By now, it’s not news there’s a comedy special on Netflix wherein individuals with intellectual disabilities in general, and Down syndrome in particular, are mocked. The whole bit centers around the comedian’s defense of using the R-word like we did back in the good ol’ days. When I first read about the comments he made in his stand up, I had two initial thoughts: 1) That’s hurtful. 2) Who in the world is Tom Segura?
I had never heard of him. That probably says more about my sheltered life than it does about his notoriety, I suppose. But I think it’s worth pointing out that I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of him had he not made fun of people like my son. I suspect that was probably the point.
He knew what he was doing when he said what he did in that special. He knew what he was doing when he doubled down after receiving push-back. He wanted the attention. And here I am writing about him. He got what he wanted.
There are several ways you can go about getting attention. He decided to go the route of the bully. Hey, it works for third graders on the playground.
The thing about bullies, in my experience, is that they like to go after those who are the most vulnerable. I don’t mean that people with Down syndrome are incapable of standing up for themselves (Kayla McKeon showed us how much that is clearly not the case). I simply mean individuals with intellectual disabilities are a minority group. Minorities are often the victims of aggression because the majority group naturally holds more power. That’s the way it works on the playground. The kids with more power go after the kids with less.
So I wasn’t surprised that he and his fans went after people with Down syndrome and their most vocal supporters in such a cavalier fashion. The language he used was all about elevating himself above those he sees as lesser. The R-word is dehumanizing. It’s easy to tell people to chill because it’s just a joke when you don’t see the punchline of the joke as your equal. We can make fun of them. It’s not like they are people or anything.
Look, it’s clear by the way he has responded that he does not care about being kind. He is perfectly content being a bully. I don’t expect my words to change his mind on that. But maybe this will resonate with someone else. Please don’t use the R-word. Please don’t make jokes about people who have intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome. Please be kind.
There was a time when I used that word flippantly. Now, I can’t hear it without my heart sinking. That may sound silly to you, but it’s the truth. I understand that people usually don’t use it with the thought in mind that they are dehumanizing someone. I certainly didn’t think about that when I used it. But it’s hurtful nonetheless.
If you don’t want to be a bully, please choose a different word.