Friday, August 17, 2012

Genetics are not Material

Last week sometime, I was sitting in the living room as the three children bounced around and a commercial came on about Comedy Central's Roast of Rosanne.  "Cool!"  I thought... I like Rosanne (although I don't agree with all of her stuff) and the line up looked pretty good.   I was particularly happy to see Wayne Brady's name there;  Sean and I have been fans of him for years and it's a rare thing that "Let's Make a Deal" isn't on as a background to our morning.  Sean and I discussed how Wayne was an interesting choice as he has made his career on clean comedy and we were looking forward to see how he would transfer to a saltier forum.  We watch all the roasts and although I was working that night, I knew I would catch up with it afterwards.  It airs here in Canada Saturday night on the Comedy Network.

You will imagine my surprise when, a few days later, one of my friends posted the story of Wayne's performance in the Down Wit Dat - The Group on Facebook.  During his bit, Wayne said the following (to comedian Jeff Ross):

Now the thing is Jeff ... these are all jokes, and I really like you. I really, really like you. But a lot of people hate you, especially Sarah Palin because you remind her of what Trig is going to look like when he’s 40.

When he was actually booed by the audience, he fired back:

Oh, now you boo me? F*ck y’all. I don’t want to hear that. These people say all of this sh*t about me, and you boo me because of Trig?

I know it's a roast.  The comedy, is lewd, crude and rude... and that is the point.  As I've stated before, I watch them all.  I frequently flinch when I do watch them, usually when the shots turn racial or target religion.   When I saw the above, it wasn't a flinch.  It was that cold, slightly disconnected stab that I get when someone says something completely thoughtless or discriminatory about learning disabilities.  It hurt.  It hurt like it always does, but this one hurt worse.  It's always worse when it's someone you like.

I did what I normally do.  I sent an 'I am disappoint, son' tweet and supported my friends who were voicing their protests.  With these things, I don't agree with trolling or flaming as it serves little purpose for the cause.  In the over 18 months that I've had of this special needs parenting gig, I've learned a few things.  One of them is that you have to approach these things in a calm manner.  If you don't, you will get the oppourtunity to blow of steam.  You also run the risk of looking like a complete crackpot and having your original message lost.  I'm usually a lot gentler with my advocacy than I actually want to be as the message seems to be received better.  Flies and honey and all that...  In any event, I left much of the heavy lifting to my peeps in the community and went on with what turned out to be a very busy week.

Sadly, it's stayed with me.  It's sat there, cold and leaden in my belly and it won't go away.  Mr. Brady did not attack my son, true.  He did not directly tell derogatory jokes directly about those with Down syndrome. (As in "You know what's funny about Down syndrome?...) Also true.  However, what he did do was basically called another comic ugly, by comparing him to a future 40-something with DS.  Therefore, Down syndrome is ugly.  Not cool.  Not.

This has been bothering me as it completely disregards everything we do here.  Down syndrome is a visual disability;  the extra chromosome changes specific features which are visible.  People with DS are discriminated against because of the way they look.  Mr. Brady's joke is one more (albeit a big one) in a sea of prejudice that reinforces a stereotype.  Sort of like this joke from the same roast:

Jeff, you look like something a mongoloid kid put together at Build-A-Bear.” -Anthony Jeselnik

I posted a pic to my personal FB wall last week that stated "Denying equal rights to another group of human beings based on your religious beliefs is still called bigotry". It got liked and shared a few times and made the rounds.  I posted another one, with Henry Rollins that included "You always know the mark of a coward.  A coward hides behind freedom.  A brave person stands in front of freedom and defends it for others."  I like that one too.  I mention both of these because I often run into situations where I find myself calling another on their insensitivity or prejudice and the response usually contains one or all of the following:  "free speech", "you're too sensitive", "...wasn't directed at",  "political correctness" and general misguided righteous indignation. It never ceases to amaze me, the amount of teeth gnashing and haranguing that occurs when I point out to someone that they are being mean to a great group of people and the response is "you are taking away my freedom!"  Also sad is what occurs when I post quotes or inspirational messages like those in regards to gay marriage, racial equality or religious tolerance, I get lots of support and even a "hell yeah!" here and there.  Post it about Down syndrome and the only people that care are members and friends of the Down syndrome community.  For some reason, those with learning disabilities are fair game. They are still 'safe' to make fun of.

When I was growing up, the word used to be "gay".  You're so... That's so... I'm so... and it was very disparaging.  Thanks to years of hard work by people such as GLAAD, things are getting a little bit better for the gay community.  Now, it's the R-word and in this world of whiny "we're not allowed to say this anymore thanks to those advocates over there", Down syndrome itself is a put down.  No, really.  Since when is a genetic disorder a joke or expletive?  People don't do that with other things.  However, the following I pulled off yet another random Down syndrome search on Twitter this morning:
Like a nice little pout is cute but when u r twisting and bending up your lips you just look like you suffer from down syndrome!

Shut up Jarvis, you look like the down syndrome version of Mario Chalmers!

#wheniwasyounger i thought people with down syndrome were all one guy lol, i used to think "bloody hell i see this dude everywhere!?"

Giants fans don't blame me because your QB looks like he has down syndrome.

New FAA regulations allow mongoloids and individuals with down syndrome to fly cargo on all flights over 2hrs #TardWeek

I just watched five minutes of the local news and think I caught Down Syndrome.

sometimes i have thoughts of what some of you remind me of. i.e: rats, monkeys, down syndrome. & i feel bad.. b/c the resemblance is uncanny

Do people with cystic fibrosis have to put up with this?  Or Lupus?  How about cerebral palsy?  Do you see these people tell jokes about spina bifida or muscular dystrophy or childhood cancers?  If these people were using racial, religious or cultural stereotypes, would their tweets stay up? 

