October 23, 2012

Just a Word: Election Edition

It's election season in the United States. This is a very special time for the people of this country, an opportunity to come together to soberly and with much reflection choose the fellow citizens in whom we trust to lead our nation into an uncertain future.

It's a time to explore our differences, of course, but also to celebrate the process of peaceful transition, of the theory of democracy made real. In this season, it is possible to experience the essence of American citizenship and the dignity and majesty of our system of government, based as it is on the strength and goodness of community.

In that spirit of civil discourse, I give you the post-debate words of author, pundit and self-proclaimed patriot Ann Coulter.



Having gotten everyone's attention, she later doubled down. (Beautifully, she did so as a way of calling out the president for insensitivity.)



Charming.

Look. I've written about this in the past, about how some people use this word because they are ignorant, and others because it's good for an easy laugh. And I have never ever said that no one has the right to use it. I've never advocated banning a word, even if that was even possible. In a way, I'd almost rather prefer that the people who want to use it actually do so. It's a quick identifier, a kind of vocabulary profiling, a little red flag that tells me a lot about the person before I invest a great deal of time taking them seriously.

Also, as I've made clear before, I have been extremely guilty of using that word in the past. I didn't necessarily get smarter since then, but through my own life experience and through the extraordinary people I've met as a result of advocating for Schuyler, I think I might have become a little wiser. Certainly more sensitive, although like most people, I have a long way to go. Still, I freely acknowledge that when it comes to speaking out against using the "R word", I am very much Nixon going to China.

Where Ann Coulter is concerned, the first thing we must do is take ignorance off the table. As noted in a post on Sprocket Ink, Coulter graduated cum laude from Cornell with a B.A. in history, and received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where she edited the Michigan Law Review.

When she uses this word to insult the president and liberals, Ann Coulter is making a choice. It's a very calculated choice, too. She knows that people will be upset by her language, but more importantly, she knows exactly WHO will be upset. When contacted about her use of the so-called "R word" in her tweet yesterday, Coulter replied, "The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it."

Ann Coulter knows who will be upset, and she knows who will be thrilled. I've worked in a book store; I have a pretty good idea of the people who buy her books. Either way, she's playing to her audience.

And like every other public figure who has used this term loudly and proudly, Ann Coulter has spared not a single thought for those whom she hurts. People like my daughter aren't on her scope. People like my family don't matter. Human beings with developmental disabilities have so very little political power, and fight so hard for what scraps they have. Are they even human beings at all? Don't ask Ann Coulter.

For those with developmental disabilities who can stand up for themselves, and for those of us who care for and love and most of all strive to protect and build a better world for those whom the likes of Ann Coulter would reduce to a vicious punchline, the fight falls at our feet. Not to stop people like Coulter from expressing their opinions. Not to silence them. As I said, if anything, I prefer that they stand in the light when they make these statements. Given the choice of knowing that there are roaches skittering around my kitchen at night (note: I'm being metaphorical; we don't have roaches, knock on wood) or turning on the light, I'll reach for the light every time. Even if some of the roaches, like Coulter, crave that light.

If Liberals excuse her remarks because we think she's a buffoon who is clearly desperate for attention, we become complicit. If Conservatives distance themselves from her and say "Well, she doesn't speak for me, so I have no duty to rebuke her," they are also complicit, because it's not a political issue. It might be a little different if she were abusing communities with any power or any privilege, groups that could push back.

But Coulter knows that the disability community is a safe target. No, scratch that. Not even a target. Just a punchline. A target would imply that there was some political gain to be had in hurting people like my daughter, like her friends and her family and her community.

As it is, there's not even that. They're just retards, right?

Right?

As citizens of the world and children of God, we have a choice to make, and it needs to be every bit as deliberate and considered as Coulter's choice to use that word the way she does. We have a choice to make every time we read a comment like hers made by a public figure, of course. Whether it's a notable Republican like Ann Coulter or a Democrat like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, we have to hold them accountable.

But more than that, we have a choice to make every time we hear a stranger at the mall use it, or a friend, a family member or a coworker. It is in those moments most of all that we make choices, sometimes hard ones. When we choose silence, when we choose not to make waves or risk looking like humorless scolds, we make a choice. We choose the side of the Ann Coulters of the world.

We choose the dark. When we're silent in opposition, we choose the dark, and we do so knowing perfectly well that we have a flashlight in our pocket, and we choose not to use it.

I remember a line from that famous Howard Beale scene from Network:

"All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value!'"

I guess what I'm trying to say is yeah, I'm as mad as hell. And I'm not going to take this anymore. And neither should you.

46 comments:

TwoBusy said...

Outstanding.

Maya said...

Amen.

Sunday said...

Thank you Rob. Thank you very much.

