Let's Talk: The Morgan Freeman Disability Meme

Tell me. What do you think of when you see this?

Do you hear Morgan Freeman’s “wise” voice gently speaking the words?

The photo is of Morgan Freeman.

The caption reads, “Attacking People With Disabilities is the Lowest Display of Power I Can Think Of” – Morgan Freeman

 I am sick of people defining who we are and aren’t.

And you are going to tell me to chill out, right, that he’s just trying to be nice and that I’m making a big fucking mountain out of a molehill. Right?

But have you ever thought of the longer term ripples that come out of a stone like this that’s thrown into the pond that is social media? Memes like this promote the idea that people with disabilities are an incapable people. That we are the weakest in our society. Woe to us, man, because we can’t fight our own fights! Give us a handout and a big fat slice of that there pity pie and let’s call it a day.

People read this kind of crap and pass it on and you know what you are doing? You are perpetuating the idea – however mild or well-intentioned it might be – that we are weak and on the bottom rung of society. You do this, and more like this, and you are doing your part in schooling employers, teachers, community leaders, union organizers, medical practioners and everyone else in the world that your child – or you – or your cousin, sister, friend, SOMEBODY in your world with a disability is not as capable nor as strong as everyone else. You are helping to promote discrimination, one meme at a time.

So don’t tell me it’s not a big deal. Because it is. This shit adds up and never equals anything better for a person with a disability.

Let us tell our own story. And Morgan Freeman? Let us narrate our own shit.

 

Meriah
Meriah Nichols is teacher and artist who lives in a yurt off the grid. She is deaf, has 3 kids (one with Down syndrome) and a lot of chickens. She writes about travel, disability, and getting dishes done. She likes her tea Earl Grey and hot.
Meriah

@meriahnichols

#deaf mom, teacher & #disability activist, living in a yurt #offthegrid. 3 kids (1 with #downsyndrome), a camera and a lot of chickens. Never a dull moment
alaska_airlines - you are UNBELIEVABLE! Making us wait in #kona for hours, getting all… https://t.co/jXOM3G81DK - 4 hours ago
Meriah
Liked it? Take a second to support Meriah on Patreon!

26 Comments

  • Interesting…that’s not at all what I read into that. I read that those cretins that *think* they are putting on a display of power by attacking people with disabilities, are actually defeating their own intention, making themselves pathetic and low as a result. Nowhere in there do I see a statment about people with disabilities being low on the totem pole. Maybe I missed something in the interpretation, but that’s *mine.* And Morgan Freeman’s voice is truly a wonderful, wonderful thing…makes everything seem okay. LOL But sheesh, I had *no* idea about his 27-year-old step whatever-she-is…yikes…*that’s* something to change my opinion of him, though…haha

    • Becca- that’s exactly what I thought when I read that meme. I’m not saying that I’m a fan of his, but I felt like he was saying what a small person it makes you to make fun of someone with a disability. Meriah, I find your perspective very interesting though…maybe your takeaway is more fitting with the context? I have no idea what that is…

      • Just throwing this out there…why did he have to single out people with disabilities? Aren’t you small any time you make fun of anyone?

        I don’t want to speak for Meriah, but I think that’s the point she’s trying to get at. Why single out people with disabilities at all with this comment? Bullying is bullying.

        • That’s what I meant by context. What did he say before and after this statement? Was he truly only singling out disabilities or was it just part of a longer statement about all bullying? And why was he saying it? Was he replying back to someone who mentioned specific bullying of someone with a disability or did he just pull this statement out of thin air targeting individuals with a disability? That’s why when I read just this one sentence, I had a different takeaway. But because I have no idea what the context was, I’m not claiming to be right. (-:

          • I agree that bulllying is bullying period – but I wonder if I read it like Becca & Deanna because it comes on the heels of the Wayne Brady joke press. I took his joke personally because he used a child with a disability as an example of something terrible. That same joke using Howard Stern’s or some other celeberity’s appearence doesn’t bother me like it did when he used Trig Palin. To me targeting a disability to get a laugh is more of an example of this quote then bullying in general – but I’m sure thats partially a product of my experience not being very broad in the world of disability.

  • I agree with you 100%. I’d agree more, but math won’t allow it. 😉

    Yet another example of the insidious beliefs we hold about disability. People with disabilities are just people. Picking on someone with a disability is equal to picking on anyone else for any reason. Bullying is bullying, period.

