Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm on my Soapbox!

Well, today is Princess J's 17 month birthday, and while she's a bit under the weather, I did have some photos to share. Since for some reason which I can't figure out, they won't load, I'll save them for tomorrow.

Today, since I don't have any Princess photos, I wanted to share a letter that was written to the LA Times by California's First Lady Maria Shriver. It is in regards to the movie Tropic Thunder and the protesting that has been going on.

The 'R-word' is no joke
For the intellectually disabled and their families, it's just as bad as the "N"-word.

This has been a year filled with teachable political moments. Racism, sexism, ageism and "change" have been debated at kitchen tables and water coolers across America. But this last week, those gathered around my kitchen table have been consumed with another discussion, one that is not Democratic or Republican -- it's the "R-word" debate.

The "R-word" stands for "retard." For the 6 million to 8 million Americans with intellectual disabilities and their families, this word and its hurtful use is equal to the impact of the "N-word" on an African American.

The reason it's kitchen-table fodder is because of the Dreamworks film "Tropic Thunder," which topped the box-office charts when it opened last weekend and which will attract many more moviegoers this weekend. In the R-rated film, which I've seen, a character named Simple Jack is a caricature of a person with a developmental disability. In one of the scenes, the character played by Robert Downey Jr. chastises Ben Stiller's character for "going full retard," and the "R-word" is repeated many times.

As a journalist, I respect the right to freedom of speech, and my kids will tell you I laugh the loudest when we see a comedy. But as the niece of someone who had a developmental disability, and as a member of the board of directors of Special Olympics International, I know how hurtful the "R-word" is to someone with a disability. I know why "Tropic Thunder's" opening was met by protests on behalf of the intellectually disabled.

Listen to actor Eddie Barbanell, who serves on the Special Olympics board with me, and he will tell you in very emotional terms how the use of that word has made him feel rejected, stupid, demeaned.

Or you can talk to Special Olympics athlete Loretta Claiborne, who speaks on behalf of millions when she describes how the "R-word" has been used to mock and degrade her. She asks all of us to stop using this word without regard to its effect on the hearts and minds of people with disabilities.

There is an old saying: "Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me." Even when I chanted it as a child, I never believed it. Words do hurt -- they break people's spirits, they break people's dreams, they break people's hearts.

Kids will see "Tropic Thunder," no matter the rating, and when they leave the theater and go out to their schools, their homes and their communities, they'll call each other the "R-word" because they think it's funny. They'll do it without any idea or regard to how it makes a person with a disability feel.

Too many in the intellectually disabled movement cannot speak out for themselves. It is up to their families and those of us who advocate on their behalf to explain that calling someone by the "R-word" is no longer acceptable and is anything but funny.

It's not acceptable in a movie theater; it's not acceptable on a playground. It's not acceptable that college coaches use it to chastise athletes. It's not OK to use it in a classroom or a boardroom.

"Tropic Thunder" is giving Claiborne, Barbanell and many other individuals and organizations that serve those with special needs -- the Special Olympics, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Arc, the American Assn. of People with Disabilities, Parent to Parent-USA -- a teachable moment. They are ready to join with the entertainment industry to change minds. Dreamworks' decision to include a public service announcement with DVDs of "Tropic Thunder" is an important first step, but far more needs to be done.

Just as important, parents must talk to kids at our kitchen tables about how we have felt when someone called us stupid, idiotic or lame. Because once we put ourselves in someone else's shoes, certain names just aren't that funny any more.

I often quote the Hopi prayer that tells us not to look outside ourselves for a leader. It tells us that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We can exchange one "R-word" for another: respect. We can teach our children that name-calling hurts.

Let's makes the "R-word" as unacceptable as the "N-word." Think of all we can accomplish if we work together.

It's one thing in this political season that shouldn't require a water-cooler debate.

Maria Shriver is the first lady of California

As the mommy of a child with intellectual disabilities, it hurts my heart to think that kids at his school will be using this word and hurting his feelings. Right now, he's only 3, so he doesn't understand, but someday he will. No matter how many times I tell him I'm proud of him, or what an amazing little boy he is, or how much we love him, it will hurt him. When he is hurt, I will be hurt also. I also dread what kind of an impact these things will have on his sister. I know her heart will hurt when others use these words as well.

Little J has so much unconditional love and joy to offer the world. I hope people will open themselves up to see that and love him back. Little J is the most joyful spirit you will ever meet. Your life and your heart will be touched just knowing him.

I personally have chosen not to support this movie. I may watch it when it goes to DVD, to see their PSA in the beginning. I think there is already enough hurt by the mean things that are said to one another, that we don't need to promote these things in movies. It's time to not only teach our children about using the 'R-word', but also about being kind to one another and having compassion for those who by no fault of their own have all types of disabilities seen and unseen.

*stepping off my soapbox now*

Let's just be nice to eachother, today and everyday......


Tayde said...

very well said from your point of view:) I always enjoy reading your blog, it's very insightful and gives me so much to think about and be thanful for! geeshh...sorry if I mispelled some of these words...have a fabulous day, I think you're a phenomenal mommy!!! smiles!

emelyn said...

Thank you for posting that, Laurie. And you are so right. People need to teach their children how to respect each other. I know how it feels to have their children teased, it hurst the parents probably even more than it hurts the children...right now. But there may be long term effects. HUGS Laurie!! And hugs to Little J!!

Happy 17 months, Princess!

erin said...

what a powerful, strong, and well written post girl! i agree, what happened to teaching our children about respect, with strong morals and values. nothing wrong with telling them NO and standing behind our choices. children are spoiled today, much more than any other generation, and w/o a firm foundation of strong values to stand on, among God's children- what chance do they have to become contributing members of society in a positive way if they only see negativity like that being condoned.