Anne Coulter tweets the "R" word
Dan Niblock with son Ozzie

What grows faster than a parent's instinct to protect his son? The social media buzz that follows when he demands an apology from controversial politico Ann Coulter for tweeting the 'R' word.

special needs community reacts

On the brink of National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, politico Ann Coulter joined a list of celebrities who have used the word “retarded” as an insult, tweeting:

“Been busy, but is Obama STILL talking about that video? I had no idea how crucial the retarded vote is in this election.”

Known for abrasive tirades, this isn’t the first time Coulter has used the ‘R‘ word to make a political argument. But this time, the difference is Dan Niblock, a father in Durham, North Carolina, with a son named Ozzie who happens to have Down syndrome (Ds).

Dad demands Coulter apology

Niblock reacted to Coulter's tweet with a post to his friends. TODAY Moms (owned by NBCNews.com) then asked him to write the article that posted October 9.

“[The term ‘retard’ is] a slur that demeans a lot of people who have a hard enough time getting on with the business of life without having to deal with the constant reminder that a great swath of society thinks their existence is the world’s best punch line,” Niblock wrote for TODAY Moms.

“I want Ann Coulter to apologize for using a form of hate speech that is particularly searing to people who have special needs... This isn't about Republicans versus Democrats, it's about having class and a little decency.”

Radio silence from Coulter

While Niblock hasn’t received an apology from Coulter to date, others have stood behind him.

“The outpouring from the rest of the world has been amazing and nonstop,” Niblock told SheKnows.com. “I’m getting the most wonderful emails ever, and I’m getting the most beautiful and heartfelt comments on my personal blog.”

Julie Cevallos of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) has a young daughter with Ds. She tells SheKnows.com, “Using the word ‘retard’ or any form of it, or any other insult directed toward the condition of Down syndrome and those that have it, is not about free speech — it’s about decency, accountability and compassion.”

Parent to Coulter: ‘What is your excuse?’

Christina DeGennaro, parent to 4-year-old Rory, who has Ds, wrote to Coulter after seeing her tweet. “…When my son was born, and I sat in the hospital staring at this beautiful gift from God, learning that he had Down syndrome, I wept,“ DeGennaro wrote to Coulter.

"I’m trying to make people think about it."

“I wept not because I didn't love him... because I loved him before I'd ever known him but instead I cried for all the cruel, ugliness he would face at the hands of ignorant, small-minded individuals. You, however, are educated Ms. Coulter. Therefore, what is your excuse?”

Niblock tells SheKnows.com: “Most of the problem stems from the fact that the ‘R‘ word is just a bad habit. [In most cases,] people don’t use it maliciously, they use it because they have always used it. They don’t think about it.

“I’m trying to make people think about it.”

Celeb use of the ‘R’ word

Use of the ‘R’ word by celebrities has increased so much, the organization Spread the Word to End the Word compiled a list of “cheers” for celebrities who have spoken out against use of the ‘R‘ word.

As perhaps an indicator of how few “cheers” exist, many celebrities made the “cheers” list only after using the ‘R‘ word and then apologizing for using it.

Social media fuels buzz

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, social media routinely serves to slow things down. Coulter tweeted at 8:39 p.m. on September 25, and Dan Niblock posted a note to his friends afterwards. His outrage went international when TODAY Moms posted his article October 9.

Within 24 hours, Niblock's article had more than 500 comments and more than 20,000 “likes” shared to Facebook.

Since October 9, visits to Niblock's personal blog have skyrocketed. Over two days, his blog received nearly 20,000 “pageviews” — or about the same number of visits to his blog over the previous month’s time.

Actress to Coulter: STOP!

Coulter’s tweet received the fastest celebrity response over Twitter. Actress Holly Robinson Peete, an advocate whose son has autism, replied hotly at 4:26 a.m. on September 26, “@AnnCoulter STOP using that word! It's like freaking nails on a chalkboard! #Rword.”

When famous people say ‘retard’

While some celebrities get more backlash than others for using the ‘R’ word, two factors seem to influence how long the chatter and criticism continues: A person’s level of fame, and whether he or she used the ‘R’ word themselves or while playing a character (e.g., in a movie or TV series).

Of course, it helps when mainstream media pick up the story. One day after Niblock’s article posted on TODAY Moms, the Huffington Post picked it up on its Parents site.

In 2010, Jennifer Aniston jokingly referred to herself as a retard on Live! With Regis and Kelly.

Jean Winegardner, a Washington Times writer whose son has autism, wrote about the aftermath, “I think the most painful part about these incidents is not the original comment, but rather the backlash from commenters and pundits who think those of us who care about this word are being over-sensitive.”

Free speech argument

A consistent refrain each time a celebrity uses the ’R’ word is, “That’s free speech!” Niblock told SheKnows.com: “Yes, it’s free speech. But these same people don’t use the ‘N’ word, I bet. Why is that? Cultural sensitivity? Fear?

“The African-American community fought hard to take control of the labels used to describe them… and they are now offered at least some level of respect in that sense.

“Does the disabled community really have to fight that fight... just because a lot of people happen to like to say ‘retard?’”

Advice to Coulter?

“This is not a decent way to get a rise out of people and to get a laugh,” NDSS’s Cevallos tells SheKnows.com. “That laugh comes at an expense — the feelings of a person who has enough challenges and his or her friends and family.

“It would be nice if celebrities could be heroes [and] lead the way in… teaching compassion. The everyday heroes are the parents and friends who explain this to others even when it’s uncomfortable, and who show every day just how cool their child or friend is for being who they are.“

More about children with special needs

One mother’s plea to stop use of the R word
How to deal with bullying and special needs kids
Best apps for kids with special needs

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Comments

Comments on "Dad to Ann Coulter: Apologize!"

JES March 13, 2013 | 8:26 PM

Although I doubt that anyone would seriously use the word "classy" to describe Ann Coulter this is a new low even for her. Who is she anyway and why does she get TV time? She is a shrill but what else? Surely there are more worthwhile people to interview !! Does she not realize how she is mocked?

Meg F October 12, 2012 | 6:35 PM

Wow Maureen, good work! Well said! I think you gave me my mantra...

Maureen Wallace October 11, 2012 | 10:06 AM

Meg, that is an awesome question and I know Dan will want to share his views, as well. As mom to a 2-year-old cutie who happens to have Ds, I have faced the situations you describe to some extent. It's not easy, but I've found it effective to say politely (as much as I want to scream it), "Please don't use that word." Often, a person didn't even realize he/she used it because it's become so acceptable, and I've received amazing, heartfelt apologies from people, and their pledge not to use it again. It's a lot tougher when it's a stranger, and saying something feels so confrontational. I've started a discussion about it by saying, "So, I just happened to hear you use a word that actually really bothers me. I have a child with Down syndrome and am dreading the day when he comes to me, crying because another child has called him that word. It's not easy to talk about it, but I wanted to let you know how much that word hurts. You have every right to use it, but hopefully you will choose not to." I then ran away and cried in my car. It is NOT easy, but we HAVE to speak up.

Meg F October 11, 2012 | 8:29 AM

I thoroughly applaud Dan's efforts to sensitize people to the use of this uneccessary word. It's careless and hurtful. I just moved to Louisiana and I'm floored by how often I hear that word in casual conversation -- three times in an hour at a junior high library yesterday alone. "That test was retarded!" "I know he thinks he's being generous, but how retarded is that to think we'll buy it?" etc. I didn't know any of the people saying it... Dan (and others) can you give me a phrase to fall back on when I hear that word and would like to gently draw someone's attention to it and get them to think about using it next time?

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