Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You're a real--special lady...

So today's post is about President Obama's comment about the Special Olympics that he made on The Tonight Show. Brief recap: Mr. Obama was talking about how his bowling score is 129. Jay Leno clapped for him and said, "Oh, that's very good!" And then President Obama said, "This is like the Special Olympics or something."

One of my white friends asked me what I thought about this and what happened afterwards. I think a couple of things.

1) I think that if Mr. Obama made a similar gaffe about another group of people like women or gay people, it may have garnered more attention. I am leery of the idea of putting marginalized groups on some kind of heirarchy. At the same time, I do believe that some groups are more organized, have more political influence, etc. Part of the reason this isn't that big of a deal is because the clout isn't really there to make it that big of a deal.

2) Another more unfortunate reason for the response is that a lot of people say things like this, and so they are more likely to cut the President some slack. You are much more likely to hear someone say the "r" word than the "f" word or the "n" word (don't worry, I've got a post in the pipeline about the whole " first letter of the word" word phenomenon).

3) It's helpful to Barack Obama that he's friendly with the Shriver family, so the head of the Special Olympics can say, "Hey, everything's cool, we're not mad about this." I applaud Tim Shriver for trying to turn this into a teaching moment, but I can't help but wonder how their personal relationship influenced his ability to deem Obama's apology as "moving" and "sincere." Now, I'm not saying it wasn't. What I'm saying is that when you know and like someone, it's a lot easier to accept an apology from him or her.

President Obama seemed to be saying that in the Special Olympics, people are cheered and applauded for performance that really isn't that impressive.

Does he believe that? He's got to believe it on some level, otherwise it would have never come in his mind as a thing to say.
Do you believe that?
What does it mean if it's true?
Does it matter that he didn't intend to hurt anyone's feelings?
Should the intention behind an insensitive comment ( for example "I was only joking,") make a difference in how people choose to respond to it?

As an interesting sidenote: I was watching Inside Edition and they had an interview with a guy that actually did bowling in the Special Olympics. He had bowled five perfect games ( a score of 300) in his career. Wow.

Looks like President Obama might need to step up his game.

As always, I welcome your comments.


  1. I really expected Palin to be all over this, since she was the self-proclaimed champion of special needs in the election. Yet I haven't seen anything. Did I miss it?

  2. Anonymous10:00 PM

    Yes, you missed it. Here's an excerpt:
    ...Mrs Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate and the mother of a young son with Down syndrome, said she was "shocked" by the "degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world".

    She added that she hoped the president's comment did not reflect his true feelings about the special needs community.

  3. I really love your blog. One of my greatest friends in life is Kelly Cole. Her Dad was head of Clark College in Atlanta. I have always loved and appreciated her friendship, laughter and long conversations with her about this topic and our motto was and is always..."We all have the same color hearts!". Don't ask why we are friends people! I think many in life just are so confused. I wish they weren't. I try not to get miffed by this! We should just love people all the way down on the inside to their souls and listen and learn and grow as people, appreciate uniqueness, just laugh with one another and help one another up. Just the way I think.

  4. Anonymous9:17 AM

    I could not agree more. I also feel that if W had made a similar comment, that he would have been fed to the sharks.

    This is why a sitting prez really doesn't need to pay visits with the likes of late night talk show hosts... at least when it's being video taped.

    PS- shame on the audience at the show that night for laughing at such a low-brow, tasteless joke!