Okay, so here’s the deal. I was going to write about the whole giant internet brouhaha concerning the rapper 50 Cent and his Twitter comments about autism and special ed. And if you’re interested in reading more about that, I’d encourage you to do so.
But if you want to know more, you’ll need to Google it and get all learned up, by golly. Because I honestly don’t have the energy to link it or quote it. My tank is empty.
I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve certainly never hesitated to stand up and shake my angry fists at the sky when celebrities have made similar statements in the past. I’ve written about the likes of Andy Richter, who made a horrible joke about microcephaly and then immediately apologized and seemed genuinely sorry, and Tracy Morgan, whose awful joke about how kids with developmental disabilities are “strong like chimps” was never addressed either by himself or NBC, despite the whirlwind of apologies only weeks before when he offended the LGBT community. I think it’s extremely important to pay close attention to the way people in the public eye address disability. Words matter. And I think it’s important not to just address what these people say, but also to dig deeper into why they say them, and why people may agree with them.
But 50 Cent’s comments, which at first targeted the autism community before branching out to the special education community at large, didn’t trigger much of a reaction from me, and all week, I’ve been trying to figure out why.
Part of it is, perhaps, simply a matter of condescension from me toward the artist himself. He’s hugely popular, and his offending tweets went out to something like eight million followers. That’s a large platform from which to casually make stupid comments. But that’s the thing. His comments WERE stupid. He didn’t have anything particularly well-thought out to say about persons with disabilities. He didn’t even make a joke that depends on some undesirable portrayal of persons with disabilities for its cheap laughs. He used our kids and our loved ones as a weak insult, and God knows that’s both awful and far too common. But for some reason, it didn’t inspire much more of a response from me than “Wow, what an asshole.”
I don’t think my lack of passionate response had much to do with either the celebrity making the boneheaded comment or the nature of the comment itself. I think it’s me.
My outrage tank feels empty. When I hear someone on television or in a movie make a remark about someone or something being “retarded”, I find myself muttering, “Really? Nice.” But I don’t know, I feel the fight slipping from me. Perhaps it comes from observing some of the larger battles that seem to be going against us. Watching special education programs getting defunded or cut altogether all across the country, or seeing families and the technologies that help them get devoured and discarded by cheap legal scuffles, or watching as my own daughter’s school disregards her IEP goals and allows her AAC skills to stagnate and her socialization to wither, these all suck the spirit dry, like vampires or knife-wielding assassins. One bite here, one quick stab there, and before you know it, you’ve bled out.
I know it’s wrong, and I’m sure I’ll find the energy to take up the banner again. But right now, when I hear someone like 50 Cent make a remark using our loved ones as a punchline or a cheap insult, I don’t feel shock or outrage, and I might even feel less anger than before. Honestly? I just feel like I’ve been handed a reminder of how the world sees my daughter and kids and adults like her. It verifies an already known fact, that for every person who loves her (and there are plenty who do, an astonishing number around the world), there are equal numbers and more who see her as valueless, as unworthy of compassion or respect, people who see her (and most likely your kids, too, if you’re reading this) as something less than a person. Fighting that perception feels like too much sometimes. It feels too big, too pervasive, and the symptoms of that perception seem too numerous to address. Expressing outrage at public statements by famous idiots could be full-time work. And the pay sucks.
I’m glad that others with fuller tanks feel up to the fight. I’ll be there again one day soon, I know it. But not just now. I’m running on fumes.
(NOTE: Incidentally, in the interest of fairness, I should mention that 50 Cent did finally apologize for his remarks over the weekend. Well, there you go. Good for him, I guess.)
Please visit Build-A-Bear Workshop’s blog where Support for Special Needs site co-founder is telling her daughter’s story.