Lost in Translation

Again, how those of us with disabilities get portrayed by the media…

Comedian Margaret Cho raised eyebrows several weeks ago when she made a statement on a FOX News show about “not wanting a retard baby.” Granted, she did apologize on her own website a couple of weeks later. And she may be sincere in that, for all I know.

But here’s where I take her remarks with a rather sizable salt lick. I actually saw her live comedy act a number of years ago. A not-insubstantial part of her routine was about how she gets treated as an Asian-American. In short: not very well.

Combine that with her being out as a lesbian, and you have two areas of her life in which she likely gets harshly judged by others. I strongly suspect she knows what that feels like — to hear the almost-whispers or outright rude remarks.

Yet somehow, she fails to translate her own experiences as an outsider/minority/Other to those of us (or our children) with disabilities. Were I to call her a gook or a slant-eyes, I’d be in the wrong. Yet somehow she does not see the problem with referring to people with disabilities as “retards.”

Maybe, as she says in her apology, it’s a lack of understanding about what it is like to have a child. Having no children myself (and the reasons for that are a post for another day), I don’t always understand what that can be like.

But as an Other who gets treated that way by people like Cho, who themselves have experienced Otherness, it just sounds bitter and hollow. I’d like to think Cho didn’t NEED to be told the problem with her statement. That she had enough insight to see where she was guilty of intersectionality fail.

Clearly, that’s not the case.


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5 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. I’m the mother of a special needs kid. I know what my attitude towards it was before my son was born and what it was afterwards.

    That makes me a little sympathetic to Cho. Not using the word retard, necessarily, but certainly her attitude about not wanting a disabled kid.

    The reality is that being the parent of a special needs kid may or may not be all that absorbing in terms of time. It depends on how severe the disability. But most people who do not have kids with disabilities don’t realize the level of vanity and ego there is involved in How The Kids Are Supposed to Be. (If you think I’m arrogant now, you should have seen me before I became a mother!) Most parents of disabled kids get over it and love their kids anyway, sure.

    But I bet a good 90% had the “I REALLY don’t want a special needs kid” beforehand. It’s just one of those things you gotta live through to truly grok.

  2. thatwordgrrl says:

    Certainly nobody *wants* to have a child with a disability. I get that. Where I have an issue is the manner in which Cho expressed that sentiment. There’s a big difference between “I don’t want my child to be disabled” and “I don’t want *a retard*!!!”

    In particular, I’m thinking of one friend (who actually pointed me at the article about Cho) who’s older child is severely disabled. I’m quite sure that she didn’t set out to have a disabled child. But I’m also pretty sure she never used the word “retard” to describe that imagined future child would be.

  3. fallconskat says:

    yep, she should have realized as Other, how hurtful words can be. TheEngineer and my son have BOTH been taken to task over the last 3 years trying to get them to not use the word “retarded”. its slowly sinking in. its not easy, trying to teach myself to cut out the ableist language as i’m no teenager myself any longer…but it can be done.

    and i’ve been Other nearly all my life. (female, overweight, glasses, and now fibro and chronic fatigue. its not as Other as some people have to deal with, but i’ve felt it, and i know how *I* felt at being dismissed for not being whatever-enough to be acceptible.)

  4. Summer says:

    She stated it poorly, but I feel it’s responsible to not have babies after it’s physiologically impossible without extreme medical intervention, and high risk as well.

    As disabled as I am (autoimmune, chronic pain) my mother would never have had me if she’d known. What loving parent would knowingly bring a child into the world just to suffer?

    • thatwordgrrl says:

      I am not arguing the desire to not have a disabled child (i counldn’t imagine anybody wanting that). The reason I don’t have children is because I have no interest in passing along my crappy DNA.

      My objection is to the WAY in which she stated it. As I said, there’s a huge difference between “I would not want my child to be disabled” and “I don’t want a retard baby.”

      Semantics matter.

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