young or otherwise, walk into their local hair salon and ask for "the Obama". It is disheartening when a celebrity's lack of social conscience happens in a public way while people who are easily influenced are watching. It's equally disheartening when a population of people are harmed in a very personal way by it. Jennifer Aniston has joined the ranks of such celebrities as Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. I will not look at her quite the same. That judgemental, labelling word slipped so easily out of her mouth, that I feel confident in it being a regularly used part of her speech. Sad, really, that people who use the word think that it's just another word. It is SO much more.

Sher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sher said...

Gregor, I wonder how celebrities such as Aniston are affected by people labelling them a bimbo, (whatever your definition of a bimbo is). She may have the IQ of a genius, but because she's a TV personality you have decided she's a bimbo. Why are we so accepting of labels and feel the need to categorize so freely. A label NEVER captures the characteristics of a whole person. I am offended for Ms. Aniston at your labelling her a bimbo and your willingness to speak that word so freely in relation to her. We will have made such progress as a society when we start looking at people in their uniqueness and stop looking at them through the filter of labels!

Ann said...

The director of vocation service's was quoted, in response to the murder of Ernie Hernandez, "We've had our people teased and taunted. Our population carries a stigma."

This is the argument against the word. It is against the cruelty of perpetuating the "stigma" through the word. The intentions behind the word that deny the mentally disabled of their humanity are being attacked. It is not about the evolution of language, about being politically correct. It is about respect. And it all comes down to the word and the intent behind the word.

DownTownDan said...

Even though my skin is growing thicker by the minute, it's still difficult to read the comments that are inevitably born in the days after this sort of story breaks. Every time a new "R word" story makes the news, I find myself taking a deep breath and scrolling down to look at the comments. It doesn't seem to matter what site I'm reading, the comments are always the same. Always hateful. I'm so tired of being told that I need to "get over it." I'm so tired of hearing that I'm the one with the problem. I'm enraged by those who tell me that it's okay, because "she was just making fun of herself."

I'm sad that I am commenting here, preaching to the choir. It feels spineless, in a way, to comment within the relative safety of this blog. But I do so because at least here I know that people will read these words without mocking them. They will not write something vulgar in response. I comment here because I know that the comment that follows mine will not take a shot at my son.

At this moment, this morning, I just don't feel like fighting. I will fight that fight every day for the rest of my life, but right now I just want a break. I want a moment to sit here and shake my head and wonder what the hell is wrong with people. I don't understand how such cruelty can exist, so casually and openly, in modern society.

Dave, thanks for this post.

Sher said...

DowntownDan, we are in this fight with you. That's what is beautiful about a "team concept"; when one member of a team needs a break the others step up to keep the work going. So take a break, my friend and know that your fight is still being fought.

Lene Andersen said...

How sad, how ridiculous, how enraging...

Rebel Child of Light said...

Ah Dave, I have tears in my eyes. Just to think something so terrible could happen.. it breaks my heart. May he rest in PEACE.

Clay said...

That commenter within the post said:

"freedom of speech, people, we are in AMERICA."

You would think that in AMERICA, people would have the right to be who they are. Call me when that happens.

I did a follow-up of my re-posting of Dave's original 'R' post. Pretty funny video in it, about Dr Laura and Sarah Palin.

Moose said...

replace the R word with the has-no-other-purpose-than-HATE N word and she would be booed off the planet.

Leah Spring said...

Love you Dave. I haven't been around here in forever. Silly of me. Glad I'm back!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I had no idea.

bears said...

Why do we continue to buy products featuring people like Jennifer Aniston, Mel Gibson, The Guy From Seinfeld etc.? Lets make them a non-entity. If no one purchases their product they are no longer marketable and they fade into the sunset. 30 years later we find them bagging groceries at the local Food Lion and Kharma once again wins.

Lisa mom to Lily said...

Thank you Dave once again! I commend you for doing this in Ernie's memory, his honor something horrible that never should have happened! Thank you for addressing the thing so many never will!!!!!! You rock! RIP Ernie!

Erica said...

For me, it's always so disappointing to hear someone with such influence over people use the r-word. They really are oblivious. I'll just keep my head up and continue to educate people that it is a hate-filled word. My son deserves the same respect as any other human being. He may never make millions of dollars on TV and in film but he will strive to live the best life possible. I dread the day when he comes home and tells me he was called the r-word. I know it will happen and my heart will be broken. Until that day I will try to shelter him from such ignorance. He has all the love in my matter what anyone may think of him.

Anonymous said...

Shame on Jennifer! My daughter can't understand language if some insensitive jerk calls her that or some other hurtful name. I can't protect her anymore from physical abuse. They took her away from me based on lies so they could get more money from the gov't.
That's such a shame about Ernie Hernandez! I cried. May he rest in peace.