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.