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Rahm Emanuel on defensive over "retarded" comment; met with Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics Chairman

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White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with a delegation from the Special Olympics on Wednesday--including chair Timothy Shriver after he used the term "retarded" in a comment, a word the disability movement is trying to get people not to use.

The meeting with Shriver and four other disability activists was set up last week, Emanuel's spokesman said, after Emanuel's remark surfaced in a Wall Street Journal report. Though Emanuel apologized to Shriver--son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics--I was told they both decided to do a follow up meeting this week.

Shriver's letter to Emanuel--known for his salty language--was dated Jan. 26.

I read with dismay today, the Wall Street Journal's article describing the tension with policy-making circles that is hardly uncommon in Washington. What troubled me was not the diversity of the opinions surrounding your role - I can only imagine how difficult it must be to serve the country in this time. But what did trouble me was the quote attributed to you describing a plan to air certain ads as "f-----g retarded."


Of course, I have no way of knowing if this expression was actually used by you or anyone else. However, I want to take this opportunity to familiarize you and the members of your staff to the suffering and pain that is perpetuated by the use of the terms "retard" and "retarded." Special Olympics has welcomed the voice of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities who have joined us in trying to change the conversation and uproot the stereotypes and stigmas carried by what we refer to as the "R-word." Regardless of whether the term was actually used or not, I would ask you to join us in this important fight.

Click below for the full letter...


Statement Regarding White House Meeting with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel

As a response to a letter written by Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 regarding a Wall Street Journal article attributing Emanuel as referring to a certain plan as 'retarded,' the following people have been invited to a meeting with Chief of Staff Emanuel at the White House at 2:00 PM tomorrow, Wednesday February 3, 2010:

Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO, Special Olympics
Andrew Imparato, President & CEO, American Association of People with Disabilities
Hannah Jacobs, parent and R-word advocate
Julie Petty, self-advocate and former Self Advocates Becoming Empowered president
Ricardo Thornton, self-advocate and Special Olympics athlete

Shriver letter...

January 26, 2010

Mr. Rahm Emanuel
White House Chief of Staff
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20050

Dear Mr. Emanuel:

I read with dismay today, the Wall Street Journal's article describing the tension with policy-making circles that is hardly uncommon in Washington. What troubled me was not the diversity of the opinions surrounding your role - I can only imagine how difficult it must be to serve the country in this time. But what did trouble me was the quote attributed to you describing a plan to air certain ads as "f-----g retarded."

Of course, I have no way of knowing if this expression was actually used by you or anyone else. However, I want to take this opportunity to familiarize you and the members of your staff to the suffering and pain that is perpetuated by the use of the terms "retard" and "retarded." Special Olympics has welcomed the voice of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities who have joined us in trying to change the conversation and uproot the stereotypes and stigmas carried by what we refer to as the "R-word." Regardless of whether the term was actually used or not, I would ask you to join us in this important fight.

Last year we launched a youth driven campaign called "Spread the Word to End the Word" to raise awareness about the hurtful nature of the R-word, which to our population is just as painful as any number of racial or ethnic slurs, jokes or taunts that society has committed to eradicating from our lexicon. Yet because people with intellectual disabilities continue to be the most neglected, underserved, and discriminated against population on the planet, the R-word has not only remained in use, but it has become so pervasive in our society that most people find it acceptable to use as a synonym for "stupid" or "hapless" or to describe behavior that is considered less than ideal.

Our "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign is aimed at changing the perception that the R-word is acceptable and the good news is that the world is beginning to slowly change. Classrooms are becoming more tolerant, communities more accepting and the work place more inclusive as people with intellectual disabilities are slowly being seen for what we've always known them to be - people of value who help us all to understand we are each gifted in unique ways. But this change is too slow and each use of the R-word as a synonym for a stupid action, a schoolyard taunt, or the punch line of a joke, slows our progress immeasurably.

