I’ve always found Steve Harvey to be ignorant and dismissive on certain topics, but last week when he poked fun at people with mental disabilities, he took his foolishness to a whole new level. During a segment of The Steve Harvey Morning Show on Thursday, March 26, he spent a whole two minutes tastelessly clowning a made-up 32-year-old mentally impaired woman as his blunt, hypocritical, Jesus-obsessed, church-going personality Sister Odell. And although the disabled character was not real, his jokes still sparked pain and anger for those of us who deal with autism and other developmental issues on a daily basis.
The clip rolls in at 3:17 and ends 5:24.
Pause. Let me remind you all that April is Autism Awareness Month, so these disgraceful comments came just days before a period designated to raise consciousness about these same issues he so inaptly took it upon himself to make fun of. (The ignorance is real.)
Now, I shall carry on.
I see nothing wrong with making light of serious situations (when it’s appropriate), but it’s all about how you say what you say. There’s a limit. So as someone who has a sister with autism, I was deeply disturbed by the clip, but thought that he took things waaaay too far when he started mimicking the sounds of the “half wit” woman and called her “stupid.” I know first-hand that those “urgh” sounds are sometimes the only way a mentally impaired person who’s non-verbal, like my sister, can communicate their feelings.
But of course, I’m not the only one who took offense to his shameful remarks. After dropping her kids off to school the day the show aired, a mother who has a daughter with autism felt compelled to record a video expressing her frustration at what she’d heard.
Once the video started spreading, Steve issued a statement on Facebook apologizing to anyone he’d upset with his remarks.
There he goes being dismissive again.
Do I think he intended to hurt anyone’s feelings? No. Do I think Steve meant to ignite outrage and a viral “change your material” movement? No. But do I think Mr. Harvey truly understands the gravity of his words and how classless it is to poke fun at people who can not defend themselves or change their mental condition? Nah.
He excused his remarks by dubbing it as comedy that could offend anyone, and hiding behind a character that he made up. A character whose thoughts, words and behavior he concocted articulated and delivered. Although Sister Odell is not real, Steve Harvey, you are!
If he’d simply owned up to what he’d said and admitted that he was wrong, those of us who were insulted would have been more forgiving. But the problem is I don’t think he really believes he was wrong.
And I understand why.
As the rightfully pissed-off mother stated in her video, he’s not the first to do it. Comedians tease people with developmental issues all the time. Maybe their mommas didn’t teach them that they shouldn’t bully those who are weaker and aren’t in the position to alter their conditions, or maybe they just don’t give a f*%k, but whatever the case, this is all-too common. However, the problem is that these are not just jokes when these same sentiments make their way to real people in real life, who are battling with these struggles everyday.These are not just jokes when people with autism, ADD, Down syndrome, or other mental and learning disorders are taunted with these same parodies by ignorant kids and grown men and women who are imitating what they heard their favorite comedian say.
It seems the masses has somehow been conditioned to think its okay to humiliate our kids, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins who suffer from mental disabilities. Why? How many comedians do you hear joking about cancer, women and children being raped, or even HIV? Why aren’t developmental disorders put in that same category of comedy no-nos? Because with the growing rate of autism in American alone (1 in 68 born with the disorder), this is something that could reach anyone’s family, including Steve’s. And while I don’t wish that on anyone, I’m sure it wouldn’t be all fun and games if that same “urgh, urgh” left the lips of a stranger and resurfaced from the tongue of someone that he loves.
I just hope that not only Steve, but other public figures and people in general, learn that they should watch what they say when it comes to people who are dealing with disabilities that they have no power to change.