We Need to Talk About Norm Macdonald’s Comment About Down Syndrome

We Need to Talk About Norm Macdonald’s Comment About Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome in the News…

Comedian Norm Macdonald recently came under fire for his comments about the #MeToo movement and expressing sympathy for Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K. We won’t wade into those waters, but instead we’d like to focus on the apology he delivered on his September 12th appearance on the Howard Stern radio show. This is where he went on to say the following about the victims of sexual harassment, “You’d have to have Down syndrome” not to “feel sorry for them.”

This kind of rhetoric is troubling. It demonstrates a high-level of ignorance about what Down syndrome is and what it means.

First, as Mr. Macdonald is a comedian, let’s get something out of the way. This was not a joke. He was not “kidding around.” This was part of an apology that he was making in earnest. Unfortunately, he took an underrepresented and often misunderstood population and used them as the parallel for someone incapable of empathy for those in pain.

Mr. Macdonald has a clear misunderstanding of what Down syndrome is and how those who are born with it think and behave. Let’s make this clear, Down syndrome does NOT mean an individual has such a decreased mental capacity that they cannot understand the concept of harassment and therefore cannot empathize with its victims. It also does NOT mean that people with Down syndrome do not experience empathy, as Mr. Macdonald’s comment implies. People with Down syndrome are all unique individuals, like any other human being you’ll ever meet.

Why is This A Problem?

Unfortunately, due to a lack of exposure and education, people like Mr. Macdonald play into the stereotype that people with Down syndrome are second-class citizens. This is a pervasive and insidious idea that we, as a community, have tried to squash.

This comment was shared with the millions of individuals that listen to Howard Stern’s radio program. Many may hear that phrase and use it at work the next day. Then their friends may use it. And so it goes until someone stands up and says something. Well, we’re saying something. This is insensitive, inaccurate, and has no place in public discourse.

Mr. Macdonald has since publicly apologized for his insensitive, hurtful comment. We are happy he has, calling the comment “unforgivable” on the talk show The View. Without issuing a strong condemnation of this kind of talk, it is free to influence others’ behavior and perpetuates the myth that people with Down syndrome are somehow “less than.” We encourage Mr. Macdonald to take some time to meet and talk with people who have Down syndrome, he would learn we all have more in common than we do not. That being said, we cannot control one person’s actions, but we can control our own. We hope everyone will learn from this and join us changing the way the world views and defines disabilities by using positive, supportive language that benefits us all.

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