So far today George Will's op-ed about his son, Jon, has been forwarded to me five times. Given that I am in the midst of grading and really, really out of touch with the world, I appreciate the fact that I have friends and family members looking out for me. I'm sort of surprised I haven't gotten it more times, given that Jon Will has Down syndrome, and that's what the article is about. Tomorrow is Jon Will's 40th birthday.
There's a lot of stuff I don't love about this particular article. Some of the rhetoric is troublesome: I resist the word "defect" being used in any context with Down syndrome, and I certainly never use the term "mental retardation" (and neither should any of you readers! We say intellectual or cognitive disability now). I think it's interesting that George Will frames his son Jon as imperfect, in a way that he implies his other children aren't. I'm sure all his children are imperfect, because they're all human. More importantly, my views of prenatal testing and abortion are quite a bit more complex than George Will's. I'm no fan of the 90% abortion rate he makes mention of, but I'm also not somebody who sees abortion as the killing of children, and I believe that women must absolutely have the right to control their reproduction.
But the thing that's really interesting is that, because of Down syndrome, I'm actually able to find points of connection with George Will that I suspect I wouldn't find in any other context. He makes some very nice points that I agree with, as when he says,
In 1972, people with Down syndrome were still commonly called Mongoloids.He also ends his article with the image of Jon at Nationals Park, at a Caps game, "just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball." As my friend Claire pointed out, this is an image that works against so many of the infantalizing images we have of adults with intellectual disabilities. I like it. And as I shared with Claire this morning, one of the very early hopeful pieces we read shortly after Maybelle was born was an article by George Will about Jon, in which he expresses his pride that Jon voted for Bill Clinton. His son, he made clear, is a person in the world who has his own opinions--opinions which might be radically different than his father's. It's been nearly four years since Biffle read that piece to me, and I still remember it.
Now they are called American citizens.
It's so easy to be divided. It's so easy for us--whatever "us" you want, scholars or thinkers or citizens or folks living in a country together--to get polarized and to stop listening to one another. We become stereotypes or soundbytes. I'm grateful for the fact that disability gives me a way to step out of that polarization.
George Will and I have very little in common. But we're both parents of people with Down syndrome, and I suspect that's enough to open a little crack in the door that would make it possible to talk to one another as people rather than being boxed in by the political stereotypes we have of one another (well, to be frank, I doubt that George Will has that many stereotypes of me, but you know what I mean).