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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Obama's bowling blunder

I don't usually follow Jay Leno's The Tonight Show as it's aired days later on local TV. Indeed, I probably missed Obama's first appearance as president on this show. However, thanks to youtube, I managed to watch the now notorious segment where Obama says his poor bowling ability of 129 is only good enough for him to compete on the special olympics. Here is the video and the transcript of the short excerpt below it:

Jay Leno: “[Has the White House bowling alley yet been] burned and closed down?”
Barack Obama: “No, no. I have been practicing . . . I bowled a 129.”
Jay Leno: “That’s very good, Mr. President.”
Barack Obama: “It’s like — it was like Special Olympics, or something.”

Admittedly, it must be stated that Obama issued an immediate apology following his remarks to Special Olympics chair Tim Shriver but I feel a bit ambivalent about whether as a disabled person, I should feel offended or not by this joke. On the one hand, I know that disabled athletes put a lot of effort into competing on the so-called "special olympics" but, on the other hand, I am not happy with the fact that the special olympics are held separately from mainstream olympic events.

If Obama's joke had been sexist, homophobic or even racist, the public outrage would have been greater. Of course, we cannot forget that The Tonight Show by its very structure is a relaxed show that encourages guests to loosen up. Perhaps, for a few seconds, Obama forgot he was president... But would it make any difference if he wasn't the president?

Would his comments been taken so seriously? Had this happened before the US elections, would some people not have voted Democrat? These are only speculations of course...

However, there are some things that worry me. The first being that Obama appears to have a slightly disablist bias - at least in relation to any attempts we make at sport - despite all words or rhetoric to the contrary.

But then, the thing we need to consider is that an over-reaction on the part of the disabled community to such a joke might be counter-productive. I'm not saying that Obama was justified or anything in his stupid banter. However, as a disabled community, I think we should take this remark and use it as an opportunity to delve further into the issues we face - and clearly state why such a remark is disablist - rather than take a defensive or antagonistic position against politicians. Moreover, I believe it's essential to emphasize the fact that we, as disabled people, can laugh at ourselves - if jokes are not about our impairments (directly) but about the often ludicrous situations we find ourselves in...

In fact, this seems the approach being taken by representatives of the Special Olympics. They are taking Obama's statement as an opportunity to raise awareness about sports and the efforts made by disabled athletes in sporting events.

Undoubtedly, sports isn't the only issue we need to draw politicians' attention to. However, it's a start in the task of underlining our prevalent invisibility in many other areas of life and on the importance of having the UN Convention ratified by all countries to assure our rights are respected and our voices heard.