This morning I vacillated. Angry enough to post, too angry to collate and elucidate. Feeling the need to say something vs the instinct to ignore it in the hope it goes away.
Others got there first – read this great piece, and the comments. And I won’t be offended if you don’t come back….
It’s a fine line between banter that pokes fun using pejorative terms and hate crime on the grounds of disability. There’s nothing harmless about it. You might not be offended reading Ricky Gervais’s little play on words in Twitterland: I can assure you many disabled people, their families and friends would be.
The reason to object to Gervais is that where he leads, others follow. He might feel suitably satisfied at having successfully executed a cunning ploy to attract attention to himself and his new comedy series. No doubt he and his publicists are high-fiving at all those Twitter followers rolling in, folk who will no doubt now watch the series and buy the DVDs. Kerching!
It’s not this kind of follow I object to, it’s the follow in the acceptability of pejorative language. Expect to see more people engaging in this kind of banter. Sadly, I now also expect my chicklet to bring it home from the playground, and will have to explain to an eight year old that just because big, successful comedians use it, just because his pals do, doesn’t make it right. Constantly, I find myself explaining to him that different is good, to be celebrated, welcomed. Everyone being the same would make our lives very dull. At eight, he’s not quite ready for a formal treatise on equality and diversity in anything but the simplest of terms.
Gervais, that most knowing of comedians, knows exactly what he’s up to. Which makes it all the more reprehensible. Creating a twitter storm for the publicity effect – how big, how clever. And hang the consequences for real people whom he has denigrated and offended and whose lives will be made more unbearable as a result. Gervais and his ilk have the right to tweet, to say, to write whatever they think will raise a laugh. This is not a blog post making the case for thought police. But there actually isn’t anything funny in “claiming” derogatory terms against disabled people for comedic purpose.
For every clown on the stage or in the ether, there is another on the street abusing and harassing disabled people on the same basis. Research conducted by the Disability Rights Commission and Capability Scotland in 2004 showed the extent of hate crime in Scottish society – 73% of participants in the research indicating that they had been frightened or attacked by verbal abuse and intimidation. And you thought you were being a little bit out there, huh Ricky?
One third had also been physically attacked. Nearly a third avoided specific places and changed their usual routine after suffering abuse. Sometimes, the hate and the prejudice is so bad, so sustaining, so little addressed by the authorities that one in four end up moving home. Not funny Ricky, but frightening, often with life changing impact. And not in a good sense.
Day in day out, disabled people live with people calling them names, spitting on them, letting down their car tyres, posting excrement through their letter boxes, jostling them in the street, attacking them, robbing them, sexually abusing them, taking advantage in other ways of their vulnerability.
Out of contempt. Out of a burning sense of undefined prejudice.
Because they have more power, because they can, because no one steps in to stop them.
With his little Twitter game, Gervais will have given succour and encouragement to the bigots who make disabled people’s lives a misery.
Not clever, just pathetic. Shame on him.