Sunday, June 19, 2016

Words Are Not To Be Played With: An Appeal To The City of Galt, California

There's this town in Northern California called Galt.  They have a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  According to their Wikipedia page, "The population was 23,647 at the 2010 census, up from 19,472 at the 2000 census." Still a small town by most standards.

How did this town come across my radar?  Someone on Twitter retweeted this article by the National Down Syndrome Society about Special Ed's Brewery in Galt, California, owned by Ed and Cheryl Mason.

The article concludes with a request that we contact Mark Crews, Galt's mayor. Listed his email address, his phone number, his fax number, Galt's Facebook page and Twitter account.

I am as much into word play as the next gal, but I draw the line at word play that could be hurtful.  I figured, as was confirmed by this article in The Sacramento Bee that the owners of this restaurant, Ed and Cheryl Mason, merely meant that as a play on words.

As Cheryl states, " “People are complaining about the name. The name is Special Ed’s Brewery, not Special Ed Brewery. My husband has been known as Ed or Eddie all his life, and he’s special to me,” she added.

She mentions they had no intention of making fun of special needs people.  I would take that statement at face value, except for one thing.  Their advertising slogans are anything but innocent.  As quoted in the National Down Syndrome Society article, one slogan is, "ride the short bus to special beer."  That is bad enough, but the second slogan, mentioned in The Sacramento Bee article is really beyond the pale.  "'tard tested, 'tard approved."

These slogans make Cheryl Mason's claims really disingenuous.  I have no doubt that she think her husband, Ed, is special.  But this couple crossed the line to objectionable language that is hurtful and filled with prejudice against the special needs people they claim not to be insulting. At the very least these folks are simply being ignorant.  At the worst they are being malicious.

Perhaps, as a writer, I am more aware of words and their meanings than the average person.   There's an old saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me."  Words do hurt.  They can go straight to the heart as sure as any bullet.

Our daughters Kid O and Kid Q both have special needs.  Kid O is  severely disabled and cannot speak.  Kid Q is ablebodied, but she is learning disabled.  As their mother, I am aware of what an uphill battle they both face in terms of being accepted by a society that values conformity over anything else.  I know that because I knew as a kid that I didn't fit in.  As hard as I tried, the more I was aware that I was an outsider. I gave up trying because being a nonconformist was better than being depressed trying to be a conformist.

I have always wanted to fit in.  I felt for years as if everyone was joining hands in one big circle and I was running around the outside looking for someone to let me join in.  It has made for a very lonely and painful existence.

Our daughters and their Special Ed classmates have challenges ahead of them. Kid O, who is now twenty, can be very primal.  Sometimes she screams at the top of her lungs.  I know that some people have assumed that we are either neglecting her or harming her.  We know that we are taking care of her the best we know how.  It would help if either she could speak or we were telepathic.  She does her best to communicate, and we do our best to understand.

Kid Q just graduated from 8th grade. Sometimes she panics and sometimes she even wanders off.  Early last September she had a bout of insomnia that caused her to wander off in the middle of the night. Thankfully I am a light sleeper and heard her slam the front door  as she left the house.  I woke up my sound sleeper husband and we, with the help of a few friends, went searching for her.  My husband and good friend brought her back about a half an hour later.  Except for the fact that she was barefoot, she was otherwise safe and sound.  We never did find her gym shoes.

I do my best to reassure Kid Q.  I do my best to be with and take care of Kid O without expressing frustration or resentment.  One thing they both know is that I love and accept them.  My husband and I are one of the few people who will love them unequivocally.

Aside from love, an individual needs and deserves respect.  We all deserve to be treated with dignity.  I know that I have been scrutinized by neighbors and strangers ever since Kid O was a baby.  People stare at us all the time. Someone, probably a kid responding to a dare, wrote "Mental" on our masonry.
One kid once made some noise at us while I was rolling Kid O to her bus.

When we casually toss around words like "retard" or "'tard" or "moron" or "idiot," we usually mean to express contempt.  It's a way, similar to the use of racial or religious slurs, of denying someone's  humanness. We can only express contempt towards people who we don't know.  Many people do not know people with mental or physical disabilities.  Or, if we do, the disabilities are perhaps more mild and that makes it easier for us to accept.  It makes it easy to use these words because there's no one who comes to mind.

As AM Baggs said, "Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible." I wrote to expand upon that idea.

There are people behind these words. Although Shylock was talking about being a Jew when he said this:  " If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die," it can be applied to all people who seem to be different from ourselves.

Mentally and physically disabled people are no different from the rest of the population.  They have needs. They have desires. They love and are loved. They laugh. They cry.  When they are pricked, they bleed.  When they are called names they die.  Not literally but words do affect the heart and the spirit.  It's a death by inches.

According to Cheryl Mason, we are all being "ridiculous" in our reactions on behalf of people we love and care about.  That doesn't seem apologetic to me.  My impression is that she resents being called out on her prejudices.  No one wants the Masons to close down their business.  We simply want her and her husband to have some compassion towards mentally and physically disabled individuals.

It's not my intention to hurt the Masons. I simply want them to be aware that words are not to be played with. If they are willing to make a move in that direction then my little petition  will go away.