Monday, September 10, 2012

Sheryl Crow's Use of the R-Word at Michigan Concert-One Mom's A.M. /Morning AfterRant



Update: Oct. 23, 2012: Coulter's at it yet again. This time she used the word 'retard' to insult the President. Really? How 'intelligent' of her. So, that means I need to repost my Winter rant about r-word use/ignorance and I've done just that on my FB page and Twitter. 

You can talk back at Coulter, here. https://twitter.com/AnnCoulter/status/260581147493412865. 

One reminder about my rant. I like Sheryl Crow. Coulter, not so much.
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We can add Ann Coulter to this rant now, too.http://ontheculture.com/ursula-a-plea-to-ann-coulter

Per request: For those of you who have no interest in being on Facebook, and also want to share this piece with others more easily, here's my Facebook piece about Sheryl Crow and her use of the r-word in her Michigan concert last night. Read and share. Teachable moment.
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A.M. Winter Rant:

Okay, before I get into the meat of today's unexpected and longer-than-usual rant, which involves Sheryl Crow and the R-word, indulge me. I love Sheryl Crow and her music. When I recently scored second row tickets to see her in my backyard, I was one pumped-up groupie. This music dream only got better when hubby and I arrived at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts in East Lansing, Michigan last night and discovered there was no opening act. I had a perfect view of the singer and an empty chair to my right on an otherwise full floor. Crow and her band energetically and informally took the stage on time and proceeded to talk nice about our town. More points earned. Crow looked and sounded great. Blonder hair, slammin body, strong arms, looking more and more like her best friend, Jennifer Aniston, all the time. On the first song, her voice sounded better than ever. I'm loving the evening so far.

But the lovefest rudely ended when Crow invited the audience to sing along with her and joked about about how foolish this all looked. Then, she used the words 'look retarded' to further make her point. Oh yes, she did, just like her bestie Aniston, who got called on the same misuse of language a while back. The singer followed the r-word slip with words to the effect: 'That's not nice You've got to be careful what you say these days', complete with a smirk, pretending to chastise herself. Sincerity lacking? Nothing learned from her best friend's experience? Can't feign ignorance. Well, Ms. Crow, I can't pretend I didn't hear you say the word. 

Hate to spoil a good music party, but you started the rumble.

Reminder. This woman I've admired for a long time is a vocal activist for valuable breast cancer awareness/fundraising, a breast-cancer survivor and a role model for many woman. She is the single mother of two adopted children, and an important example for them. She's an extremely talented musican/songwriter who comes off as smart, kind and saavy in media interviews. Crow has big power to impact lives in postive ways, and she's done just that. Now suddenly, she appeared flip and cruel like a high school mean girl. Out of character? Or more of the same of those on-going/open-season hits on people with special needs by celebs and others? 

Enough, already.

Before she made my ears ring and heart sink, Crow talked a bit about herself, saying she used to be a more vocal activist, adding, "But when you have kids, who has the time?"

What she didn't count on was that I would be in the audience to challenge her words. Rather than reduce my role as an activist, my role as the mother of a child with special needs for nearly thirteen years demanded that role increase daily. I had to become a pit-bull activist/mom for a child with cerebral palsy who passed away far too soon, a reality that still has the power to bring me to my knees. 

Crow didn't know I'm passionately committed to improving the lives of those with special needs, including by trying to end use of deragotory, limiting, outdated hate speech. She didn't know that her word choice would cut me to the core, quickly bringing up all those tough and painful moments of trying to help my son successfully navigate a world that often refused to see his value, one quick to judge what they were certain was his 'grim' future. All those moments of swallowing unspoken anger, while trying to make things better for my son, suddenly reignited by the careless utterance of one word far too many people think doesn't matter. 

My role is to tell you why it does.

Sheryl Crow doesn't know my son loved the guitar and female singers, had a gift for music uncovered at an early age and has a popular annual music therapy camp named in his honor at the very University where she took the stage. She didn't know that Eric would have loved to attend her concert and I would have worked hard to make that happen, even if I had to carry his heavy wheelchair down a flight of stairs. She didn't know he would have been mortified by her flippant use of this r-word in his presence, and mine. 

She had no idea how much more difficult Eric's life and mine became when his physical challenges, including limited speech, caused many to wrongly assume that my son had an intellectual disability, too. Crow has no idea Eric was composing music through weekly music therapy classes shortly before he died. She had no idea that she had ruined a magical evening for this mom, and brought up tough, still-unresolved issues of parenting and loss before the guitars had even begun to sing.

