When I received an e-mail the other day from a friend that belongs to an RTS listserve that I am a part of, I knew from the subject line that I would be in trouble. For the past several months, I’ve been struggling with whether or not I would write about this subject because I know that people who are reading this who love and care much for my little Sophie may feel a little awkward. People reading this may recognize themselves in what they have said in my presence that sent shockwaves through each of cell of my body, originating from my broken heart. But this is something I must express as I feel a strong prompting from the pit of my very soul that will not let me rest.
My daughter is intellectually disabled. She is developmentally delayed and according to many tests, Sophie’s ability to interpret, analyze and comprehend is below normal. This is not news to me or bad news to me. This is exactly how God created her, fearfully and wonderfully. I am all good with this…with her.
So why am I writing tonight? Why do I feel this intense, stomach grinding, heart wringing, teeth clenching feeling?
Because there was a movie released this week that includes a character called “Simple Jack” played by the popular actor Ben Stiller. Simple Jack has an intellectual disability (formerly commonly referred to as “mental retardation’). In one scene the word ‘retard’ is used sixteen times and a catch phrase used in the movie is ‘never go full retard.’ The t-shirts have already been printed at Café Press and anyone can buy one. It makes me nauseous.
I guess some people think that they have permission to take God’s precious creation that has taught me more in five years than a lifetime of school and whiddle her down into someone that has less worth than you or I.
Someone thinks that a t-shirt that says “I KICK RETARDS” is funny. Someone will buy and wear that shirt. I know because I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. I’ve cried over it. I’ve heard the phrase “Do you ride the short bus?” more times than I care to think, and heard the term “retard classes” when referring to Special Education. I’ve walked my entire life with someone who has struggled for independence and acceptance and now I am raising someone that may be doing the same. When I see a t-shirt that says “What’s better than winning at Special Olympics? Not being retarded”, I can’t help but buckle and pray that Sophie will not feel that way. We are SO excited for Special Olympics…one more year.
I guess what I need to know and want to know is why this abilism (my word for discrimination based on ability) is so very acceptable? Could you imagine if we had a CafePress subgroup for racism? Or a supgrouping for funny, humorous anti-Semitic t-shirts? No…not so much. Why? Because it is wrong. People know it is wrong and won’t stand for it.
But because this group of people…this vulnerable, sweet, beautiful group of people cannot advocate for themselves or get pissed enough to picket and protest, some people think we won’t care. But guess what? Their parents will. They will stand outside of the movie theaters with their signs and placards because they know that this is unfair, ignorant and downright wrong. And it must change.
As a follower of Christ, I know that Jesus has told us to love one another. I don’t think that finding humor in someone else’s struggle is love. I don’t think that Jesus would find joy in another’s struggle. I don’t think that he would make tasteless jokes about certain populations of people that continue to be oppressed. I think that He would want us to embrace the least of these and take care of those who may struggle to do that for themselves.
So please watch the video again and remember that the ‘R’ word should never be used as an insult…whether you’re speaking about yourself, someone else, or some situation you’ve ever been in. I have embraced the word ‘ridiculous’ instead…that seems to work for me.
And if you’re planning on seeing the movie, I won’t tell you to boycott it, but I will ask you to please remember that someone somewhere is caring for and loving a Simple Jack and they deserve nothing more than support, love, care and respect.
Video created by the Arc of Virginia and the Arc of Northern Virginia, and Blueberry Shoes Productions