Quick hit: Special Olympics athlete and global messenger schools Professional Terrible Person Ann Coulter on use of r-word

Photo of John Franklin Stephens courtesy the Special Olympics blog.

Did you watch the third and final presidential debate on Monday?

If so, you’re not alone. The Huffington Post reports that over 59 million people tuned in to watch President Obama slay Mitt Romney and generate yet another hilarious meme with his commander-in-chief mansplaining.

And of those, the vast majority, while certainly opinionated about the content of the debate, managed to express said opinions without using an ableist and highly offensive term.

Unfortunately, Professional Terrible Person Ann Coulter, to the chagrin and embarrassment of everyone, did not get the memo. Instead, she chose to send this unfortunate tweet during the debate, calling President Obama the r-word in a derogatory fashion.

‘So what,’ you may be thinking. ‘Just another Terrible Act from a known Terrible Person.” And it would be, if not for the exceptional response of one John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger who decided to write Ms. Coulter an open letter after the debate explaining why, exactly the tweet was so ignorant and what she should do to educate herself moving forward. From Mr. Stephens’ letter:

“I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow.  I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you.  In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.”

PWNED. Check out the whole letter here, and click here to learn more about the harms of the r-word and what you can do to fight against its use.


Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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