To say I suddenly felt uncomfortable and angry would be an understatement, and I'm all about word choice. I could have feigned a nervous laugh, joined in with others in the crowd who still don't get what the fuss is all about. I wanted to bolt, but I stayed put, looking to make sense of a frustrating and on-going challenge of figuring out how to get people to understand why the careless banter of this one word is so offensive and destructive, and why it should stop.

The concert continued and Crow took to the front of the stage to the delight of the crowd. I was close enough to reach out and have my hand grabbed, as several people around me did. But I had no desire to reach out and connect with the singer. The excitement was gone. Nothing was the same as before she said the word. I spent the next sixty minutes convincing myself that is was my job to call her out on this. It's part of what I do. 

For the past twenty years, I've been a voice for the silent, the maligned, the underdog, trying to stop them from being the butt of rude, cruel jokes, helping them nagivate unnerving neighborhood school hallways and believe in their children's value. I speak up on their kids' behalf, when they can't or won't. So, I spent the rest of the concert writing much of today's rant in my head. I can't believe how often I must still do this. All I wanted to do was enjoy a concert and night out. But I'm a special needs advocate, and I take the role seriously. I don't care how big a star you are, the rules in my advocate's head are the same. You make fun of the population, or do things that get in the way of them living better lives, I will call you out.

Crow used a word now considered by some to be hate speech, and acted, as too many others do, as if it were no big deal, political correctness run amok. Just a joke, right? Would she had done that with other, more recognized hate speech during her concert? Would she have made fun of people who'd had mastectomies or have survived chemo and are left with physical disfigurement? Would she have made fun of other families who've adopted children like her, but then found out their children have hidden special needs, including intellectual disabilities, a big reality in today's world of international adoption? Doubtful. 

When the concert ended, I was left with an empty experience, not because Crow and her band didn't deliver musically. They did. But because the evening was tainted by a word Crow never needed to utter. She was doing just fine without it.

Reality is, I now see her differently. Maybe I scored these tickets so I could get the fuel needed for this rant to fight any complacency I might feel when I start believing we've come far in achieving valuable special needs awareness for this population and grabbing a share of their civil rights, too. Maybe this event was designed to keep me from going soft in my role of ever-vigilent advocate and writer's voice. 

I've ranted before about use of the r-word, but I'd ever experienced it firsthand in the presence of a celeb. Until last night. Sure, I could have ignored it, gotten past it and enjoyed the great concert. But I would have had to go against all I stand for. I'd be dishonoring millions of individuals with special needs worldwide, their hard-working, dedicated families, and all my work has stood for during the past twenty years. I'd be dishonoring my beloved son.

Reality is I had to fight harder for Eric every single day of his life because of the perpetuation, ignorance and lack of understanding of the value of this population fueled, in part, by continued use of one not-so-simple word. Retarded. The word continues to fuel painful, outdated and ugly stereotypes that help roadblock individuals trying make their lives count for something, too. That's why it's not just a word, and I refuse to be silent about it's careless, casual use just because this instance involved Sheryl Crow.

Crow has mucho talent, smarts, and big influence that could help create greater understanding and awareness of the special needs population and their tough fight for equality. If she doesn't know better, she should. Let's hope one day her own children aren't the subjects of cruel talk about children who've been adopted. Let's hope she teaches them that using the word retard in our school hallways, or ever, is not okay. Let's hope she teaches them tolerance, love and understanding for all. She seems like that kind of woman.

Words do hurt, and I will continue my efforts to help people better understand or at least, stop and think before they use them. I will also continue to appreciate Sheryl Crow's music, but something has changed. Perhaps she will apologize for her word choice or encourage others to end the use of the r-word at her future concerts. Maybe not.

Either way, here's my heartfelt request to you, Sheryl Crow. One loving mom, one spirited advocate to another. Please, consider refraining from using the r-word ever again in your concerts and public appearances. You don't have to honor my request. But I have to voice it. It's at the core of who I am. To quote lyrics to one of my once favorite songs of yours, 'I believe the change will do you good,' and I know it would positively impact millions of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and their families worldwide, too. Thanks for listening to MY words. 

All I wanted to do last night was have some fun. Sigh.

Rant over.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Wow, Judy. Sad to find this out. I have been a longtime admirer of Sheryl Crow. I am going to hope that she just hasn't gotten the memo yet. WAY to ruin a concert.