Wednesday, November 02, 2011

All, can it ever mean All?

(Note, I have taken these videos from YouTube. There was an easily accessible means to lift code to embed them on my blog. I am assuming that this is acceptable because it is made available and I have seen these videos on other blogs. If I am in error, I apologize. I will remove upon notification.)

Recently I became aware of the following video. I'm sorry, neither this video nor the one following come close captioned that I could find. I have provided a very brief synopsis of the content below each screen.

(In brief: Rick Mercer rants about teen suicide and the bullying of gay teens. He states that it's not good enough to say 'it gets better', he says that things must change now. He states, among other things, that well known gay people have to be visible role models for teens.)

I applaud Rick Mercer for his courage in addressing the issue of gay teens committing suicide, particularly as caused by bullying and teasing. Those of you who are faithful readers of this blog know I've written often about the horrors of 'social violence' that is perpetrated on those who are different. That Rick Mercer spoke out about it is, indeed, responsible. He is using his celebrity and his voice in a powerful manner - he also gets it right, kids shouldn't have to wait until adulthood to experience safety. Is it possible, I wonder, ever to feel safe in a world that tolerated your constant victimization and brutalization as a child? It seems to me, in systems run by adults, that adults should take more action than simply saying - hold on, toughen up, wait for a few years, it will get better. Then they say something horrible, 'that which does not kill you, makes you stronger'. Oh, OK. But doesn't that ignore the problem that it DOES kill kids?

I wrote Mr. Mercer to thank him for using his voice this way.

I also wrote to challenge him. Take a look at the next video and we'll talk on the other side:

(In brief: Rick Mercer rants about how weather is dramatized on television. He cites how a winter flurry is over reported as a blizzard in Toronto. He proudly states that he coined the word 'Torontarded' to describe this over reaction in the city of Toronto to winter weather.)

When I became aware of this, and aware of the fact that Mr. Mercer uses the 'r word' in his blog and in books that he has written. I asked him to consider his words and the power of those words. He never responded. In any way. I wrote, as I mentioned above, again a few days ago and suggested that he needs to go further than what he suggests in the first video. That celebrities would do well to 'come out' as tolerant, which these days is more difficult than one might imagine. To take a stand that words hurt, words like the 'r word' which is as ubiquitous as the use of the word 'gay' as used by teens as a slur against anything or anyone considered to be substandard. It's not popular to take a stand against words used to vilify others. (Trust me, I know.)

Mr. Mercer, again, did not reply. Now, I need to be fair. I wrote to, which is a generic email found on his website. Did the email ever get to him? I don't know. I wanted to bring this issue here, to this forum. I wanted to demonstrate, again, how the victimization and brutalization of people with disabilities just isn't taken as seriously as when it is done to other, more valued, minorities.

Here a guy, clearly as socially conscious as Mr. Mercer, feels free to use a word that hurts people with intellectual disabilities, hurts the families and friends of those with disabilities. Not only that, Mr. Mercer proudly says that he invented the word 'Torontarded' ... and indeed he did. The word has made it into the urban dictionary and appears on nearly 3000 web pages as found in a google search. The word, a quick scan showed me, appeared on a web page as recently as September of this year. A lovely legacy of intolerance left by a man who decries the bulling of kids ... well, I guess, the bullying of the kids he values - the one's he doesn't, I guess are fair game. This is why, though it may 'get better' as gay teens beconme adults, the same isn't true for people with intellectual disabilities - it doesn't get better, in fact, it may get worse.

All means all.

We keep hearing that.

But it seems never to be true. It seems that the human heart simply does not have the capacity to exist without at least one target group to hate and vilify. It seems that we need to off load loathing somewhere. It most often seems to be us. Because, we know, that people with intellectual disabilities are the most often victimized and brutalized, they are the most often teased and bullied, they, most of them, live in fear of social violence every day.

I call here and now, publicly, to Mr. Rick Mercer.

