When is it okay to tell jokes about disability? While I think the disabled population is overdue for a good ribbing, hence launching a webcomic about life with a disability, perhaps it’s not the best call for a Federal politician to be the one poking the fun. Yep, the other day Stephen Woodworth, the Conservative incumbent for Kitchener Centre, decided to take to the Internets with his witty, witty humour, tweeting “Cop says to falling down man outside tavern ‘You’re drunk’ Man replies ‘Thank goodness’ Cop asks ‘Why?’ Drunk: ‘I thought I was crippled!’” It’s weird because normally when people see my wheelchair they ask “What happened? What do you have?” not “Seriously bro, how shit-faced ARE you right now?!”
About an hour later, after an onslaught from offended tweeters, he apologized and said that he “wouldn’t even ordinarily use the word ‘disability.’” Good call–it’s easier to just pretend we don’t exist. He probably would have been better served taking a page from ignorant white folk trying to cover up for racism and just saying something like “I don’t even SEE wheelchairs.” Amazingly, Woodworth was still swinging (read: flailing like a fish out of water) yesterday, claiming that the issue had passed…except that now his whole twitter account has been deleted. Thankfully, Politwitter.ca cached these beauts, so Mr Woodworth won’t be-able to hide behind the “undo” button.
While most people are taking this story as a morality tale on the use of Twitter and the “public conversation,” I think most of the mainstream media coverage is missing a key element of this story: the real question here is whether or not the joke was really offensive. As far as I’m concerned, if anyone else had tweeted this I would have thought it was just kinda dumb…not really offensive. I guess if you dig right into it, the drunk is expressing thanks for being drunk and not disabled, as though being a “cripple” would be a sorry state of affairs, but I think this joke is pretty PG compared to basically everything else you’ll find on the Internet. This doesn’t give Woodworth permission to make the joke though, if only because of the word “cripple,” which is pretty much widely accepted to be like scrapping finger nails across a chalk board. No, what makes this joke offensive is where it came from–not your ordinary Internet troll but from an incumbent Member of Parliament. The joke came from one of the people vying for a shot at representing the people of Kitchener in one of the highest political offices in the country.
That is why this comment cannot be tolerated.
Can you imagine if Woodworth had busted out a zinger at the expense of Native Americans or the Japanese? It would need more than just an apology and a deleted twitter account. In fact, a Liberal candidate in Quebec who made some brutal remarks on Native Americans is going under an inquiry by the party–now THAT’S more like it. If Woodworth isn’t smart enough to do the right thing and drop out of the race, perhaps the Conservatives should give him a hand finding the door…
Of course, in the end I guess we can’t really control what the Conservative party does with their candidates
So those of you in Kitchener Centre, please get out to vote and let’s show Mr. Woodworth what some lowly cripples can do when we put our mind to it.