October 23, 2012
I'm the mother of a kid with Asperger's, and dear friends who have kids with Down Syndrome. I've watched as our cultural relationship to children with minor and major developmental disabilities has changed; when I was in high school, the students who were friends with the kids in the classroom behind the cafeteria were looked on with a mixture of awe and utter incomprehension. It was something like sainthood: lovely, admirable, but most couldn't see themselves on that path. But now, it's not unusual for children with Down Syndrome to be beloved by their classmates, and the ones with the kind of dear social ineptitude I sometimes see in my own child, tolerated with kindness. I've had conversations with the high schoolers I coach about the "r" word. All agree, it's totally uncool. I've watched my kids interact with children who have a variety of disabilities, and it's just a thing. Something that is, and is not to be pitied, or belittled, and does not detract from the coolness of the kid.
We have a harder time in my house with that word. My husband's family grew up in what seems to me to have been a lot of bigotry. (It was probably not unusual for the time, but my current context makes a stark contrast.) I'm often left correcting my brother-in-law for his use of the "r" word, or some similarly unacceptable cultural slur. I know he doesn't really mean any of this, and my kids are savvy enough to know that it's not o.k. just because their uncle says it, but it still rankles. I often pull him aside and have the talk with him, this is his nephew he's slurring, and the boys' friends -- he apologizes, promises to work harder. I get it. It's hard to undo that kind of aculturization.
I tend to forgive my brother-in-law. But I can't really forgive someone like Ann Coulter. That's why this post was incredible -- it took Ann to task for her slur, and yet, forgave her. (I want to see her fired, and her audience ripped from her, honestly.)
I keep thinking, oh how far we've come! And then something like this happens -- our President called the R-word by someone with a huge platform, who is paid well for her bombast -- and I think, oh dear. We Americans are still those people. We're still the bigots.
Can we change? Can we do like our children are doing already? How common is the Coulter sort of aculturization? Is Portland a bubble of peace and love? If it's a bubble, it's a bubble I'm happy to live in -- but I so look forward to the way forward. Do you ever hear the "r" word, or is it going away in your world too?