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January 31, 2014 1

Derrick Coleman: Creating Conversation About Differences

The Super Bowl is arguably one of the biggest days in Amer­i­can sports, and with good rea­son. In addi­tion to being a com­pe­ti­tion of the best two foot­ball teams in the most pop­u­lar sport in Amer­ica, this year it is also the kind of cel­e­bra­tion not often asso­ci­ated with pro­fes­sional sports.

Der­rick Cole­man, a run­ning back for the Seat­tle Sea­hawks, is the only legally deaf ath­lete in pro­fes­sional foot­ball his­tory to play offense. In early Jan­u­ary 2014, Cole­man served as the inspi­ra­tion for a major brand’s com­mer­cial where he talks about the impact his hear­ing impair­ment has had on his life. The video went viral and in less than a week, and had 5.5 mil­lion views.

Coleman’s per­sonal story pro­vides an excel­lent teach­ing oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss dis­abil­i­ties and the impor­tance of safe­guard­ing the rights and dig­nity of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in our com­mu­ni­ties and around the world. As the U.S. Sen­ate debates whether to rat­ify an inter­na­tional treaty on dis­abil­ity rights , Derrick’s story pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity to put a human face on the impact that treaty can have on people’s lives.

Edu­ca­tion can be for­mal and infor­mal. We have cre­ated a new class­room les­son for teach­ers, but adults can cre­ate a les­son in their own liv­ing rooms dur­ing the Super Bowl. Here are a few ques­tions to the get the con­ver­sa­tion going with your friends and family.

  • Do you know what a dis­abil­ity is?
  • What’s unique about Der­rick Coleman?
  • What do you think it’s like to feel you are dif­fer­ent from every­one else?
  • What are some ways you could help oth­ers who are treated unfairly because they are different?

It’s not nec­es­sary to have all the answers.  The very act of cre­at­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about dif­fer­ence is a healthy and pro­duc­tive way to raise aware­ness that being dif­fer­ent is ok, and is in fact some­thing to celebrate.

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January 24, 2014 5

Richard Sherman and Enduring Racial Stereotypes

We recently had a reminder of the endur­ing power of stereo­types in Amer­i­can when an inter­view by Seat­tle Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man prompted a slew of racist remarks on Twit­ter and a main­stream media com­men­ta­tor referred to him as a “thug” and an “ape.”

Richard Sherman

Richard Sher­man

While per­haps unin­ten­tional on the part of media com­men­ta­tors, the lan­guage sur­round­ing Sherman’s inter­view evoked painful stereo­types of African Amer­i­cans.  Racist imagery that por­trays African Amer­i­cans as beasts, espe­cially mon­keys, emerged dur­ing the Jim Crow era as a means to legit­imize unequal treat­ment of African Amer­i­cans.  Unfor­tu­nately, these stereo­types endure today.  And to many African Amer­i­cans — indeed all peo­ple of good will — these stereo­types remain as inap­pro­pri­ate and offen­sive now as they were in the 20th century.

Stereo­types of African Amer­i­cans harken back to a time when bla­tant racism was com­mon­place in our nation.

The his­tor­i­cal mean­ing of this imagery is often not on most people’s radar, but it should be. It is likely that many Amer­i­cans do not even real­ize they are actu­ally per­pet­u­at­ing age-old racism when they refer to African Amer­i­cans in these terms.

Part of the work of untan­gling the legacy of racism involves edu­cat­ing our­selves and our youth not to engage in it. Words carry our his­tory with them. We can­not pre­tend that refer­ring to a black man as an “ape” is not rooted in racism, and that it is not hurt­ful.  The same goes for stereo­typ­i­cal remarks about other minor­ity groups such as Jews.  Whether such hurt­ful lan­guage is man­i­fested in pro­fes­sional sports, in polit­i­cal dis­course or in school hall­ways, we must counter racist imagery and ter­mi­nol­ogy with con­dem­na­tion and expec­ta­tions that we can be better.

On the pos­i­tive side, the lan­guage we use has the power to change the future and to advance much-needed inter­cul­tural group dynam­ics in our country.

Teach­ers who work with mid­dle and high school youth can uti­lize cur­rent events and social dis­course to start con­ver­sa­tions about how our his­tory of racism con­tin­ues to impact us today.

Moments like these hurt and are rep­re­hen­si­ble, but they can also be oppor­tu­ni­ties to edu­cate and inspire a gen­er­a­tion to end racism.

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