Kerri. said...

Rob. Amazing post. Truly.

Betty With Sunglasses said...

You're previous post regarding the "R" word changed mine and my families language. This latest attacked really pisses me off. Now I'll expand my reach and try to change those around me.
thanks for this.

Betty With Sunglasses said...

Your first post about the "R" word changed me and my family.
I will try to make a difference in my little part of the world. I will stand up and say "That's not OK" when I hear it.
Thank you for the reminder.

Stephanie Honeycutt said...

Holy Wow! Love this! This is my first time to your blog btw..... I WILL be back . Thank you :)

Stephanie Honeycutt said...

Holy wow! Excellent post! This is my first time to your blog, and I WILL be back.

Ashley said...

Wonderful post. Extremely well said. I love what you said about it being a "quick identifier, a kind of vocabulary profiling." I never thought of it that way. Excellent point!!

Tyger said...

The blatant hypocrisy of the second tweet just about made my head explode. . .

So cancer jokes are awful and off the table, but retard jokes are fine and dandy? My head can't hit this desk hard enough to make that make sense.

Wandering Heart said...

Very nice post. Thank you for addressing this without getting all partisan.

Bennet said...

I think roaches have a very legitimate grievance being likened to her which is brilliant.

k2 said...

This post = amazing & thank you so much for writing it!

angel rutter said...

You get upset because someone used the word retard, I am upset that you quoted the Name of God in vain.

Heather said...

May I link this to my blog and or FB?

Brilliant. Brilliantly written Rob.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Of course, please do! And thank you.

Penny said...

Thank you Rob, for saying what I wish I could say and write. Your words are better than mine could ever be. And my daughter thanks you too.

Kerri said...

I think we should stage a sit-in at her next book signing. I am getting so frustrated at how this word can be used time and time again and there is no penalty. You can offend over 2 million people with intellectual disabilities and their families and just gone on with your life.
There is something wrong with that.

Jennie said...

Loved it. Agreed with it. Shared it. Amen sister.

Jennie said...

Agreed. Loved. Shared. Thank you. She knows better. That's what makes it worse.

Roo's Mom said...

So well said Rob. Just in case this hasn't been sent to you by now :
http://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/an-open-letter-to-ann-coulter/

It's a great response from a wonderful young man with Down syndrome. I prefer to think of Ann Coulter as the blight on the planet she is, a greedy self-serving (fill in the blank). One commenter suggested a sit in at a book signing. I would not be able to be in the room with her. I am sick to death of people, from either side of the political divide disparaging people with disabilities in any way. It does speak volumes about who they are at their core, if they even have one. Thanks for putting into words what many of us feel.

Roo's Mom said...

Whoops, not sure I put in the best link before. Thank you again for another great post!

http://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/

Marc Bissonnette said...

You, sir, are brilliant.

MFA Mama said...

I really like this post. But THIS was my favorite response to Ann Coulter:

http://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/an-open-letter-to-ann-coulter/

Elizabeth said...

As always, perfect. I linked to it on my own blog that is burning like a bonfire right now.

coldinkstainedhands said...

Hm-m-m. In the midst of planning for NaNoWriMo I found that I had a minor character lurking in the background who's retarded and decided a few days ago to actually use the word "retarded" and "retard" in name-calling incidents. It's a "label" that's all. No better, no worse than all the "redneck" "Bible-thumper" "bitter-gun-nut-clingers" and "white-trash" thrown about every day in the more "tolerant" circles of Hell.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

It's more than a label. Much much more. Having said that, I have less of a problem with a fictional character using the term, especially if it helps paint the character as intolerant, than I do with your own description of the character as retarded.

But again, these are the choices that we make every day. What matters most is that you own that choice and understand what it really means, both for the people whom you're describing and the way the world will view you for using it.

Carolyn said...

Bravo! You nailed it.

Annie said...

Can we point out that "amnesia" has nothing to do with Cancer? So Coulter's "ha you made fun of cancer" theory makes zero sense.

I guess she is certainly proving that SHE lacks intelligence!

Julia Roberts said...

Yes. Yes. And yes, my friend. All of it.

bildebok said...

Fabulous Rob. Thank you.

Becca said...

Annie--She was referring to the "Stage 3" part of it. Cancer's described in stages.

I suppose the campaign could've gone with "Grade 3" gotten called out for offending concussion sufferers.

farmwifetwo said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate b/c I live in a country where freedom of speech has become a joke and where everything and anything that is a non-PC/extremely left winged thought can get you fined by the Human Rights Tribunal. Where freedom of speech is now before the Supreme Court and we wait for an official ruling on what is or is not "hate" speech.

