It’s alarming that in this day and age an incumbent city councilor and now a mayoral candidate does not know how to represent Salemites from all walks of life, especially people, parents and/or family members of children (or adults) who have an intellectual disability. To ask SATV to edit out what he said without even apologizing for the “error” immediately depicts a lack of character and/or a lack of understanding the gravity of such a gaffe. Asking that the specific word be deleted — while posting the edited version on his Facebook page — and then concealing what he originally said, proofs a lack of transparency and willingness to accept his mistake. It also shows that the truth and addressing this properly wasn’t important to Councilor Dibble until The Salem News asked him about it. Had he done it immediately when it happened, the story about his candidacy wouldn’t have been overshadowed by his insensitive remarks. It is more than apparent to me that the councilor misspoke but didn’t want to take responsibility for it.
I’ll be the first to admit that we all make mistakes, but it is in the manner in which we react to those errors and take accountability for them that separates those who deeply care and get it from those who simply do not. The timing of the delivery of the message to others also matters. Councilor Dibble had the opportunity to use this instance as a moment to learn from it. Instead, he said nothing publicly about it for 16 days. Yet, he did post that edited version of it on April 22 (day 15) on his Facebook councilor page for all to falsely hear it and react to what would’ve been a mostly good interview, regardless — though not completely factual. He showed that he did not have an informed perspective on what he did, nor that he deeply cared for what he said afterward to The Salem News either, lacking ownership of his mistake and the potential harm he’d inflicted on many Salem children and adults with intellectual disabilities. To have said to The Salem News that “it was just one word ... It really makes good people not want to run for office when one word can be taken out of context ... but what really matters is housing for seniors,” was plain insensitive and out of touch with the implications of such slurs. That is not an apology.
Councilor Dibble, words hurt children and they matter, as do actions to “try” to ameliorate a situation you, and yourself alone, created. No one made you use that word or referred to it during the interview, after all. A person holding public office, a current city councilor should know better than to use divisive and hurtful words toward a community that already faces such discrimination, shame and stigma. That is when you go outside of your familial bubble to expand your horizons, to surround yourself with local professionals who can educate you about language and why it always matters. Or, you can always ask yourself, “if this or that had been said about a loved one, how would I have felt?” If your answer is negative, then therein lies the truth. You can also search the internet, from medical sources such as the American Psychiatric Association, APA. Choosing to ignore the blunder, not addressing it or being misinformed about it isn’t an acceptable excuse, period. To allow a comment like that to linger on the airwaves was irresponsible. Erasure won’t solve the problem, nor will it make it go away.
With a plethora of information at our fingertips online, it is simple to find answers to queries on appropriate language or any other subject for that matter, if indeed it is important to you. “As far back as 2007, the usage of the R-word was said to be ‘scientifically worthless and socially harmful.’” In 2017, a direct quote from APA research found that: “Public Law 111–256, also known as Rosa’s Law, amended sections of the 12 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to replace the use of the term ... in federal law with ‘intellectual disability’ without changing the definition, coverage, eligibility, rights, and responsibilities of the affected individuals ...”
Furthermore, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, has stated the following about this topic: “Many organizations, including the federal government and the National Institutes of Health, have gone back to scrub their old records of the word ‘mentally-R (substituting the old word used in medical lingo)’ and have replaced it with ‘intellectually and developmentally disabled,’ with the acronym of IDD. Other organizations are using cognitive disability, intellectual disability, or developmental disability.”
As you can see, it’s not difficult or too late to learn about it. What is hard to justify is to read an “apology,” which doubles down on the R-word usage by brushing over it as if it were an insignificant gaffe. Words matter; they always do. Such an attempt to gloss over the offense depicts just how out of touch the Ward 7 councilor is with the needs of some Salem residents, particularly those most sitgmatized. It was eerily disturbing in nature.
It is impossible to represent the needs of others, especially those already marginalized by society, if elected officials do not care enough to inform themselves about the plights others face and how best to serve those in need.
Graysen Martinez Ocasio is a Ward 4 City Council candidate, the publisher of The Rainbow Times, and the co-executive director of Project Out Inc., a local nonprofit organization. He serves on the Salem’s Race Equity Task Force, is a director of the Latino Leadership Coalition of Salem and is also a member of the Salem No Place for Hate Committee.