Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Petitions, Change and the R Word.

So, again, there's an entertainer, this time a comedian, who is using vile and hateful words in a routine about people with intellectual disabilities. I saw this several weeks ago, alerted to it by someone on Facebook and when I watched it I was sickened and felt immediately hopeless. I found the petition, signed the petition, and moved on. Then I received a message asking me specifically to blog about this comedian and give my take on his routine and his use of the word. I don't write blogs on command, and I need to be clear no demand was made but I felt the pressure of the request combined with the sense that I should do something.

I have nothing new to say.

I've said it all before.

I know that he knows that the word is offensive, his defense is something akin to 'but it's comedy' and with that the suggestion that we should all just lighten up. But here's the thing, he knows. I know he knows. Ruby and Sadie knew that name calling and mocking people was wrong when they were three. So. He knows. He's making a choice. And, he's making a name for himself at the same time. I'm frustrated because I don't want my protest or our upset to advance his career and if you look him up, that's what seems to be happening.

So. He knows what he's doing. And. It's working.

Some people are so desperate for fame and fortune that they don't mind engaging in behaviour that children would be sent to the corner for. He's one of those. His vile routine is vile. He knows it, we know it and this blog ain't gonna make one bit of difference.

But, in the end, it wasn't his routine that left me feeling hopeless. I felt all sorts of things, anger, disgust and incredulity at the level of hateful ignorance spewed, but I didn't feel hopeless. What left me feeling hopeless was the audience. They were laughing. Some of them were laughing, hard.

And that, my friends, is our fault.

I took a stand against the r-word a very long time ago. I knew it as a hurtful word because of the work that I did in abuse prevention training. I've had that workshop stopped over and over again to find the audience of people with disabilities wanted to talk about bullying and they wanted name calling considered as abuse and the 'r word' as hate. They've been clear from the get go. A long while ago, in 2003 the BBC did a poll which asked people with disabilities what was the most offensive word used in relation to disability and, even then, the 'r word' was number one. So, it's been a long while the people with disabilities have identified what's considered offensive language. When a people state that certain words are hurtful and hateful, I figure the only response is to listen.

Now, back to the audience laughing.

I'm betting that every single one of them has in their social circles, those who have disabilities, those who parent people with disabilities, those who are siblings of people with disabilities, those who work with people who have disabilities ... I'll bet. Those people they know, that's us folks. That's the length and breadth of the disability community.

Why aren't we using our voice and our power? Why aren't we talking to friends and family and, everyone we can, about respectful language? Why aren't we raising our voice when strangers use hateful words within our hearing? Why aren't we making it clear that words hit, like a fist?

Let him spout his hateful routine.

Our job is to stop the laughter.

Our job is to create audiences that won't accept bigotry and hate as humour.

Our job is to speak up, speak out and speak clearly.

Yes, sign the petition.

But I worry about these damn petitions, even though I think they are important, but I worry that people will think that they've done now. Petition is signed, contribution made.

No first sign the petition and then petition others to change how they use language and change how they respond to language and change how they react to hate.

I'll tell you this, no on in my social circle would ever use the 'r word' around me. Never. Most of them wouldn't have anyway but some have learned, from me, that the word hurts and, because of that, they've stopped. We can all do that.

It'll take time.

But let's take his audience from him.

That's the most powerful thing we can do.


jen32258 said...

Thank you, Dave for (as usual) putting my feelings into moving words. We need to stop the laughter. We need to stop-stopping at signing a petition or just writing a "strongly worded letter" and not bothering to check for a response. We need to get ANGRY or we will never achieve our goal of making the r-word as socially unaccepted as the n-word. The organization Family Member is trying to do just. If anyone reading this blog wants to help - contact them and ask what you can do!

Frank_V said...

I'm bigoted against bigotry. I'm intolerant towards intolerance. I speak my mind, ALWAYS, in the face of ignorance, meanness, and bullying of any kind. It's why I have so few friends, but that way, at least I KNOW they are good people. Thanks for speaking out sir David, I will continue this battle alongside you!

