As a mom of two young children, I am often in search of ways to relax, unwind and rejuvenate. Sometimes a quick walk helps. Often times, a carton of Ben and Jerry's does the trick. But my favorite way to recharge is sans kids, with the bass turned up, the windows of my mom-mobile rolled down and my favorite rap albums -- The Chronic, All Eyez on Me and The Predator. With hair piled high on top of my head, Starbucks at my side and the voice of greats like TuPac and Biggie filling the air around me, I have my own little piece of heaven on Earth. In the words of Eminem, I easily "lose myself in the music, the moment..."
There's no denying that rap music has helped me cope with much of what life throws at me, which is why I was disappointed to learn that rapper 50 Cent -- someone who's music helped me move into my freshmen dorm room and pass my first year of college finals -- made disparaging remarks about a 19-year-old employee at the Cincinnati airport who has Asperger's. As if it wasn't bad enough to make fun of the young man, 50 Cent proceeded to add insult to injury by sharing his remarks with social media.
The reaction on social media was mixed at best. While many people were bothered by 50 Cent's actions and spoke out, others defended him, saying, "He had no clue the guy was autistic. Give home a break." That is probably very true, but in no way does his possible cluelessness defend or justify his actions. Ignorance is not a saving grace. Using social media as a means to mock others is not OK. Humor at another's expense is never acceptable. Disability or not.
My own daughter -- though not autistic -- has a disability that is often invisible to the untrained eye. However, on rare occasions, her low muscle tone manifests in a way that is easily noticeable to the general public. Her movements can often seem uncoordinated, and her balance is iffy at best. More than once, we have been the victims of "well-meaning jokes" that often come at her expense.
The most common remark we received when my daughter first mastered walking was, "She looks like she is drunk." I will never forget the first woman who made that comment. It was the first time my daughter had been physically able to walk out of a restaurant and to the car all by herself. To say I was proud would be an understatement. But then, a voice broke in from behind us, "Look at her walk. She walks like a drunk. Is she drunk?" The woman laughed. I know she didn't mean ill by her comment, but her words did sting a little. I smiled and kindly explained how monumental this moment was to our family. "Oh, I had no idea she had a disability," the woman responded.
There are many people in our communities who have disabilities that are invisible or, like my daughter, barely noticeable. I ask for us all to be considerate. We need to be more careful with the words we use. Take the time to choose kindness over hate. Spend time each day looking for the beauty that exists in others instead of for the easy joke. Let's use our influence, our power and our social media to celebrate the good not the negative. And while I appreciate 50 Cent's recent apology, I hope he will remember to, "Be kind, for every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." In fact, I hope we all will.