5 Reasons 50 Cent Is Only Half of the Problem
By now most people have probably heard about the recent video involving 40-year-old rapper, actor and media mogul Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and his public treatment of a 19-year-old airport worker with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Let me start by saying what he did is absolutely deplorable. With that being said, as an adult diagnosed with ASD, I believe that as a result of this incident we have an opportunity to address a larger issue at hand. Ableism can be defined as the privileging of able-bodiedness, resulting in discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their abilities, and as inferior to the non-disabled.
After watching the video of Jackson harassing the young autistic man several times, I identified five ways that our society, like Jackson, is complicit in acts of ableism.
1. Duration of the video: The length of the video was exactly 25 seconds. Twenty-five seconds. We live in a Snapchat, sound byte, satire-shaped social media system that creates the perfect scenario for ableist attitudes to surface. That’s the problem with ableism; it comes with the privilege to present cropped and edited images of disabled people without their consent. Abelism doesn’t care about the causes and conditions that make people different. Abelism is only concerned with highlighting the many ways that disabled people don’t measure up to stereotypical social norms often defined by abled bodies and minds. How many times have we all succumbed to the social media culture that promotes the type of privilege that doesn’t require us to know the whole story, or better yet the whole person, that we have decided to judge? Ableism is subtle but it is real. The next time you feel the urge to judge someone within seconds of observing them or their behavior, try asking questions instead of assuming. If nothing else, it communicates concern as well as creates opportunities for education and awareness.
2. Dialogue in the video: Actually there is no dialogue in the 25-second video, and that’s the problem. The entire video only contains one voice. That is ableism at its core. Rapper 50 cent is the only one talking in the video as we can visibly see the young man shaking his head, likely suggesting that he did not consent nor was he interested in communicating with the rapper. Ableism is powerful because it presupposes that those who are able-bodied are the only voices needed to have discussions about those with disabilities. I don’t know Mr. Jackson’s educational background, but I am almost certain that he has no background in medicine. His assumption that he could diagnose this young autistic man’s “problem” is a part of the power of ableist culture. Often times, ableism rears its ugly head by silencing the voices of those who actually live with disabilities, because those voices aren’t needed in order for society to make recommendations about how they should behave in order to fit in. “Nothing about us without us” is a mantra subscribed to by many disability advocates for this very reason. How many times has our society assumed to speak for and about disabled persons without actually speaking to or with them?
3. Derogatory language: The video is only 25 seconds, however in those 25 seconds there are exactly three expletives. In 25 seconds, the rapper manages to use three four-letter words in his interaction with a young autistic man trying to do his job. His use of foul language isn’t actually shocking, especially if you have ever heard any of his music. What’s troubling about the language he uses is that he uses one word three times that is more damaging than foul language because it is framing language. Three times in the 25-second video, he refers to the young man as “crazy.” This is troubling and ableist language because while he uses expletives in his attempt to describe what he believed the young man had done (taking drugs), he uses even more insensitive language to describe who he thinks the young man is (“crazy”). An ableist culture feeds on the use of derogatory language because the power to define is the power to assign value. Our society freely uses words like “crazy,” “stupid,” and the R-word as ways to assign a negative value to something or someone we disapprove of and/or dislike.
4. Defining by “deficits”: Autism comes with challenges. Social anxiety is real, and while it can be expressed differently in different people, I feel it can at times present itself as a real “deficit” for those on the autism spectrum. The problem with ableism is that it seeks only to define people with disabilities as the disability itself. Ableism causes us to focus on what appears to be the only thing important about this young man, his autism. He is a person working, living, thriving and contributing to society. He is not just a kid with autism, and therefore he shouldn’t be defined just by what may appear to be a “deficit.” Watching the video of him shaking his head back and forth might suggest that he doesn’t want the attention, he just wants to live his life. Ableism can sometimes make life difficult for persons with disabilities because it brings unwanted attention to the disability and in doing so completely ignores the person.
5. Demonizing those with disabilities: The video also captures one of the most unfortunate consequences of ableist culture, demonizing the disabled. While Mr. Jackson has reportedly issued a public apology, stating it was not his intention to offend the young man, the harsh reality is that it did offend him and I find it is very difficult to insist the intention was to produce a different outcome. Curtis Jackson decided to approach the young man, publicly humiliate him and broadcast the bullying incident for the entire world to view. One of the most damaging elements of bullying and ableism is to make the public believe that the victim deserves the treatment they’ve received. When Mr. Jackson insists that the young man is part of a generation that is “crazy” he makes it appear as though the young man deserved to be publicly humiliated. It is the demonization of the young man as some sort of delinquent that made him believe that it was OK to be disrespectful and demeaning. In many ways, our society and culture cooperates with this behavior by presenting images of disabled people as “burdens” and barriers to the health and happiness of able-bodied people in society. When people with disabilities are viewed as a part of society’s problems, it demonizes them and demonstrates the power of ableist culture and language in the world we live in.
My hope is that while Andrew Farrell and his family continue to heal from this horrible ordeal, we as a society take time to use this as an opportunity not just to demand an apology from 50 Cent, but to become more determined to understand all of the ways that ableism has impacted our culture and to make adjustments to those attitudes by first looking within ourselves.
A version of this port originally appeared on Autism Pastor.
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