Come out again, Mr. Mercer, and stand with us against the bullying of all kids. Dare to rant about the behaviour of celebrities like Ricky Gervais, Ben Stiller and, yes, yourself. You all know what you are doing and what the word means, but don't care. It's time to decry the legitimization of hurtful language.

Mr. Mercer, I love your rants.

I do.

Rant, one more time, this time for all kids, for all differences, for all of us.

And then I'll love you, again, too.


theknapper said...

I went on his web page to contact him but it wouldn't work. Was hoping to make my statement in support of yours. Will try again in a few hours. He needs to hear from ALL of us.

Education: Exploring Online Learning said...

Thank you, Dave, on behalf of my daughter, who is still too young to know the r-word.

Joyfulgirl said...

what a powerful post. thank you for what you do.

J. said...

Yes, yes and yes.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thanks for this. Thanks for not letting it drop. I think sometimes that is what they hope. We will just go away and forget about it. The thing they don't realize is that this is real for us because people we love are at the receiving end of that hate speech.

Too true Dave, life often does not get better for kids with developmental disabilities when they hit adulthood. In fact, if my brother's life is anything to go by, it can get downright hellish. For that reason I swear never to let it drop, never to go away, never to be satisfied until all people are valued just because they are who they are.

I'm in with theknapper, it would be awesome if all of us asked Rick Mercer to clean up his language!

Colleen said...

I just emailed Rick Mercer and it seems to have worked.

ivanova said...

Thank you for doing this. I'd like to think that this man is just experiencing "uneven development" and he will catch up and change his ways, but I don't know if I can really feel so optimistic. It's a staggering example of "Oh I REALLY care about people, except not THOSE people."

Tamara said...

Thank you for posting this. It's just so disappointing. I've been hearing a lot about bullying lately, but it's always about kids who are gay. I get it. The suicides are horrific. But, I always think about the other kids who are bullied for so many different reasons - not only disability. What about them? Why can't the message just be pure and simple: Bullying is wrong.

I did send an email to the same address you used. I hope anyone to whom he responds will post his response here.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Rick Mercer is the enemy? Why not write about me, I've use the word Retarded (in fact, I think I still have several doctors reports with it written on it) in reference to my classification. If you want to go after things, why not all the people who use 'short bus' also (loathsome term, although, I can tell you, it is a noticably shorter bus, which is kinda nice if you have auditory intolerance).

I will avoid going into how you have put yourself forward as a 'voice' and emails not returned, to look at the real problem: people are not treated as equals due to the assigning of assessed cognative abilities. Does being called a 'Retard' hurt? Yes. Does having anything you say ignored because your face has the Williams of Downs structure? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!

Dave Hindsburger, manager and in the disability hall of fame is an equal person to those who he overhears, he interacts with in his job, he uses as examples or refers to in lectures. The law and the human rights of Canada and the UN state it. So are we all equal humans and every time individuals act in a way that implies or states to others that it isn't so, then we have failed.

Rick succeeds, Rick fails. Dave succeeds, Dave fails. I succeed, I fail. If we learn and fail less, then there is value - to pillorize all failures makes us into a society of predatory stone throwers, in a village of glass houses. Fame, or being on youtube doesn't make anyone less or more 'equal'. So why do we attack as if it does? Why not educate instead.

Because it is easy.

Regarding your ending, I always thought the goal was the love the person, Rick, Dave, or whomever, and give the chance for a better choice. Not 'conditional love' dependant upon what rules you or others have made.

I love you Dave. And I think a campaign based on perception and treatment, not just one word, will bring about more change (I'd love to hear your comments regarding GirlwithCane's blog on segregated dances for those with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities) said...

I was able to get an email sent.

trainspotter said...

As much as I'd LOVE to see the end of the mistreatment of those diagnosed with ID and the offensive use of the associated labels... I highly doubt that will ever happen in my lifetime! These things, as Elizabeth was suggesting, are just a symptom of the bigger problem- the problem being that almost nobody sees those diagnosed with intellectual disabilities as equals.

