Below Deck, Stop Hurting Disabled Fans

Below Deck, Stop Hurting Disabled Fans

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Cal Montgomery started this petition to 51 Minds Entertainment

The episode of Below Deck: Mediterranean (BDM) that aired on Bravo on July 13, 2021, which I first saw a week ago on Peacock, included a scene in which cast member Lexi used the R word. It was bleeped, but it was recognizable.

There are roughly 7.38 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the U.S. (source: federal Administration for Community Living (ACL)). Worldwide, there are many more. The statistics on education, housing, employment, and life expectancy are appalling (sources: ACL, National Arc, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, Autistic Self Advovacy Network) and for those who are not both white and male they are far worse. Each of us, whether or not we saw the episode, is harmed to a greater or lesser degree by your editing decisions. The principles of disability justice require that we center the most affected -- that's not me -- and that those who are loudest -- that is me -- not speak on behalf of others, but amplify their voices. 

Therefore instead of trying to explain the harm to you (spoiler alert: this is NOT about hurt feelings), I will quote an actual expert. John Franklin Stephens, a man with Down Syndrome, has given the clearest explanation of why the R slur crosses the line that I know of: 

"The big problem is that constant casual use of [the R word] to mean exceptionally stupid supports a stereotype that is more harmful to people like me than you imagine. It supports the view that I am less than you. It supports the view that I am something to be casually bullied. It supports the view that anything I do will be exceptionally stupid.... This is much more than me getting my feelings hurt...."

If you watch the show you know that ablist cast members are nothing new. Captain Sandy, who didn't fire Hannah in the season in which anxiety actually temporarily prevented her from doing her job and has not fired other people for temporary inability to perform their roles, fired Hannah last season for violating the terms of her contract regarding performance-affecting medication, and then managed to drag anxiety into it anyway. (I suspect the Hannah incident is why you are trying to distract fans from their anger at Captain Sandy and Malia by redirecting our frustration to Lexi.) I understand that it is not the job of an unscripted show to make everyone look good. 

But the R slur crosses even the line you have previously toed.

Only last week I was encouraging people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to watch the show to learn about customer service skills. This week, because of how you chose to edit the "Lexi sucks" storyline you have spent the season developing, I am forced to rescind my advice. You have plenty of other footage to use to discredit Lexi if that is what you want to do, and she consented to appear on the show. Most of us did not. 

I request that you stop using your enormous platform to harm millions of decent people who did not agree to put themselves at the mercy of your editors. I have been a viewer since the first episode of the first series, but I cannot continue as a fan if you insist on harming people who are frequently denied such basics as education, housing, and employment and who have struggled to achieve equality since they were herded into places like Willowbrook, in order to advance a storyline.

I also request that, given that you used a slur in the name of entertainment, you issue an apology to those whose humanity you undermined, and add that to the episode for future viewers. Since you cannot undo the harm you have done to my community, an apology and public education is the least you can do. 

Image description: smiling white woman serves beer to 2 smiling men in a bar. The white man is not readily identifiable as disabled; the Black man uses a wheelchair and ventilator. Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/IEk05I-Is5A

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