No.  Down syndrome is apparently funny.  So much so that every single time one of us posts a letter or comment pointing out an act of discrimination, we are told (usually in almost illegible English/textspeak) we are oversensitive jerks.  At worst, we are told that we infringe on others free speech, but still basically oversensitive jerks.

Sadly, especially for Mr. Brady, the main message of the DS community is being outshouted by a lot of other crap.  Fans of Mrs. Palin, neo-nazis and people that generally do not like African-Americans in general are spewing all sorts of hatred at Wayne at the moment in our name.  I got the first inkling of this the other day when I was looking for a comment I had posted to show my husband and he quietly pointed out how many Confederate flags were on the page.  This isn't cool either. 

Neither is waving away any sort of discourse from any of the DS advocacy groups as 'Republican agenda'.  I am not a Republican.  I'm not even American.  I do not have a political agenda outside having people with DS get a fair shake in life and making sure that they and their families do not have to put up with ignorance and hatred every single day of their lives.  I am also not a fan of Mrs. Palin.  I do not agree with her politics, I do not have the same religious beliefs and I do not think she is a good role model for my own daughter.  However, she is the mother of a child with Down syndrome that she loves and does not hide away from the world.  For that alone, I respect her.  Just like any other community, the Down syndrome one is a diverse bunch of people from all walks of life, all countries of the world, all religions, races and creeds.  Many of those don't get along and that is evident too.  However, the main message cannot afford to be lost here:  Down syndrome is no joke.  It is not funny.  When you call another ugly by comparing them to Down syndrome, when you call someone stupid by comparing them to Down syndrome, you demean people with Down syndrome.  Hiding behind your religion, politics, freedom of speech does not change prejudice.  It does not excuse bad behaviour.  Neither does hiding behind retweets from people trying to spin hate speech as simple misinterpretation:

The joke was a shot at Jeff Ross, not Trig Palin & getting offended at a roast is to be expected (it wasn't political) .
  I'm glad you're not apologizing. If all subjects are taboo then were fucked.

My only agenda is civil rights and liberties and changing public perception about my son.  Jokes like this only put us back further every single time someone famous decides the learning disabled are fair game as they are not on some mythical taboo list.  Whether you wish to accept it or not, it is a form of lateral violence.  It encourages bullying.  It encourages prejudice.  It encourages the perpetuation of the image of a helpless, ugly, mindless individual with Down syndrome that will not amount to anything.  I used to like Wayne Brady's stuff;  I'm not so inclined any more.  I think he owes those with Down syndrome an apology.  I also think I won't be watching any more roasts as they too aren't funny any more.  We don't need any more Al Jolsen jokes for that matter either.

[Addendum:  8/17/12:  Mr. Brady has posted the following to his Facebook page:

This letter has taken me a few days to compose because of the conflicting emotions that I've experienced since the day of the Roast and it's subsequent airing. The environment of the Roast is a comedic (hopefully), tasteless (mostly always), affair that encourages everyone to out-filth each other. Not normally what I'm known for, right? But, when I was invited, I jumped at the chance to play outside of my perceived "norm" and have fun. The Jeff joke was written for me and at the end of the day I take full responsibility for saying it. It wasn't meant as a slam to Trig and at the time I didn't see it that way.

I could defend it as a performer, but I would rather apologize from the bottom of my heart as a father. I understand how a parent, who loves their child, who tries to nurture and shield them when they cannot defend themselves, would take offense.. I have many times experienced this feeling. I've had awful things said about my daughter.. Violent and most times racial stabs. Being in the spotlight I have built a thick skin to these sorts of things. My daughter ( who's now old enough to understand ) is another story. That being said I write this letter with sensitivity and a strong stance of responsibility for my actions.

I thank everyone who's expressed their opinion for reminding me that my voice is heard... It's easy to forget sometimes in front of cameras and lights.

To the Palins, please know that no malice or harm was meant. To the other families who were touched negatively, I hope you'll be able to accept this apology as well.

I've always said that people in the public eye should be held responsible for what you say and I'm no hypocrite. Thanks for reading and letting me express my side.

Take care all,

On behalf of my son and my family, Mr. Brady, I accept your apology.]


  1. Thank you for the post. My wife and I are big advocates for people with Down syndrome driven by our daughter. My job is social media and I am dismayed by the explosion it seems on Twitter of teen - 20 somethings using Down syndrome as a put down for everything. I see it a lot coming from the UK as a matter of fact. I don't know why.

    You are right about many other disabilities not drawing the same unwanted attention. I just did a scan of the hashtag #autisim and thankfully only found one negative use out of the first 75 tweets I read through. Right now about two of 10 tweets use Down syndrome in a negative way. I am glad other groups don't see this I just wonder why our children are such common targets right now?

    You might enjoy my wife's blog as well thanks again for the post.

    1. You are welcome. If you can stand it, try the hashtag #tardweek.

  2. I know I'm running with a very small detail in this post but I think it's a really big one. I am tired of Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities being co-opted by the Republican party and their media outlets. Wayne Brady says it wasn't political, and it wasn' was a DS joke, or he would have said "you look like Bristol Palin in 40 yrs.". I get that. But the fact that DS is now forever intertwined with Palin (and T18 with Santorum) seems to make mocking DS acceptable to many who oppose Republican ideals.
    Never mind that it offends me deeply that our family has now been turned into a political football and conservative bloggers are fear-mongering about the ACA, etc to families of disabled children.

    1. I see it happening. I hate it too. I think the whole world has gone mad some days...


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