Even the most polite diagnostician sees "less than equal" when they choose to force people with communication challenges into an unfair IQ test. They say all the right words, and claim to have this person's best interests in mind as they write "cognitively disabled" on the paperwork that condemns this person to second rate education and services.

The "gay" community, although carrying a painful history, can have the hope of a future where they are treated as equals because people can see that they are. There are plenty of intellegent,talented and successful homosexuals to prove this. But those being buried in institutions because they are "retarded" or "crazy" will never be seen as equal because no one bothers to really look. They will go on being unheard because everyone assumes those who can't speak have nothing to say.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I'm not sure as to how to respond to the criticism leveled at me here, except to say that I've read it and will continue to think about what I've read. I thank all of you for your comments, both supportive and not.

Anonymous said...

I have emailed him a link to this post as well. well written.

amanda said...

I sent a link to your blog post to Mr.Mercer's twitter account. From what I understand about twitter, the message is sent directly to him (whether he clicks on the link though...)

I would love to see a discussion between the two of you about this issue.

Anonymous said...

I think I see what Elizabeth and trainspotter are trying to get at. What brought this home to me was watching the Chaz Bono special about his transgendering experience.

To be completely honest, I haven’t always been terribly “considerate” of LGBT issues. Not that I was necessarily “inconsiderate.” No, I was raised well and have never had an urge to be either a bully or prejudiced in any way. But it was out of the realm of any of my real life experiences up until I was an adult, and the concept of any of it was so foreign to me that I wasn’t terribly, well...”considerate.” I would never poke fun of someone, but I would laugh at the jokes. To a lesser extent, this was also true of my exposure to to people with cognitive disabilities.

Since working in the field for almost 10 years now, and having done some volunteer work in my past, I changed my thinking quite radically on what is acceptable, and most importantly, what is not acceptable. This has been the case with LGBT issues as well, though admittedly, the process has been slower. I now feel in my heart that I have reached a place of evolvement where I totally accept and advocate for anyone who is in any way treated as less than equal.

So, in this enlightened state, I watched the Chaz Bono documentary with a totally open mind. I was not shocked by his experiences or lifestyle, though I was dismayed at the treatment he received from some people. I was gladdened by the love of his family and the support of his girlfriend. I truly cared that she had her own demons to face, and fervently wished that all would go well for them. And then the shocker! Chaz, who had himself been so upset about the careless treatment of his feelings by people who were uneducated, uncaring, and unevolved, used the “R” word! I don’t remember the exact context now. Something made him feel like a “R,” or someone else was an “R.” And he didn’t mean respect.

I was flabbergasted! If I was to understand correctly, Chaz deserved all of this respect for being different and battling against those who chose to belittle his difference, and therefore his being. But the people that the “R” word stood for were fair game for disdain. I lost 95% of the respect I had felt for him that night. I tried to communicate to him what this meant to me, and to so many others who would hear this. But I couldn’t. The only way I could find to communicate to him was through a website that wanted a membership, and a new thread would have to be started, because nobody else had mentioned this transgression yet! I could find no other way to contact him.

This is probably part of the problem with Rick Mercer too. Maybe if enough of us write, he will have to listen, or someone who reads for him will feel compelled to pass this on to him. In my rose-coloured world, I prefer to think that Rick is a very evolved person who truly does care, but has not yet made the connection. Writing can’t hurt!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, I did manage to find an email contact for Chaz Bono and wrote to him through a publicist kind of person. I received an email within moments saying 'It was a mistake and will not happen again.' I didn't blog about the interchange because I figured it was done with. If you are still wanting to write, send me an email and I'll send you the contact email that I have.

Tony said...

@ Elizebath McClung I don't think Dave Hingsburger called anyone "the enemy." Actually, he applauded some of what Rick Mercer said about gay people, and then asked that Rick Mercer extend that same sentiment to other people. I don't think Dave Hingsburger would be upset by a blog post pointing out something offensive HE said, either (which he surely has at some point, being human).

