Friday, August 20, 2010

Jennifer Aniston: The R-word Strikes Again

It's old news by now, and I contemplated not even addressing Jennifer Aniston's gaff from yesterday, beyond posting about my disappointment on Facebook. I don't know that there's anything I can say that hasn't been said out there on thousands of blogs concerning this incident already. However, I have a responsibility to Finn, and to my family, and to society to speak out.

Let me say first that I have been a fan of Jennifer Aniston's for a long time. One of her most admirable qualities, I think, has been her poise; in the public eye, at least, she's always seemed like a classy chick. Until yesterday when she offhandedly called herself a "retard." Wow. It just stung to hear that word come out of her mouth, and so casually, and to see Regis and Kelly chuckle. The sad thing is that it's almost certainly not an isolated incident - if she got caught on camera saying it, chances are pretty good that it's a word she's tossed out before.

I brought it up to Michael last night, and he reminded me that, back in the day, before Finn came along, I wasn't above using language like that either. I am ashamed to admit that it's true. You don't know what you don't know. It's true that when I used to use language like that, I didn't connect it to anyone specific. It was just a funny put-down that never occurred to me might hurt anyone. Cringe, cringe, cringe. It's no excuse. How or why it didn't occur to me is unfathomable. I'd certainly like to believe that had anyone said to me, "Hey, that's pretty hurtful and offensive," that I would have felt ashamed and really taken some time to think about it and understand it.

However fair or unfair it might be, people who choose to be in the public eye should be held to a higher standard than the average person. Like the CEO of ARC said about JA, "A person in her position ought to know better." She should. She should know that she's influencing millions of people and that any words she speaks in public affect millions of people.

"Auntie Jen, what's a retard?" "Oh, Coco, it's nothing. Just a silly word that means dumb, that's all."

(I imagined that, but probably not too far off the mark, you know?)

I've searched and searched online and can't find any indication that she's even addressed the incident. She must know that people are up in arms about it.

"Ms. Aniston, sorry to bother you, but the emails and letters are rolling in about the 'retard' comment you made. We've got ARC and the Special Olympics writing in, and a lot of parents of retarded kids. It's all the buzz in the blogosphere. We better do some damage control. Your new movie is coming out, and this might hurt potential box office . . ."

"Oh, let's just ignore it. I have a million appearances to make. Anyway, I'm sure all the reasonable people out there realize that I didn't mean any harm. Geez."

(Okay, I imagined that, too.)

The thing is, the people who are up in arms about it are people who are personally touched in some way by disability. The general public? Not so much. In my online attempt to find some response by JA to the incident, I came across a shitload of support for her, defense of her comment, and outrage that anyone at all is getting their knickers in a twist over this. And I think that's what bothers me most of all. Collectively, as a society, we still excuse and allow slurs against the disabled. It's no big deal. It's funny. My son is still largely invisible and inconsequential. He's never going to make millions, he's never going to discover the cure for anything or come up with some groundbreaking invention, he's never going to be a CEO or a politician or anyone's mentor, he's never going to get anything more than a token higher education, and it's reasonable to expect that he may never be able to live independently. So he doesn't matter. He's hardly human. He certainly doesn't have feelings (he's not intelligent enough to have real feelings), so backhanded comments against the disabled can hardly mean anything to him. And his family? Well, we're just too fucking sensitive. Nobody means any harm. We need to just get over it.

Ahhh, the whole thing just makes me feel incredibly tired and sad. Such an uphill battle to get a little respect. Why is that so much to ask? Why are so many people so much more interested in their right to freely express themselves at any cost to their fellow humans than in showing a little sensitivity, a little compassion, a little acceptance, a little respect?


Z said...

1) It seems like you might appreciate these two links (or, heck, the whole series, which talks about other language that is offensive to people that we might not think about. Like the words crazy or lame).

2) I have NO connection to the Ds community other than blogs I read. Parents like you (and links like the above) have not only helped me eliminate certain words from my language, but think about the world and people differently. You may feel like you're beating your head against a wall, but there is some (painfully slow) progress.

Ashley said...

I totally agree with you! I admit to using the word before I knew about my little sister having down syndrome. Before we found out, my mom always told me, "what if you had a sibling with a disability? would you use that word then?" Well, little did we know then that I would someday, and the way that I view the r-word now is so totally different than I used to. Which is sad, but true. Everytime I hear someone use the r-word now, I cringe. It upsets me very much, so I know exactly how you feel....
Finn and my baby sister, Laura, and anyone else in this world with disabilities does NOT deserve this!

Esther and Brian said...

i'm sorry, lisa, i know that this comes up in the public quite often...i, too, have been a lot more cautious about my language and learning so much from you...although i never used the word "retard"- it was never part of my vocabulary. but i sure know that i will not allow my boys to say that word (when they actually talk a lot). And no, Finn and other children with DS are not invisible..not to me...I always notice them when out and about and they always make me think of Finn...and I am always amazed to see that they are pretty much just like any other kid. The other day at the park, I saw a little girl with the extra chromosome, guessing she was about 4. Talking, laughing, smiling, running around alongside all of us. She was part of us, part of the community...she was not invisible to me whatsoever...

JRS said...

This is a great post. I too have been waiting for her to respond. I'm sad to say it appears that she will not. Do not let those in support of her comment get you down. Instead be bolstered by our 'thousands of blog posts,' the attention that this is getting by Special Olympics, US Weekly, and ARC. We are in a new era and we are fighting a civil rights issue of changing hearts and minds. This wasn't even conceivable a few years ago. Because of friends like you will ARE effecting change.

doozee said...

Yup. Amen. Love the post.

Cole said...

You hit the nail on the head. It's so sad that people defend it. What's to defend? Nothing. Jen should say sorry.

Monica said...

Great post, Lisa. Thanks for not letting this go and saying what you feel.