Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ricky Gervais and his use of the word "mong"

I have of course been involved in commenting and expressing concern about this well known comedian's use of this word which he says has a new meaning and has nothing to do with Down's Syndrome, but which is seen as highly offensive by many people who have a connection with the condition.

As well as those who have found it offensive there have been many others who have spoken out about freedom of speech and oversensitivity of certain groups - this morning I took part in a debate on Radio 5 Live Breakfast Your Call (on iPlayer for next 7days)

Well, I'm sorry, but I don't find it funny to laugh at the misfortune of others - even some of those "You've been framed" videos where people have agreed to showing their accidents make me say ouch and feel sorry for them. If I use a word or phrase that is distressing to someone without realising and they point it out to me, I will try really hard to never to do it again and if it slips out I feel terrible.

When possible I try tactfully to point out to people that we refer to people with DS as people first ie "a person with DS" not "a DS person" and I would listen and respond to anything similar someone explained to me about another condition. We can't be expected to know everything about the use of different words in other countries or different fields of interest, but that doesn't mean we can choose to ignore the affect they have on others when it is pointed out to us.

In 2009 I experienced something that many of you may never do and it got me thinking. I was for the vast majority of a 10 day visit to Nigeria, the only white person and as such was the object of quite a lot of interest from the public. No-one did or said anything hurtful or offensive to me and I never felt in any way threatened, but that did not stop me feeling that all eyes were on me and that I was being singled out for attention - I realised that it must be like that pretty much every day for someone with DS once they are old enough to be aware that they are different. It must be a pretty hard thing to live with all your life, even without direct taunting and with the love of family and friends around you.

Ours is a sad society when we feel it is acceptable to go around making fun out of people who are 'different' despite the fact that we are so called 'educated and enlightened' - surely we should be realising that everyone has feelings, everyone wants to be loved and to belong and EACH and EVERY one of us should be trying to promote that, whoever we are, but more so if we are in the public eye and can share that example with so many others through our work.

Someone like Ricky Gervais is in a position where he could do so much good if he chose to, in fact some people claim that he has already done a lot to highlight disability issues, in which case why does he not seem able to understand why these comments are so upsetting to our community and at least refrain from further use or apologise?  I certainly wish I had his money and opportunities to make a difference, but if he doesn't want to help, then he could at least stop hurting those we love!

Update October 22nd 
Well it appears that Ricky Gervais has finally realised how upsetting this has been for many people.  He still says he meant no harm and had not realised that anyone still linked the word with Down's Syndrome, but he has apologised directly to Nicky Clark who was one of those who spoke out about the distress to families.  She posted details on her blog Nicky Clark and last night the Daily Mail online posted an article about the apology.  Hopefully that is the last we hear of Mr Gervais using the word and perhaps he will react a little sooner in future if he unintentionally uses a word that causes upset and distress to a group of people.  Thank you Ricky for being a big enough man to say sorry.

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