Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Style Down Syndrome?

I have observed a trend in the media recently. A celebrity, politician or journalist will write or say something offensive to a specific demographic causing people to complain and then the person will promptly issue a hasty apology and retraction, saying they did not mean it or did not realize this could be hurtful.
Consider this- an article in recent GQ magazine laments the apparent lack of style in Boston. Apparently, one can generalize and condemn an entire city for being, horror of horrors, un-hip. Be that as it may, the way Boston was described, made people take notice of this article. The author writes: "Boston suffers from a kind of Style Down Syndrome , where a little extra ends up ruining everything.”
While the magazine may have thought they were really clever for coming up with this new term, others were not amused. Brian Skotko, a physician at Boston Children's Article and brother to a young woman with Down Syndrome wrote a great blog post entitled Mock my Pants, Not my Sister. In the post, he takes the journalist to task and writes: "Let me explain what “Style Down Syndrome” really is. “Style Down Syndrome” is smiling when everyone else prefers to frown. It’s spending three summers, in sheer determination, learning to ride a bike because you want the freedom to be like everyone else. It’s singing tunes from Grease at the top of your lungs with your friends. It’s celebrating a third-place victory at a swim meet with as much gusto as the gold medalist."
Skotko also asks that instead of perpetuating stereotypes, GQ use this as a teachable moment and instead show what Down Syndrome is really like by highlighting the My Great Story Campaign on the National Down Syndrome Society's webpage. This is a compilation of the successes of individuals with Down Syndrome and definitely worth a look
This blog post went viral, along with other similar complaints, and what do you know, a few days later GQ issued this apology:
"We received your letter and absolutely understand that we have caused many of readers and their loved ones pain. Hurting anyone’s feelings or being disrespectful or cruel was certainly never our intent, but your letter helped us understand how poorly chosen our words were. What we initially posted was insensitive and ill-informed, and we’ve removed the offensive language from the website. We deeply regret our error in judgment. There is no excuse. We are both very sorry."
Sean Fennessey, editor,
John B. Thompson, writer,"
While it's all nice and good for them to apologize, I do have to wonder how sincere this statement is. The fact that these words were written  to begin with and approved by an editor (meaning it was not just a quick slip of the tongue), shows that many people still have pre-conceived notions and stereotypes about individuals with intellectual disabilities. Are a few complaints and blog posts really going to make a difference and make these people now see a person with Down Syndrome in a different light? On the other hand, how can one be silent and NOT say something?
I am still mulling this over- what do you think? Do complaints and calls for change make a real difference? It seems that often we are preaching to the choir, to the ones who are already convinced, while the ones who need to learn are for the most part unaffected.

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