I ask you to join us in our campaign to "Spread the Word to End the Word." Our annual day of awareness is just around the corner on March 3rd. I ask you to pledge not to say the R-word at www.r-word.org and help us to change the conversation and to raise awareness about the power of language and the hurtful nature of the R-word.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. I know that private political discourse can sometimes include profanity. But at the same time, our community cannot accept the idea that they will remain the butt of jokes and taunts. I hope you will join us in changing the conversation and eliminating this word from your vocabulary.

Sincerely,

Timothy P. Shriver, Ph.D.
Chairman & CEO

8 Comments

much sound and fury signifying nothing...........what any of us says in private only reveals our emotional response to a situation and NOT to any particular issue.......SHAME on you/us for blowing things out of perspective! There are lots of negative words.........the issue is what our ACTIONS reveal......look to your own heart first!

Emanuel should take advantage of this situation to resign for the "good of the Presidency."

He could go back to being a corrupt influence peddler in Cook County. If he spends much more time hauling water for Obama, he will never find another job again.

Lets see if I have this right. Rahm calls his fellow Democrats Fu*#ing retards, and he's in trouble for using the R word? If it wasn't for "Low Class", Liberals would have NO CLASS!

You Progressives actually fit the dictionary definition of "retarded" which is: "Relatively slow in mental, emotional or physical development". But if changing the name makes you feel better---Go For It.

I think "retarded" is a misguided euphemism for all those words for people with sub-normal intelligence, back in the days when they associated old words like "moron," "imbecile," "idiot" and the like with specific IQs. "Retarded" seems to imply that people get smarter throughout their lives, and "retarded" people are just some years behind all the time. That seems scientifically unfounded. The landscape of below-average/normal intelligence is a complex one, and my academic background is not in this field. I think Rahm Emanuel would have been better advised to call those people "f-ing stupid" because "stupid" doesn't have all those connotations. I also voice my objection to abbreviating any word that offends you by substituting "the [first letter]-word." If the overseeing government agencies don't ban a word from print or the airwaves, journalists should spell it completely, and say it out loud.

As the brother of a sister physically and mentally challenged since birth I do not accept any faux apology from this disgusting little man.

Much ado about nothing! What now, Word Control 101.

Dr. Shriver,

Your hypersensitivity on this issue makes me wonder if YOU still associate this word with mentally disabled people. While I understand the historically negative connotation associated with the word "retarded" when it is used to describe people with mental disabilities, the outrage over the use of the word in this context is ludicrous. The crusade to end the use of this word in the every day vernacular is idiotic. I fully understand that using "the I word" word to describe your misguided movement will upset parents of idiots, but I digress.

Focus your energies on ending use of the word retarded to describe people with actual mental disabilities (I think in the mainstream, this has been accomplished). Once you do this, usage of the word as an adjective to describe actions that one finds stupid or illogical no longer is intimately tied to mentally disabled people. Your hypersensitivity on this issue makes me think that YOU still identify too closely with the negative connotation of this word, as it applies to disabled people. YOU are the problem, not the Chief of Staff.

With all due political correctness,

Tony Pierson

I am as stunned by some of the reactions to Emanuel's comments about the mentally challenged as I am by his comments. Many mentally challenged people hold jobs and are contributing members of society who have experienced and been deeply injured by the prejudice so obvious in Emanuel's comments. Many of those who are unable to hold jobs still understand the cruelty of such remarks and have spent their lives the victims of bulyling and, even, physical assaults directed at their difference by so-called normal people.

As a public figure in an administration dedicated to equal treatment, Emanuel should be held to higher standard. He should also know better and be above making such comments in public or private.

Why do so many people feel they have a God-given right to be rude and cruel to others? This is not about political correctness, it is about common good sense, manners, compassion, and the simple decency we humans owe one another regardles of our IQ levels. Shame on those of you who side with him and shame on Emanuel.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 3, 2010 6:36 PM.

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