One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I believe I am a week or two late in the discovery of what threw me out of bed last night and to my computer to write.  What I stumbled upon caused bile to rise in my throat, and old news or not, I felt compelled to give my own editorial.

My younger brother Nicholas, who will turn 29 this July, has Down Syndrome. I was six when he was born and he and I are the youngest of all five siblings. My parents were extreme activists when it came to getting the best for their children, and this may have been the most true for my brother, baby number five and only boy.

My Mother, a Speech Pathologist, Valedictorian of her high-school class, and fluent speaker of three languages, took a 21 year maternity leave to devote 100 percent  of her time to the raising of her children.  I rarely saw her get emotional, but the few memories I do have were during phone conversations with school Superintendents and Chairmen of Committees on Special Education. She made it her life’s mission for many years to get Nicholas mainstreamed into our own school district in an effort to immerse him into classrooms with  typically functioning individuals.   The education offered to children with special needs such as my brother’s were less to be desired with their unequaled standards and low expectations.  Together, my parents fought for their son with unwavering tenacity.

This battle, beginning in the 1980’s and continuing for ten plus years was one that they sadly lost.  Nicholas graduated from BOCES, an extension of our Maine-Endwell district, but never had the opportunity for social modeling resulting from peer interaction within a full-inclusion classroom.

My sister is currently a kindergarten teacher in that same district and I get frequent texts and emails from her with pictures or stories of Kevin, one of her students who has Down Syndrome. His case disproves the claims that the other students’ education would suffer from the inclusion of a child with special needs, and that the child himself would be chastised and not accepted.  Kevin is the favorite among the students and they seem to learn as much from him as he does from them.

The tug of war, while not in time for Nicholas, seems to be finally pulling in the right direction. Although, from what I understand, the rope is far from ready to be laid to the ground. Kevin’s parents have to make their case yearly in hopes to give their son all he deserves.

But just when I was feeling hopeful over the positive turn in our society in this regard, a celebrity, as celebrities often do, blabbed some of the most offensive remarks I have yet to hear from a fellow actor.

I was first introduced to the work of comedian Margaret Cho when a friend suggested her movie “I’m The One That I Want”  ten years ago. I found her unapologetic acceptance of herself and all she is, in a Hollywood world, refreshing and inspiring.  She claimed to speak for the underdog and shouted out against the persistent nudging from agents and producers to gloss over her originality with plastic surgery and other image shellacs.   Right on, Margaret!

Last night, before turning out the lights, I decided to do one last bit of mindless web surfing, and happened upon this clip.  In it she says, regarding her diminishing egg quality, “I don’t necessarily want to have a retard”. That quote is the most tame of the interview.  If you have not recently eaten, here is the clip.

But, as disgusting as her words are, they were said a week and a half ago and she has since publicly apologized.  Ironically this is found on the same website where in her bio, she claims to be the “Patron Saint for outsiders, speaking for them when they are not able to speak for themselves.”  Her apology doesn’t do much to temper the fact the word “retard” is so readily available in her vocabulary that it can be repeatedly spat out in jest, but an apology is an apology.

For me, the hope of our society’s evolution surrounding such a critical issue is cracking under the pressure of this 54 second interview, and not directly due to the jarringly uneducated and insensitive comments of Ms. Cho.  She is clearly not the inspiring pioneer I once believed her to be, and I’ll get over it.  But the reaction from the audience members is what gives me hair-raising chills.  These comments should have been met with nothing but silence and scattered gasps, yet they laugh like robotic blind sheep.  There are even boisterous “whoops” heard throughout the studio.

“Margaret Cho is a comedian. What she says MUST be funny, right?”

Pay attention, people. These remarks are NOT funny. No matter who says them or in what tone.  Moments after I saw this, I asked myself in bewilderment if it is possible that her degrading thoughts mirror those of our society.

Thankfully, the rampant outrage that followed this May 30th interview answered that question.

While my initial reaction to this brief media minute is that we have taken one step forward and two steps back, I am aware that this response comes out of intense hurt, anger and shock, and that I just might be giving Margaret Cho and her giggling audience more power than than they deserve.

And to be blessed with a soul as exquisite and enlightening as Nicholas would also be far more than they deserve.

Nick and Emily


14 responses to “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

  1. Sharon Nelson

    So well put Emily

  2. I watched the clip – because I was interested in seeing the context surrounding the comment. Any apology she made after the fact seems pretty empty in my opinion based on what I saw. How infuriating!

    Instead of commenting any more about her, I wanted to share a bright spot story with you instead. There is a restaurant here in Albuquerque owned by a 25-year-old man who has Down’s Syndrome. I don’t know if you have heard about it. There was even an article in People magazine in May about the restaurant. Here is a link to a news clip about Tim and his restaurant.