Negative treatment of gay people has not stopped either, though. People are even still killed because of it. What we could see in our lifetimes is negative treatment of people with intellectual disabilities (and other developmental disabilities, I think we could use more pan-developmental disability sentiment) generally decreasing while the trend of seeing them as a person generally increasing. The problems will not go away, but things don't have to stay as bad as they are now.

Another scary thought... things don't have to stay as GOOD as they are. If we relinquish the cultural narrative to fascists and eugenicists, what will the impact be of that?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave! I don't require the address because of your positive response. It only matters that the mistake was recognized and change was promised. I don't feel a personal need to flog someone who has already received the message and acknowledged it. It's awesome though! I don't like to dislike, so I feel much better! :)

trainspotter said...

Tony, you're right... the negative treatment of the gay population has not stopped and there are still people loosing their lives because of this. I'm sorry if my rant sounded as though I was making light of this. I was simply trying to illustrate the advocacy challenges involved for populations that, generally, have more difficulty advocating for themselves.

You are also right that there is the potential for the mistreatment of all of these populations to get worse... which is why this is a dialogue that can't be allowed to rest.

And I should add my thanks to Dave for starting this dialogue!

Tony said...

Okay, what confuses me is:
-Dave Hingsburger has given every sign of being opposed to institutionalization in his past writings so that isn't a point of disagreement with him.
-Not all people with developmentally disabilities or so called mental illnesses are in institutions and they are just as relevant as the ones who are.
-Far more than having trouble with advocating we are talking about groups that have trouble with getting listened to. Dave Hingsburger has written about this, too- someone without any words can still say "no," for instance.

trainspotter said...

I'm assuming those points are directed at me, Tony, so let me try to address them:
-I don't know Dave Hingsburger from a hole in the wall (sorry, Dave but it's true) and I only just started following this blog a few weeks ago. So, I am unfamiliar with his past writings and positions on most things (although I find this blog very thought provoking and expect I'll make my way through the archive eventually)
-I was not dismissing the relevance of other disabilities (for the record, I have Bipolar 1 disorder that is well controlled with medication and live very comfortably in my own home- not an institution) but I can, and do speak for myself... often.
-I also have a daughter with severe autism (and co-morbid bipolar) who does NOT have the ability, at this point, to express her feelings about being labelled "mentally retarded", or that fact that others believe she is stupid and incapable of learning, when she is clearly neither of those things. And, yes, if I die tomorrow she will be institutionalized... so I do worry more about her side of things than I do about someone like myself who has the ability to scream the word "no", for instance.

My intention, in my original comment, was to reiterate that the problem isn't the words people use but the beliefs that underscore them. Most people aren't even conscious of the fact that they use the "R" word because they've already dismissed the population that carries the label. Infact, I've caught people on the word and they say "Oh I didn't mean it like that... you know what I meant". Yeah, I know what they meant.

Dave Hingsburger said...

trainspotter, I welcome you to the blog and to this discussion. You will find here, in the discussion and comment section of the blog, that there can be vigourous debate. I've several times changed posts or decisions based on that feedback. What I like about the readers of this blog, including yourself, is that the discussion, though sometimes passionate, almost never (only almost) becomes harsh or personal. Ideas, not people are the issue discussed. So please continue to post and air ideas. I like debate and I like the occasional spark that results when wits collide. I have found the discussion between yourself and Tony really, really interesting. So thanks, really I guess, to both of you.

Tony said...

In regards to your daughter, I really doubt that she cannot express her feelings about those things. If you had said "She cannot express her feelings about those things in a way I can understand" I would be okay with that, but I really really doubt she is not doing things in response to being seen/treated like that, even if some of those things are harder for a nonautistic person to understand.

I definitely don't mind you talking about people in institutions. I was thinking about this and I think part of what confused me is that you seemed to imply that people needed to stop being put in institutions before they could be respected (and you correctly pointed out the effects of segregation etc). But I don't think people who are respected are put in institutions in the first place (which was my point in mentioning that gay people are still murdered too)- I think the lack of respect comes first. If people gain respect, then they will start to question the validity of institutions.

