Monday, March 23, 2009

President Obama and Special Olympics

President Obama went on "Leno" last week, and compared his own poor bowling score to individuals who participate in Special Olympics. Media reports indicate that the president made a quick apology soon after the taping of the show to Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics. Shriver graciously accepted the apology, but added, "words do hurt". I would like to add, words like that provide evidence of attitudes that need adjusting.

The chitchat on the internet is interesting. One "camp" is outraged. Another says forgive him and move on. Folks spoke up as being offended are being told to get over it by Obama supporters. I've seen it referred to as "un-PC". I've seen fingers pointed across party lines, folks with liberal leanings pointing fingers at more conservative folks, implying that politics are getting in the way of the conservative folks' ability to be fair in this situation.

A lot of people are missing the point. There's an insidious and real message behind WHY he chose to compare himself with individuals who represent Special Olympics, and the time is NOW for every single one of us to examine our own beliefs and perceptions and make changes if we need to. This is an attitude that should not be excused, period.

Here's what's wrong with what President Obama said: He used a population that society silently yet obviously marginalizes in order to jokingly marginalize himself about his bowling score. He made himself the butt of a joke by comparing himself to a group of people that society considers less-than.

That's no secret just because it is not discussed aloud.

Check out Wikipedia's definition of self depreciating humor: "Self-deprecating humor is humor which relies on the observation of something negative about the person delivering it."

It's the unspoken assumption that that needs to be acknowledged and changed, the assumption that individuals who participate in an organization like Special Olympics are "less than", that something about them is a "negative".

The issue of marginalizing individuals with developmental delays, disabilities, mental challenges is not new. But it is wrong, as wrong as the way African Americans were marginalized in the United States in the past.

There's irony in the fact that the words came from the first African American president. There's irony in the perception that he's our most progressive president.

Letting slide President Obama's slip of the tongue gives us all a free pass to justify thinking of some individuals as "other" or "less than".

His slip of the tongue is an AWARENESS OPPORTUNITY! Now is the time for ADVOCACY!

My daughter, who happens to have autism, and has an opportunity to participate in Special Olympics in the fall, is NOT less than. She's not a negative, and neither is any other human being.

Thank you, Kathie Snow and Disability is Natural, for being the catalyst to begin to change my thinking. I still have some work to do on myself, and I see that there is a lot of work left to do on attitudes, in general.


walking said...

I think his comment reflected his sheer ignorance about Special Olympics because the champion bowl has much higher scores than the President . . . The current champion, Tim Mahoney, showed much more grace toward the President that the President did on Leno.

Anonymous said...

Special Olympics some kind of joke ? or beneath "normal" people?
Thanks alot Obama you just wound the clock back 20 years .
At a time when Special olympics was finally gaining some long earned and deserved but tiny bit of recognition , Obama the twit makes a joke of it ? are u friggen serious? your the president for gods sake !
Not only did this affect Americans , it has made headlines around the world including Australia and this Aussie is absolutely DISGUSTED !!!!!

It is not acceptable, I want to see a thorough and extended interview with Obama over this and I want someone to drum it into his head and his childrens and the world that people with disabilities are not "less than everyone else" , equality - ever heard that word Obama ? or only ever heard of it in regards to skin color ?

Penny said...

This slip of the tongue, is a glimpse, an indication of the attitude inside, and President Obama is probably quite unaware that he even holds that attitude.

What is it Dr Phil always says? Something like this: That which you do not recognize or acknowledge, you cannot change.

The slip needs to be a tool for awareness and change for ALL of us, put SOCIETY on the "hot seat".

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