The Power of Words


Ann Coulter’s been at it again, and the online Down syndrome community is in an uproar again.  The latest from Coulter:

There are so many things I could respond with – and as Finn’s mom, I feel a responsibility to: how “retard” is never appropriately used, how it’s always a demeaning slur; how hurtful it is to use language that puts down an entire class of people; how continuing to use such language makes one a bully.  I could go on.

But Coulter knows these things.  Of course she does, because she’s been called out before.  And she doesn’t care.  She makes her living at being as controversial as possible.  She has built her image on being nasty, self-righteous, and offensive – all under the guise of being above it all.  She thrives on attention, even – maybe especially – negative attention.  If she’s taken to task on something offensive she’s said, like an obnoxious, bratty child, she just sticks her tongue out and repeats the offending words just to prove that she can.

It makes me tired, and I can’t bring myself to jump into the fray, the call to arms to bring her down.  It’s futile.  She won’t stop, she just won’t.  Neither will she take it back or apologize.  She gets off on this shit way too much.  She is quoted as having once said, “I’m a Christian first and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it.”  If you tell her she’s being hurtful, well, it’s “Mission Accomplished” to her.  And sadly, wherever she goes, it’s likely that she’ll find an audience.  It seems to me, therefore, that the best thing to do is to ignore her.

I can’t advocate on such a large scale.  I’m one person, a humble mom of a kid with Down syndrome.  Celebrities aren’t going to listen to me.  But maybe you will.

Of all the aspects of advocating for people with Down syndrome, trying to educate people about the R-word and how it affects those of us in the disabilities community is maybe the most disheartening.  You can tell people it’s a hurtful choice of words, you can explain why it is, and there always seem to be those folks who invoke Freedom of Speech, or the silliness of insisting on political correctness.  They’ll argue the point with you, they’ll say they “didn’t mean anything by it,” or they “didn’t mean it like that.”  You can tell them that, just like there is no appropriate way to use the word “nigger,” there is also no appropriate way to use the word “retard,” and that using it – especially after they’ve been educated about its implications – is making a conscious choice to demonstrate utter disregard for certain fellow human beings.  You can tell them that using words like “retarded” and “retard” to describe people or things they find sub par is actually pretty uncreative on their part, given that there are dozens of other words to choose from in the modern lexicon that express what they want to express without degrading an entire sector of society.  You can tell them that using such language actually reflects their own ignorance – the very thing they’re using such words to decry.  You can tell them that being mean is unChristian.

Doesn’t matter.  It all often falls on deaf ears.  I’m not really sure what’s at the heart of it.  Selfishness?  Are people that afraid of feeling like they’re giving up a right that it trumps being a kind and compassionate human being?  It’s hard to believe that people actually want to be thought of as mean (except, obviously, Ann Coulter).  Do they?  Or is it a form of “talking big,” trying to be cool, a big shot?  Whatever it is, it’s discouraging, to say the least.

Most of my friends have become conscious of the R-word, and many have pledged to stop using it.  Some of them even go out of their way to call it to other people’s attention, and for that I’m grateful.  Some still let it slip sometimes, though, right in front of me.  Sometimes I say something, and sometimes I don’t.  Even when I don’t, though, I notice.  Oh yes, I notice.  If I don’t say anything, you should know it’s because I value our relationship and want to give you the benefit of the doubt – I want to believe that you caught yourself saying it and are inwardly at least a little horrified.  Or, I just can’t stomach a confrontation in which you might become defensive and invoke all the tired old excuses and explanations I’ve heard a thousand times before.  Maybe when I hear you let it slip, I’m momentarily overcome by a feeling of defeat.

I’m not asking for the moon, for crap’s sake.  I’m asking people to think before they speak.  As fellow members of the human race, shouldn’t we all have a policy of “first, do no harm”?  While we all value our freedoms, do we interpret “freedom” to mean “free-for-all”?  Don’t we believe, instead, as a civilized society, that freedoms come with responsibility – responsibility to be humane and compassionate?

Listen: I know Ann Coulter isn’t going to stop her vitriol.  But maybe next time she spews ugliness, just a few more people will see it for what it is: begging for attention at the cost of other people’s feelings – at other people’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.

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15 Comments on “The Power of Words”

  1. Caryl Becker Phillips
    October 24, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    I think the only thing that will stop Ann Coulter is if enough people get disgusted by her and boycott her sponsors. i for one will happily research that and let you all know who pays her. Money talks. Ann Coulter should not be classified as a fellow human being. She has no known obvious human emotion. Just a vessel full of hate. Sad for her.

  2. Gillian Marchenko
    October 24, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Lisa, thank you. I don’t have enough brain cells to rub together to tackle this.

    Your post is perfect.

