I’m not generally one to throw a blog post out there every time someone uses a disability slur. But the way this was handled is just pissing me off on multiple levels.
So a politician named Rahm Emanuel decided to insult a bunch of political activists by calling them “fucking retarded” when they didn’t agree with him on something.
Then when he realized this was going to get out, he called Tim Shriver (CEO of the Special Olympics) to apologize. This apology was apparently accepted. Newspapers are calling this an apology to the disability community.
Here’s where my brain’s starting to stall on me coming up with the language for it.
He didn’t apologize to the people the insult was aimed at.
Argh brain splitting up into pieces.
He apologized to Tim Shriver only because Tim Shriver has power and political clout and could have made his life difficult. Not for any other reason.
The slurs “retard” and “retarded” are used mostly on people with (all sorts of) developmental disabilities. If he were going to apologize to the people the terms are actually used on, he would have apologized to one or more of us, or all of us collectively.
Worse, Tim Shriver has no authority whatsoever to accept apologies on behalf of even one of us, let alone the whole of us collectively. He doesn’t even have a developmental disability, he just runs one of those primarily “of the nondisabled, for the disabled” sorts of organizations. While nobody can speak for all of us, if he’d really wanted to apologize to us, he could have started with apologizing to the heads of self-advocacy organizations. Even they couldn’t accept apologies on behalf of entire communities, but they’re closer to it than Tim Shriver is. (And why is it that when people think of DD people their minds always jump to Special Olympics?) And yet the newspapers seem to be totally buying it without even questioning. HELLO EVERYONE, WE’RE OUT HERE! REALLY!
This is just multiple layers of wrongness all piled up on top of each other. If I’ve missed one of the layers, it’s because this is really stretching my brain to write this and it hurts. Suffice to say, there haven’t been any genuine apologies going on here, to anybody. But if it’s wrong to use a slur and you genuinely want to apologize, then you have to apologize to the people the slur refers to (and directly to us, not to the most powerful person you can think of who “works with” us but isn’t one of us), as well as the people you used it on. No matter what you think of either group, if it’s wrong to use a slur then you can’t just throw a half-assed apology vaguely in the direction of someone sort-of-connected (but not actually a member) to one of the groups in question and just leave it at that.