Today my Facebook feed sent me a number of posts about a really ugly thing that happened last week (edit: turns out it was awhile ago… sigh…continue reading…). Without getting into details, conservative columnist Ann Coulter sent out a tweet… essentially referring to President Obama as a “Retard”.
I have to tell you, it’s hard for me to even write that down. And FWIW, I refuse to link to it.
I missed the whole series of events (a fact I’m not actually sad about), but then I saw the beautiful open letter that John Franklin Stephens – a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger who also happens to have Down syndrome – wrote in response. You can read it here.
It was so perfectly, beautifully written that it made me take a pause at my desk in the middle of a very busy day. And let me say this: Mr. Stephens is the kind of gentleman into which I hope to raise my own boys. A true gentleman.
Yes, Ann Coulter was way wrong to say what she said, and it was gratifying to see a public smack-down of such an ugly action. But more than that, Mr. Stephens’ letter put some really honest, powerful words around what is such a commonly used term – apparently a whole lot closer to me than I had hoped.
Later in the evening, I called all 3 of my kids downstairs tonight for an “important” family meeting and here is what happened:
My kids had ugly things to say when I asked the following question: “What does ‘Retard’ mean to you?”
I can barely write down the words they said: Ugly. Disgusting. Stupid. Those were in there. Others too.
Then I asked a different question:
Me: “Ok, so I have a different question. What do you think about *K* (a close relative with very serious disabilities)?”
Answers? “Beautiful. Happy. Always smiling.”
Me: Yeah, what about *B* (another special family member)?
Answers? “Special. Funny. Amazing.”
OMG, people. I was DYING on the inside at this point. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE MY KIDS DO NOT EVEN SEE THE HYPOCRISY IN THEIR WORDS AND ACTIONS? How did I fail so completely to sensitize them to how awful slang words like the R-word are?
And then how about the really real part where he talks about the bullying and abuse and how difficult it is to build a safe, happy life in the face of all of those challenges. In addition to all of the challenges that being different brings.
We then spent a bunch of time talking very seriously after I explained to them that *K* and *B* are exactly the types of people that are being insulted when someone uses the word “Retard” to put down another person.
They were horrified.
But then one of my kids said something else: “Well, my friend *M* and I call each other the R-word all the time… it’s just our thing…”
**CRUSHING** More parenting conversations later, I finally said, “Do you think it’s worth it to use that word as a joke anymore?”
Son: “No. Can you print that article so I can share it with my class?”
Me: “Yes. I will be right back.”
So from my small corner of the world, I just want to say “Thank you” in my own “open letter” of sorts to John Franklin Stephens for being authentic and brave and honest in the face of very ugly, and unwarranted, discrimination. I had not realized that the stain of that ugliness was lurking around here with my sweet children, and I am so grateful that you gave me the chance to plant the seeds that will hopefully flush it out for good.