  3. Adrienne
    October 24, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Love this! Perfectly stated!

  4. Darla
    October 24, 2012 at 2:50 am #

    Ann Coulter: A tasteless, immature attention whore. I’m not feeling as generous as you today. Feel free to not post this.

    • Lisa
      October 24, 2012 at 2:59 am #

      It’s a rare comment I won’t post 😉

      • Darla
        October 24, 2012 at 3:34 am #

        I’m thinking today of the PEOPLE who she is demeaning. I’m thinking today of how the derogatory remarks, cause derogatory views which devalue lives of babies with DS to the point that in the USA only 8 out of 100 are allowed to be born and most are lost to late term abortions, How these kinds of attitudes which form these remarks scared my parents away from raising their son and how the devaluing of these PEOPLE make it easy for them to sustain abuse around the world, including starvation, restrainment for life, physical abuse from caretakers. I’m thinking of someone I loved who deserved loving kindness but who’s life was really a lot of sadness.

        …and when I am done thinking…I’m imagining a world where all people are valued equally, that everyone is loved for who they are, not devalued for who they are not. I’m imagining that because we don’t need to rely on bonding through the exclusion of others, we are naturally more able to love and accept and that 100% of viable babies end up in the loving arms of their mothers and not dumped as human waste into medical wastebins.

        If you garner an audience, you have a RESPONSIBILITY for what you write/say. Let’s say that you write a book that becomes very popular and that book encourages violence, and the readers who read it kill people. In my opinion, you are just as guilty of murder as they are because you created the train of thought.

        If you encourage hatred, or unloving attitudes and it causes hurt, murder, abuse, then YOU are guilty of hurt, murder and abuse. This kind of thinking is where eugenics in all forms originate: Superiority and devaluing.

        I’m angry, but more than anything, I’m sad.

  5. Grace
    October 24, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Hey,

    If you go here:

    http://www.lib.odu.edu/ojs/index.php/csaj/article/viewFile/1/1..

    + scroll down to the page numbered ‘118’ and read from there, it covers a lot of what you’re pondering in this post. ❤

    • Lisa
      October 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

      Interesting, Grace; thanks for that.

  6. ckbryl
    October 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Great post Lisa. I feel similarly to you in this regard, it’s tiring. You have some great readers with great comments on here too.

  7. Sarah
    October 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    If you haven’t seen it already, I thought you’d like this beautiful response, written by a man with Down syndrome: http://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/an-open-letter-to-ann-coulter/

    • Lisa
      October 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      I did see it; thanks, Sarah!

  8. Maddy
    October 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    The contradiction with the word “nigger” is most african american people can say it to each other. But don’t let a white person refer to that race as such. I am of african american and white decent so I see both sides of the (ignorance) with using words…

    • Grace
      October 25, 2012 at 2:29 am #

      Slur appropriation is something that occurs within *every* marginalized group.

      I’m a special needs adult and (unfortunately) I hear other special needs people use the term retard all the time.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reappropriation

      I don’t love it, but I understand it. I think it’s a pretty human response to the feelings of powerlessness that come with being a member of an oppressed group.

  9. Maddy
    October 25, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Grace,

    This is so sad to read what you have written. Here I think all the time it is the (non special needs people) who need to be contious of their words and you are telling me Special Needs people use the term retard. Seriously, what war are we fighting on the word Retard if it is being used by all.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Link Love (08/11/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope - November 8, 2012

    […] “Of all the aspects of advocating for people with Down syndrome, trying to educate people about the R-word and how it affects those of us in the disabilities community is maybe the most disheartening. You can tell people it’s a hurtful choice of words, you can explain why it is, and there always seem to be those folks who invoke Freedom of Speech, or the silliness of insisting on political correctness. They’ll argue the point with you, they’ll say they “didn’t mean anything by it,” or they “didn’t mean it like that.” You can tell them that, just like there is no appropriate way to use the word “nigger,” there is also no appropriate way to use the word “retard,” and that using it – especially after they’ve been educated about its implications – is making a conscious choice to demonstrate utter disregard for certain fellow human beings. You can tell them that using words like “retarded” and “retard” to describe people or things they find sub par is actually pretty uncreative on their part, given that there are dozens of other words to choose from in the modern lexicon that express what they want to express without degrading an entire sector of society. You can tell them that using such language actually reflects their own ignorance – the very thing they’re using such words to decry. You can tell them that being mean is unChristian. Doesn’t matter. It all often falls on deaf ears. I’m not really sure what’s at the heart of it. Selfishness? Are people that afraid of feeling like they’re giving up a right that it trumps being a kind and compassionate human being? It’s hard to believe that people actually want to be thought of as mean (except, obviously, Ann Coulter). Do they? Or is it a form of “talking big,” trying to be cool, a big shot? Whatever it is, it’s discouraging, to say the least.” The Power of Words – Life As I Know It […]

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