Truth of the matter is... I'd rather allow those comments than disallow them. I don't have to like them and I can say so - politely. But the alternative becomes a world without ideas, without opinions, one of frustration and even more ignorance. Yes... even more ignorance... people love to do what they are told they shouldn't and not just teenagers.

I know many people think the internet is the be all and end all. That all opinions and interactions are on the net. Truth is, it's not. True acceptance begins at home, in your local community, in your local pool, grocery store and the family restaurant. If you want to stop such words being used... that's where you start. I take my kids with me all the time, everywhere, even the youngest (severe ASD) is currently in private swimming lessons (noise is a huge issue) and we're planning on returning to piano lessons in the future. I'm amazed at how many parents do not take their children out into the world. How few disabled people are out in public... we go everywhere. How can acceptance happen, without the disabled being part of a community??

Start at home, become part of the community and views about the disabled will change and such comments will be ignored more and more often.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Who are you playing devil's advocate to? Read again. I never said a word about limiting free speech or disallowing any speech. Free speech is alive and well in this country.

Bev Sykes said...

Perfect. Spreading this entry as much as I can.

Theresa said...

Brilliant. I too have a Sky, mine is Skylar. Blessings to you and yours.

Annie said...

Becca. Your thought would be true if cancer were the only things described in stages, so that the word "stages" could only mean "cancer." But this is simply unture.Lots of disease are described in "stages" not just cancer (alzheimers disease for example).

Red Shoes said...

I am also offended that you took the name of God in vain. You didn't have to do that to get your point across but it was a choice you made that extremely lessened the impact of the point you were trying to get across.

I am pleasantly plump but I am extremely offended and angry when I hear the word "fat". Yes, even when reading food labels that say "Total fat" (trans fat, sat fat, etc.)

I have a group of friends that are not the same color as me. They are offended when they hear the word "black". Yes even in the description section on a box of new shoes.

I know a few people with light colored hair that are offended by the word "blonde".

There is a man with no hair who is offended by the word "bald".

I have aged and so has my hair, but don't call it "gray" unless you want to hurt my feelings.

In my 60's, I am not "old", "older" and will never be a senior citizen. Please don't refer to me that way.

I have two lady friends that love each other romantically and live together. They are offended by the words "gay" or "lesbian".

And the word "disabled" now has also become inappropriate.

Don't get me wrong. I am not supporting or agreeing with anything this Ann Coulter you are talking about has said. I don't even know who she is. I believe any words said out of hatred or with the purpose to hurt someone should never be allowed or considered in any situation as appropriate.

But for crying outloud people, get over it. Stop sitting on the edge of your seats just waiting for someone to say or do something that YOU consider inappropriate.

I am sorry you are so mad that your child is different from other children. But we are all different, so what's the big deal?

This country grew up advocating for and helping those that we were taught were mentally retarded or had been diagnosed with mental rtardation. Trust me, at my age and having heard that my entire life without knowing any better or that it would offend anyone, I would never say it to hurt any one single precious life. Also comes to mind now as I think back, is the word "crippled". Is that appropriate now or not?

Did you ever stop to think that maybe when you are out in public and people just look and don't say anything it might be because they are afraid that whatever they might say would be taken the wrong way? That you might offend them?

That's all I have. I do wish you would rethink using God's name in vain. Whatever situation you are in, the children and family you have, your friends, co-workers....He gave them all to you. He BLESSED you with them! Be thankful. Live. And let live.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

But for crying outloud people, get over it. Stop sitting on the edge of your seats just waiting for someone to say or do something that YOU consider inappropriate.

But this doesn't apply to my use of the word "God"? The one thing that offends you is the one exception to your entire point?

I'm going to respectfully suggest that I'm not the one whose point has been extremely lessened. Or entirely negated, for that matter.

Red Shoes said...

As has yours...

Chris Burdett said...

It was actually Paddy Chayefsky who took the Lord's name in vain, in the script of Network; this author simply quoted him. This author's own use of the word God--"As citizens of the world and children of God, we have a choice to make..." strikes me as sincere and not at all blasphemous. I think both uses are appropriate in this touching and thought-provoking post

Nora said...

Red Shoes, I am so sorry it's so hard for you not to be an offensive jerk. May I suggest a thesaurus?

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

Well said. I don't get Coulter. Wait no, I get Coulter, I don't get why people watch her on purpose.

Mo said...

Rob, your words are amazing. As always.

Lauren said...

Rob for President! (or Prime Minister preferably, we could use you in England!) Sharing this post if that's OK.

Lauren said...

Rob for President! (Or Prime Minister, preferably. We could use you in England. We don't have as overtly crass and disablist political commentators per se (it's usually 'comedians') but our politics is becoming increasingly demeaning of disabled people (my word preference as one, feel free to substitute 'people with disabilities'.) Definitely sharing, and thank you for writing.