I tried to avoid writing about it but after tons of email in my box about the subject I decided it was time to inject a different perspective here. Obama flying without a script and the eloquence that we are all used to in his speeches, made a reference to the Special Olympics and his low bowling score. After the show he immediately called the Special Olympics and made an apology. Since then I have seen demands for public apology.
I must confess, the first thing I thought of when I heard of Obama’s joke on Leno, was Brittany Spears. How many jokes and crude references have been made at her expense? Jessica Simpson has also been the target of many jokes. These are the “poster girls” (please pardon the expression) for “dumb blondes.” This shows that women are still under the scrutiny of ethnocentric thinking. I bring up this comparison to say that people are always going to make stupid jokes at the expense of someone else. I’m not saying it is right, in fact I think Brittany and Jessica deserve apologies too and all the blondes for the blonde jokes, and all the Hispanics, the elderly, gays, African Americans and Indians and for the horrible jokes about Catholic Priests and small boys. Who defends their pain and embarrassment? Yet, everyone, even perhaps yourself makes a joke at the expense of someone else. We as disabled people have developed our own ethnocentric thinking about able bodied people. We make assumptions about what people are thinking when they look at us based on stereotypes all the time without considering that we might be wrong. Keeping our guards up and missing the opportunity to make a connection in fear we might get our feelings hurt.
It is important to speak out against all kinds of derogatory and hurtful things However super sensitivity can be counter productive to our cause. Now before I start getting a bunch of hate mail I just want to say that I get it. I understand. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to stop speeding, or asked me if I’m going over the speed limit or some silly one-liner to that effect, I could pay the federal deficit and my daughter’s college tuition. Sometimes it is annoying, after all it is hard to feel sexy or attractive when people are constantly eyeing your wheels. Some times it is embarrassing when people call attention to our infirmities. But I have learned the context of their remarks most of the time is simply trying to make conversation, or they are trying to lighten up the anxiety of what they are feeling in efforts to put their self and believe it or not you at ease. I view it as this, joke gets made as an expression of acceptance from them (as misguided as it is) and by joking back it is an unspoken acceptance from you to them. It allows a real connection and puts people at ease and people really appreciate that. I know some people are just plain mean but the ignorance of those who fear is something all races, sexes and religions and body types have to deal with.
My point here is that when you are quick to put up defenses you are pushing people away and to really make a difference we need to meet people half way and draw them in, let them get to know us. Laugh with them, joke with them and don’t take it all so seriously. Eventually it will hit these people that we are not so different after all and maybe they will even get past our disabilities and see how gorgeous we are ;)
Want to do something about the stereo type? Why don’t we consider the Special Olympics? The term “special” has become some what of a derogatory term when referring to people with disabilities. I remember the references to “special” education and the automatic referral to those people who attended was “r.” Why don’t we give the Special Olympics a more empowering name like “Ablelympics?” By making changes in the dynamics in how we introduce ourselves to the world we present a new picture of association. The media COULD be more of a help in this area but we have to start with ourselves and eventually people will hop on board.
I realize I am challenging our disabled community to think differently about things and I am aware that my views are not going to be the most popular. However the brutal truth of the matter is we own the responsibility to change perception. We own the ability to shape the new stereotype any way we want and I have seen it happening with our art and athletics and our progress is something to be proud of. In closing I want to say that those with intellectual disabilities are a huge target to many horrible jokes and acts of hate. I believe that stereo types need to be changed. I hate for anyone to be poked fun of out of meanness. In Obama’s case it was a temporary moment of ignorance. What Obama said was wrong, and he apologized. I am sure he understands the weight of stereotypical thinking and he is truly sorry for the incident. We should let this one go and choose our battles for the most positive outcome and be proactive in our own cause; because we are not helpless or powerless.