  3. As another one of Nicholas’ siblings, and a kindergarten teacher, who was blessedly entrusted with a child with Down Syndrome and 2 children with autism this year, I fear the only cognitive or social/emotional delay I can speak to today is Ms. Cho’s. Day one of this past school year I had 3 special children in my class. Day 180, I now have 18 special children! Their lives have been affected, touched, and irreversibly bettered through the daily interactions they have had with these amazing human angels this year! If you need an example of the positive power these children possess, I’ll gladly comply! Upon completion of a ten minute discussion on global giving and charity, I asked my 5 to 7 year old students what their number one wish for every child on earth would be. In other words, what they wished every child on earth could have. The very first response from a “typically-abled” five year old was, “A Kevin!” to which the rest of the class cheered their agreement! “Kevin” is my student who has Down Syndrome. If my students haven’t mastered their addition and subtraction facts to 10 this year, at least they have experienced (humanity, character and kindness in its purest form! I will continue to pray that public, popular and famous figures who lack the vision, emotional intelligence and empathy of five to eight year olds will be silenced and humbled by the purity, innocence and brilliance around them. Open your eyes and you, too, can start to enjoy the beauty and magic of difference!

  4. Good morning Em! Okay…so I didn’t watch the clip (because I’ve never found this woman to be even a tiny bit funny and you can’t make me!) HOWEVER- though her words were badly chosen and I would be offended by them too because Nicholas is the light of my life and his morning “i love you- I’m up and ready for action” messages are saved in my phone for a smile whenever necessary (or even unnecessary!), BUT- you may have to take something into consideration. – Pain is not funny! (unless of course someone falls out of a two door car by tripping over the seat belt while getting out- that is hilarious!) Sorry…it just is…Anyway…I have a rule with my band that we can say “anything for the joke!” We have trained ourselves to say the quickest thing that comes to our heads to poke fun at a situation and laugh to ourselves or with others. This has had mixed results. To us- absolutely brilliant comedy- To others- most of the time brilliant, other times a touch off and they just might not hire us again…Oh well..oops…

    I have been known to poke fun at my own egg quality being 40. As a matter of fact my “stale ole eggs that would likely make a baby with 3 heads but as long as they could sing in harmony, I’d be just fine with that” were the source of all humor (and discomfort to the people around me at times) from the time I was 32 and wondering what the heck I was going to do to make the only real dream I had (to have children) while I did all the fun and amazing things (helping kids, teaching kids, singing, jumping around, writing books…) that I considered piddly in comparison to being a mother, having absolutely no significant other while time ticked away. Would it be more appropriate for me to stand up and do a comedy routine about the deep resentment towards every guy who dissed me? Or how about eating in bed at night due to the frustration of meeting mr. wrong over and over again (actually…Yes…again…quite funny- to me I suppose)…How about sitting in an interview when someone asks, “So do you want children” and you really do and currently that aspect of your life is completely out of your hands…Do you start to cry and say “wa…wa…wa…everyone sucks…all I ever wanted was a baby and I wasted my entire life and now I look in the mirror every single day wondering if this was all my fault.”…um…nope…that is met with a hush falling over the crowd (believe me…I’ve tried it). You need to say “anything for the joke” if that is indeed the person you are expected by your public to be.

    Now- I certainly don’t condone what she said. Really dumb…but I have tossed and turned at night replaying fat jokes of overweight comedians who when they say them, get a laugh, but for some reason when I hear them, my heart breaks and I want to send an eating and exercise plan to the person in hopes that he/she could feel better about him/herself.

    Summary- people who are expected to be “always on” don’t always have the “right” to say what they mean. I speculate that in a few months or a year…you’ll see Margaret having a child and living her dream. Down syndrome? 3 heads? That’s scary!- Having your public think you’re weak and aren’t okay with the fact you haven’t met anyone and had children yet?- now that just sucks!

    • Very good point, Kass. And yes…clearly she is unhappy and overcompensating. I am all for inappropriate humor. But, something about this word in particular crosses a very important line for me…and it’s a thick line!! Remember some of Dad’s comments?! But, I don’t believe I ever heard Mom or Dad use that word.
      I did however also see her ignorant remarks as a reflection of her unhappiness and fear and therefore chose to focus more on the reaction of the audience. that part, I still don’t get.

      and…falling out of a car stuck to a seat belt. Very funny.

  5. I won’t watch that stupid video because as I read your post Em (and yours too, Hil and Kassie), I held back tears. It’s no secret that your family is my second family and that every one of you had affected my life in positive ways. And having Nick be a part of my life has been a blessing like no other. I love that kid and often laugh at memories I have with him, of him, or have heard about him. Margaret Cho is an ignorant fool and I won’t give her the satisfaction of another “click” on her dumb comment….
    And, just for laughs, I realized how the beginning of my post sounds resoundingly familiar with Em’s “stupid thing” moments that she often had after hitting her head…”stupid video”! LOL. And Kassie, I laughed hysterically thinking of someone falling out of a car because they got their’ feet caught in the seat belt! That’s just plain funny!!
    Love you guys and your whole family!! xoxo

  6. So beautifully articulated Em. That offensive word’s impact can be so unconscious to others who have never been lucky enough to meet someone as amazing as Nick. He is pure joy, love, and I feel lucky to know him.

    • Thank you so much. This comment came in as “someone” but as you called me “Em” and know Nick, I’m sure you are dear and close to my heart, whoever you are 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  7. Oh, Em…my eyes are full of tears and my heart is touched. xo

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