Later in the day, I heard a comment by Jay Leno, that he felt it was his best show ever. No mention of the huge gaffe. I guess it wasn’t important.
I had to wonder, however, if the remark had been different, how Barack Obama would have felt. Suppose he was sitting at the breakfast table with his two daughters, when GMA came on. Suppose the President of the United States had appeared on Jay Leno and made a thoughtless joke that included a “racial slur”. Suppose the President had called the NAACP and apologized and said that "maybe they could have some African American people come to the White House or something." Would he want his daughters to go? How do you think they would have felt? Do you think they would feel welcome? Do you think he would want them to go? And what about Oprah? Would she have praised the show or would she have mentioned the slur? And Jay Leno, would he have said it was one of his best shows ever…or would they all think twice before they made those comments?
Much was made of this historic election. For many months, we heard stories of how many people grew up at a time when equality wasn’t the norm. And yet, it’s somehow o.k. in 2009 for the President of the United States to make a joke about a segment of the population that can’t defend themselves.
And what about Timothy Shriver’s response? What I expected to hear, from the Chairman of the Special Olympics was how deeply disappointed he was in the President’s statements. Instead, he simply said that he was moved by the apology and that this could be a learning experience for the rest of the country. There wasn’t any disappointment in his tone; instead, he was rather upbeat when they interviewed him.
This story reminded me of a post called, "Retard" that I wrote in July of 2006 where I discussed two incidents that a friend of mine and I had regarding people making derogatory statements about children and people with mental and physical disabilities, similar to what the President of the United States just did. I wrote,
I am amazed that some people still think it’s o.k. to make derogatory statements about people with mental and physical disabilities. I am amazed that people make statements about people who can’t defend themselves. I am amazed that people don’t understand how easily it can be for anyone to become disabled. I mean, you can get hit by a car and be severely disabled mentally and physically for the rest of your life."
I ended that post telling my friend, “that we need to come up with a response for people. When you are fortunate enough to have a child born normal, I suspect you don’t imagine what it might be like to have a child who is retarded. But ignorance is not acceptable anymore. It’s also not fair to Dear Son and children like him. He is not any less of a person because of disabilities. And to be referred to as the butt of anyone’s joke is totally unacceptable today.”
I wrote that post in 2006. I guess not much has changed. Let’s hope the President is listening.
**Note: Timothy Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is the founder of the Special Olympics; his uncle is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose endorsement in the Democratic primaries was viewed as instrumental in Obama winning the Democratic nomination.