ABEhrhardt said...

Don't ever stop insisting.

We don't want the 'r' word to have the fate of the 'n' word, where the only thing the black community could do was to coopt the word, use it as an in-group insult, and use it against each other to remove the sting.

I don't think that's even possible, but I could see it happen, and that is the wrong way to go.

The only thing to do is to keep saying, "I find that word deeply offensive, and it's the #1 hurtful word to the disability community. I have no idea why you choose to use it, but please stop."

Thanks for guiding us, Dave. I'm glad I started reading your blog. Up until then, I just hid my multiple disabilities and tried to pretend I am still 'normal.' Whatever that is.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

I think you're on the right track in thinking that some comedians will only give up the hate language when people stop laughing at it.

Sometimes I worry that fighting too hard on the language issue just moves forward the euphemism treadmill without addressing the real underlying issue which is that people have negative assumptions and attitudes about anyone who is "different" from others in whatever way and will eventually associate any new terms for those "differences" with the same negative assumptions and attitudes that prompt them to use these terms as insults. But since so many disabled people feel so unsafe and threatened (as well as hurt or angered) by the "r" word, it seems to me one of the few disability-related slurs worth the fight. Though I feel it is also still very important to address people's underlying attitudes toward disability under any label or terminology: people will only stop turning the most recent "polite" terminology for disability into insults when they stop believing that disability itself is bad or shameful or limiting or devaluing or dehumanizing.

Ron Arnold said...

The problem with freedom of speech is that it's designed not for the speech everyone agrees with, but for the speech folks find offensive.

There is also a difference between the 'R' word and the 'N' word in that when the latter ends in "a" and is used colloquially among folks of a given ethnicity - it's not insulting, but rather an 'in' thing that folks outside the group aren't part of. End it in 'er' though - coming from anyone - and then it's on a par with the "R" word.

I agree with your assessment Dave - it's not the comedian that's the issue: it's the people that give power (in this case laughter) to his choice of material. I don't know a single person with intellectual disabilities that finds the use of that word acceptable - though honestly - I have heard a few dudes from that particular community of folks hurl it as an insult. (Not in the "a" sense either - it was mean to sting.)

Sadly - I've heard the words idiot, moron, and imbecile used a lot more often by folks of all stripes (including folks with intellectual disabilities) - and when you think about the origins of those words - are they really any different?

. . . long conversation . . . .

Mary Nau said...

I wonder if we may need to change our approach. There are so many angry and offended people, some with good cause, others without introspection. The culture, I think, is beginning to lump them all together as noisy, shrill complainers all claiming victimhood. I would love to see someone with direct access to this comedian arrange a meeting between him and someone/s with ID. After experiencing the conversation, witnessing humanity and individuality, it might be a bit more difficult to use the r word. It's difficult to hurt someone whose eyes you've looked into. With his freedom intact, his insight impacted, the comedian's words are transformed from the inside out. We may find, one day, some celebrities becoming our most ardent supporters.

jen32258 said...

Actually in the disability community - we have almost never used an angry approach. There have been many comedians before Gary Owen who we have tried to work with. Some apologize - but most don't...and a few of them will even turn around and make us (those who are advocating) the brunt of their jokes. Gary is in the latter category - we tried several times to meet with him (through direct contact and through his publicist). He kept putting the meeting off and then dodging calls. Comedian Tom Arnold has even started trying to "reason" with him to meet with us. Gary has replied that there are no apologies in comedy and that we are giving him material. In this case - I think not anger but a strong offense is necessary. Sometimes it is just as effective to show a comedian that we are not going to take this anymore.

I made the reference to the N-word earlier. I am not saying that the r-word and n-word are the same - but there are similarities. What needs to become a similarity is that the n-word is socially unacceptable (talking society at large). That is what we want for the r-word AND for any bashing of people with disabilities for a cheap laugh. It is possible to get there.