Saturday, August 02, 2008

Mama Bear and Tropic Thunder


When my daughter who has Down syndrome was a baby (14 years ago!!!) I was puttering around my house one spring day with the windows open and there were neighborhood kids out running around. In the midst of my spring-clean I heard it. Some kid in my neighborhood called some other kid a ‘retard.’

My poor husband was completely unprepared for the depth and breadth of my reaction—heretofore he had thought of me as a mild-mannered woman! Fortunately, he sat on me until my urge toward violence passed. (See my post below for the benefits of avoiding violence!)We found out the true meaning of the mama bear instinct.

Obviously kids get insulted in their lives, but my kids were so little I hadn’t been through that yet—and they went after my BABY….

Now, of course, they weren’t going after my baby. But they hit her and they hit me too with their stray word-bullet. And frankly, I think getting hit by stray bullets is just as painful as getting hit by the ones meant for you. Friendly fire is an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.

The assault on people with cognitive disabilities has gone on always and people have no idea the harm they do.

As I have mentioned here before (a few times!) I am a Partners in Policymaking graduate and a few years ago there was a seminar in our state capitol for Partners graduates. We had a nationally-known speaker who has been a disability advocate his whole life. He talked to us about how to approach legislators. I thought he was great.

During lunch I found that several of my fellow attendees were EXTREMELY upset. The speaker had begun his talk with a summary of the history of disabilities and used words that absolutely broke the hearts of my friends. He was only trying to illustrate that peoples’ efforts had led to progress, but they had thought they were in a safe place and weren’t prepared to encounter name-calling. They were totally stuck on THOSE WORDS.

I tried to explain that the speaker had used those words to show what didn’t exist anymore.

My friend Jason looked me in the eye and said, “That’s what you think!”

The stories that followed made me sick. No one’s child deserves that treatment—no one at all deserves that treatment.

People with cognitive disabilities learn and think differently than average. I have encountered wisdom, insight, compassion, humor and strength in people with disability diagnoses—and the reverse in a good many folks who don’t have diagnoses.

There is a movie coming out this August called Tropic Thunder that bandies the R-word all over the place and describes the experience of having an intellectual disability as being “moronic, stupid, dumb and imbecilic.”

This movie is geared toward teenage boys and has big-time actors. This characterization is buried in lots of crazy antics that teenage boys love.

Do you think these young guys will pause and ask themselves, “Is this really an accurate portrayal of intellectual disability?”

I don’t.

I think they will carry on the tradition of misjudgement and mistreatment of people with disabilities—including their peer, my daughter. Then she too can have stories to tell that will make you sick.

I think they will grow up and make movies just like this one.

So to Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jack Black—and their many funders and backers I say, “Thanks guys.”

NOT!

PS: Changing language is not enough to fix the world, but language IS one of the components of oppression (just ask anyone from any religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender who have been oppressed—do any of THOSE words show up in this film???) ALL of the components of oppression must be dismantled—language is as good a place to start as any.

PPS: There was another movie a few years back that combined humor and disability that I actually liked. The beginning was really rough—the characters started out just where Stiller, Downy and Black are now—but the characters in this movie evolved and the characters with disabilities were shown as whole individuals. Teens that I saw the movie with also evolved… so I liked it. Watch The Ringer and see if you agree.

Picture from here.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

It's sad, but this is what happens when schools promote less inclusion or don't individualize when they do.

There is no collateral, no value in just being there if your not seen for contributing.

I saw the movie the Ringer, and yes it is difficult to hang with the nasty guy.........but that's the message.......in the end it's not kool to be him.

I am with you on this one.......as usual.........

It has got to stop being okay to let our culture keep perpetuating fear about disability.

And no it is not censorship to have leadership and intergrity in valuing all the people!