Abuzz: Ann Coulter, the Disability Community, and Where the Power Really Lies

You'd have to have yourself hidden beneath a rock the last few days to have missed the latest rally-around in the online disability community: Ann Coulter, who loves nothing better than pissing people off in as outlandish a way possible, chose to describe the president with the "r" word. I'm not using that word; I don't like it, and I hate how easily it has become a part of people's vernacular.

But it is just a word. The word is not the problem; it's the underlying disgust, disrespect and disvaluing behind it that's the problem. And in the common vernacular of my college students, I have rarely heard it used with that subtext. It's been used offhandedly, in a way to signify air-headedness, as an oops--and it's usually used towards their peer group in that same way--there is a lightness, a lack of ill-intent there--and when that's the case, I'm not going to be the word-police. I have never seen a student use it towards another in the way that Ann Coulter used it in relation to our president, although I have no doubt that it happens all too often.

I don't care if you like our president or not, but it's absolutely reprehensible to speak publicly about the leader of our country with such derision (I would argue it's inappropriate in private as well). And it's completely offensive to use that word in that manner, and then when confronted about it, to call readers who have a problem with it that word.

The solution, though, is not to call names. It would be easy, gratifying, to call Ann Coulter all kinds of names, to speak with derision right back at her. Satisfying, even. There's nothing like a string of curse words to release the tension.

Ann Coulter rarely speaks without derision. She is poisonous, her words laced with venom, so why listen to her? Turn the tv off. Block her tweets. Give her what she fears most: let her wither away, alone, ignored, forgotten.

We each have the power to reject other's condemnation, derision. We can refuse to accept, refuse to acknowledge those who would tear us down.

We can, as a community, decide that those who co-opt the medically designated language for those with intellectual differences, to deride others, or to even laugh at their own shortcomings, are not referencing our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends. There's no way that the r word, and all the negative connotations apply to those we love and know, to those of us who are faced with challenges.

All that derision, all that negativity, even that jocular use of that single little word--it doesn't apply to my son. There is nothing retarded about my Bobby. It's not even a word that he would consider applied to him. It's not one I do, either. And honestly, if I did--I would reject that derision in how she uses it, and turn it around. If the president is at all like my son, then use that word, because for me it would mean this: honest, kind, considerate, ethical, valuable, important, worthy.

Words are not things we can hold in stasis. Words are not things we can control. Nor are the underlying meanings that people place on them. We cannot stop people from using words we find offensive.

People who are outraged by the use of the r word throw idiot, moron, and imbecile around freely, and never consider their origins, aren't bothered by the realization that the r word replaced them. Special needs, a term to replace all of those, also is used today with derision, with laughter, and no longer applies to those with challenges, well, at least not entirely.

Language moves and changes, and we can either allow others the power over us by accepting the judgements implicit in the co-option of the medical terminology or we can stand up and reject others' attempts to belittle not only those with neurological differences, but those they throw that terminology at.

We are not at our best when we hold others with derision. We do not hold moral high ground when we throw harmful words back at others who have acted hurtfully. We can not change those who wish to be hurtful. We can only stand and bear witness to the reality that often goes unnoticed: those who live with challenges we perhaps can't even imagine cannot be reduced by Ann Coulter. Their value is inherent.  We blog as parents, friends, relatives, and professionals to showcase our experiences with those who face uphill battles against a society that rejects differences--to show that, to stand with them, to help create a society that values neurological diversity. And those who live with those differences blog, write, live, to demonstrate that the true stakeholders in any conversation about disability are those with the disability. Their voices matter and they are worth a thousand Ann Coulters. They cannot  be diminished by one woman's foolish words.


kathleen said...

Well said Kim. Anne Coulter is a television personality-being nasty is her m.o. It is what she does daily..and she does it well. I too thought her words were awful. To me, this call to arms against her was odd. How is what she said so different from what she has said in other places and at other times? She puts down people daily. What it is boiling down to is her use of one single word. A word that many have argued against using as a descriptor. A word that many have said- doesn't describe me or them or us. So why are so many suddenly deciding to own a word that they have already disowned? This is Anne Coulter! Why are people so shocked? Why is her behavior MORE wrong now?

Elise Ronan said...

Sadly it is not just Coulter, it is the entire political atmosphere in this country. Those who attack Coulter think nothing of Joe Biden and his antics during his debate; Bill Maher and the disgusting words used to describe Sarah Palin, etc. You cannot have it both ways. Either you are for respectful discourse from both sides or not. Picking and choosing who to be offended by is hypocritical.