I agree with you about people almost not realizing they're talking about real people when they use the R word, however. I had started to try to comment about this earlier but I couldn't figure out how to say it. But I have once had success by pointing out that the person was using a slur against developmentally disabled people in a vary disparaging way thinking that's funny, all the while talking to a developmentally disabled person (me). So I think if this word is used as a spring board to say "Hey, you're talking about real people" (as opposed to insisting on "politically correct" language or something) then it can be a very positive thing.

In some ways this is the same problem faced when talking about people in institutions- "Hey, real people."

Elizabeth McClung said...

Dave and or Tony: Perhaps due to the recent viewing of Teenage Papazzatzi (sic), which examines the parasocial nature of fame - and how those who are famous are seen and treated differently (like people saying horrifically rude things to them, just to get a 'reaction picture'), almost like 'public property'. But at the end, they are people (though as Dave points out, sometimes hard to reach people). I don't defend Rick's statements using a variation of the 'R' word. But when someone says they have no love for someone, what is that person called? Enemy usually. And Rick is a person, Dave is a person, we are all people. We all have positions, some with more exposure than others. Dave will have more impact likely on those who have been classified as 'learning impaired', or as B.C. teachers website advises the teachers, 'Retarded students' than Rick Mercer. Rick Mercer may have more impact on Canadian viewers. We all have impact. And if the purpose is to stop the population from viewing those with learning impairments as less than equal, then making the use of the 'R' word as a joke, a slander, a slang, is a start, but not an education. I believe in creating advocates, not just those who avoid words, and I believe, with his lectures, job and blog that Dave does as well. Dave writes that he works for Vita, which offers a new model of full 'residential services', which is individual centered. But though striving to NOT be an 'institution', the difficulty is that the general population would likely see any full living residence as an 'institution' - and that is what I hope will change: the awareness the average person has on equality, on support in regard to disabilities and how that doesn't make a person any less equal.

I do think that any one would be upset to have all words and phrases scrutinized publically. I guess I tend to think Dave would as well, which is why I find it better to leave a comment than write an essay for publication. Because, as Dave says, he can think about. And if we see things differently or approach things differently, then he can know that I love him, and in time, from my personal life experience, I will find that I am incorrect in some fashion and change that (I can't think of many or any things from 10 years ago which have not altered in view, usually to an understanding that things are more complex, and so are people, than I previously thought).

trainspotter said...

Thank you, Dave, for welcoming me to your blog! I very much enjoy vigourous debate (you should see Christmas dinner with my family) and also believe that good debate should be about the ideas, not the people discussing them. I do, however, have some challenges in the area of "tact" and often spend a great deal of time with 'my foot in my mouth'. But I'll work hard to be conscientious of my flaw(s) and will be grateful for the correction should I cross the line.

Tony... I think we might actually be bonding here! I like what you said in regards to my daughter, that it would be more appropriate to say "She cannot express her feelings in a way that I can understand". That was exactly what I was driving at! In my daughters case, I do understand the many beautiful thing she has to 'say' (she is artistic and has taught me more about herself through her art than I could have ever imagined was possible) BUT nobody outside of our house sees it. Doctors, teachers, therapists, they look at her art and say "cool... well at least we don't have to work on her fine motor skills".

Proving to a non-disabled person that a person with disability is an equal is a really tough sell. People don't want to hear that because deep down inside they don't want the inconvenience that goes with "flawed" people. Sadly, to some, there are some people in this world that are just too flawed to be included as equals.

Andrea S. said...

