Words Hurt

March 20, 2009

President Barack Obama has apologized for a joke he made on Jay Leno's show last night. Obama joked that his recent bowling score of 129 was like "the Special Olympics or something." He has since apologized to Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver for the joke. Shriver, whose mother founded the Special Olympics and was a sister of John F. Kennedy, explained the problem very well:

It's important to see that words hurt, and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seen as humiliating or a put-down of people with special needs do cause pain, and they do result in stereotypes.
Amen! During the primary, Obama gave a speech about how important words are (a speech that, ironically, was "borrowed" from another politician). It seems he now needed to be reminded of that point. Hopefully, we will all be mindful of Shriver's point before we say things. On a related note, the best bowler in the Special Olympics could easily beat Obama since the guy has bowled a perfect 300 five times in the last four years.

2 comments

  1. Anonymous10:52 PM

    Words can hurt; jokes can hurt; joking can hurt. Obama's self-deprecation was cued as funny [as indicated by the audience laughs in response], which says much about how folks in America are assumed to understand the cultural code of "Special Olympics" as deprecating humor, even if we don't find the joke funny. I think it's nice to wish that people know that what they are going to say as humor will be heard as painful. I think it's better to ask that people accept responsibility and ask for forgiveness once they are held accountable for that pain. Obama seemed to accept that responsibility.

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  2. Remeber Don Imus' Comment?

    Obama said: "He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It’s one that I’m not interested in supporting."

    Therefore, laughter and the lack of reaction from Obama’s remarks suggest Americans have a set a rules for race, class and gender: If you touch them you will pay.

    And another set of rules for individuals that have a mental or physical disability: If you touch them, it’s ok if you apologize. Oh, and by the way, it’s okay to laugh at the jokes that come at the expense of the latter.

    It is just cruel.

    http://tinyurl.com/cgpymq

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