Thank you for trying to find a captioned version of these videos--it frustrates me that they don't exist, but I appreciate your effort to see if it does. I also appreciate the summary you provided.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I have been thinking about this post and, in fact, I'm OK with what I'm saying here on the blog. I do think that one can't call others on bullying while bullying oneself. I don't think that my post was anything more than a call for consistency and for Mr. Mercer to rethink the use of language that disparages people with intellectual disabilities. I know that this one thing won't end intolerance but I also think that it's important to state what one believes. I mostly, then, thought, about the 'love' comment at the end as it is what has been a focus. I thought, and thought, and thought some more about this. In the end, I decided, that it may make me a bad person, but I think in reality that human love, or at least my love, is conditional, and so is my respect. It can be lost by behaviour. It can be lost by attitude. I do not have a divine heart, one capable of all embracing love. When some people do things, like willfully hurt others, I think differently of them. I can't help it, but I do it. I used to really love the work of Mr. Mercer. I thought him one of the most talented performers we have in Canada. I still think he is wildly talented. But the 'torontarded' thing really upset me. It isn't just about a word, as implied here, it's about the attitude and mindset behind the word. This wasn't a casual remark, this was crafting a new word ... and in crafting that word, the full knowledge of the 'word behind the word' became clear. This was done purposefully. Mr. Mercer expected reaction to the word - the reaction he expected was 'hilarity' but I had a different reaction 'horror'. I knew the moment I heard it once, that I'd hear it again. And I did. While I respect Mr. Mercer's talent, I no longer loved his show, no longer 'loved' him as a fan 'loves' a star. I just didn't. I'm sorry, I just didn't. I'm glad I was called to think about this, and I did. I almost changed the post but, in the end, decided that it would then be untruthful. One further thing, I think one can not love someone without that someone being an enemy. I don't hate or loathe Mr. Mercer. I still wish him well. I still beleive that he will make a positive difference in the lives of many. I just don't love him as a fan any more. Sorry. I wish I had a bigger heart. But, I've only got the one I've got. And clearly, it has limitations.

Tony said...

I have some the same issues with that which is called tact as well- being, as I am, a generally verbal autistic adult. But it seems our communication styles are pretty similar for could have led to conflict with other people to be a point of bonding. (I may or may not be implying something here, insert images of smiling faces, etc)

I definitely agree with all of what you've written in your last comment. And there is a really deeply engrained belief that disabled people are inferior even when people don't want to think that. I talked to a leftist from eastern europe in a country where there hadn't been a successful disability rights movement. The idea that disabled people wouldn't have preferred to be "euthanized at birth" (or that he probably wouldn't have preferred it if was actually born disabled) was a totally new idea for him, albeit one he was receptive to. But I'm not sure how much further along than that we really are here.

Elizabeth McClung:

I am okay with public figures being held to more scrutiny about what they say, but I think that can be done without doing the dehumanizing things you've mentioned and while recognizing that most of us wouldn't hold up to that level of scrutiny very well. I'm not going to comment on Dave Hingsburger's word choice at the end of the post because he's given his reasoning for it, but I don't think he was wrong to be as upset as he was about the video. But that one line was the only thing I could find in his post that could have been too harsh.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching this discussion with some awe. I went to visit E. McClung's blog after reading her comment about you attacking Mr. Mercer, although I don't think that you did, to see how she approaches disability issues. There I found that she attacked a police officer by name, giving his badge number and using him as an example of why men are obsolete! She was absolutely brutal in her attack on this hapless guy. Maybe he was a jerk, I don't know, but the woman who calls you on being harsh needs a bit of a reality check.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I was so sad to read that R.M. continues to consider the disabled community as fair game. Especially with the "it gets better" anti bullying campaign, I had hoped that Rick Mercer had gained some insight.

In 2008, as a first year DSW student (Hi Colleen!!!), I wrote and shared a letter I wrote in response to Rick's rant: "...the prime minister of Canada thinks we're all idiots. In fact I've noticed lately that every time he addresses the Canadian people like that, he sounds less and less like a prime minister and more and more like a special ed teacher." I sent emails to several contacts both through RM and CBC, without one reply. I also circulated the email and other fellow DSW students also emailed - without response.

It is incredibly disheartening to see that years later both CBC and Rick Mercer continue to engage in this hurtful, ignorant, devaluing assault for the sake of some cheap laughs.

Another round of emails is in order, and perhaps to some folks higher up the food chain than the admins manning a generic contact email.