  • The Lowest? No. There’s a lowness in making fun of any person for a trait that he or she simply happens to possess – gender, color, sexual orientation, disability, and THAT is low. But disability being the lowest of all those? Makes mocking people with disabilities sound like it’s on par with mocking wounded animals or something. It makes people with disabilities seem “helpless,” and THAT upsets me.

  • Yes! Thanks for writing this post. I agree with your thoughts on this statement.
    How is picking on people with disabilities the LOWEST display of power? How is it lower than picking on someone for their socio-economic status? Lower than picking on someone for their hair color? Lower than picking on someone who prefers to study than party all of the time? Lower than picking on someone who dresses differently from you? Lower than picking on someone’s culture?

  • 3 things. First, whatever Morgan Freeman may or may not do/have done with his grand stepdaughter, is irrelevant. Factually, note the following:
    Freeman’s publicist, Dave Falkenstein with Sunshine Sachs, tells PerezHilton.com, “It’s complete garbage. The allegations are 100% made up.”
    Second, why bring up his race? You’d be upset if your disability were raised when discussing an advertisement related to race. So why bring it up when he makes a statement regarding disability. That is as irrelevant as his alleged relationship with his grand stepdaughter.
    Third, you are probably taking the statement out of context. If he is referring to the Republican plans to cut Medicare, then it is totally appropriate. It certainly would have been better if he had said something like “people with disabilities who need public assistance” rather than just “people with disabilities.” People with disabilities who are independent rightly chafe at being patronized and treated less than their not-yet-disabled counterparts. But there are a whole lot of people with disabilities who do need a lot more than equal access and who will be severely harmed by budget cuts. In that context, his statement is entirely appropriate.

    • Marc – I’m honored you stop by! Thank you.

      About mentioning Morgan Freeman’s race – it’s because I know there are some people who do listen to him or others more based on the fact that they are from a minority group that has been oppressed. Like they know what they are talking about, based solely on the colour of their skin.

      Then I mentioned his relationship with his step-grand-daughter as it speaks to me, personally, about those “wise” voices, to be careful about the real wisdom that may or may not be floating around. That appearances can be deceiving. That because Morgan Freeman always plays this wise old amazing soul in the movies doesn’t mean that he IS wise or amazing, and we should remember that, really.

      I have no idea if I’m taking the statement out of context. I think it’s really just a matter of looking at the popular meme and reacting to what’s on it.

      Just my two cents.

      – meriah

      • Meriah, of course, whatever the intent of the ad or what is actually in Morgan Freeman’s mind, the mere fact that the ad has the effect on you that it does means that it is problematic.

    • I don’t see the issue with asking if Freeman’s race has anything to do with the way this resonates. He is part of a group of people that has experienced oppression based solely on appearance. There is a parallel there to people with disabilities, people who are often discriminated against based on appearance alone. Does his “been there, done that” knowledge affect how we view what he’s saying? If this was a quote from a white, able-bodied individual it might be worth talking about whether or not privilege influences the person’s world view.

      As for Medicare, well, Freeman still doesn’t have an argument. He could have made a more blanket statement like “slashing programs people need to live day-to-day is the lowest display of power.” There are many demographics who use Medicare/Medicaid, all of which would be severely affected by the Republican’s proposed budget.

  • I’m going to take a stab in the dark here. Again, not speaking for
    Meriah, but I think the issue is two-fold: one, the statement itself
    (and I agree that context is important). It may or may not be out of
    context; I’m not sure what he’s referencing here.

    Two, and maybe just as important, that some of the disability community
    is passing this around like it’s an amazing, inspirational quote – when
    taken as is, in this format (the same format being passed around
    Facebook, this format that lacks possibly important context) it has some
    dangerous implications. When we pass it around, it’s like giving it an
    endorsement. I think this post is asking us to take a step back and ask
    ourselves: is this the message the community wants to send to the world?

    • Even more disturbing is that an actor’s quote is given more weight than say, an average Joe Blow-type disabled person’s words of real and truthful experience.

      It’s the credibility of the source, straight from the horse’s mouth, that should speak for the disabled community and to the rest of the world.

      Not some actor’s quote, whether he’s black American or not. This is not to discredit some actors/actresses who do live with disability, but many disabled ppl are NOT Hollywood actors. As is true for many able-bodied Americans.

      Why do ppl fall all over themselves over Hollywood cache? They wanna have some glitter, but not the power of credibility?

      Sheesh.

      Ann_C

  • Personally, I’m not at all offended by Morgan Freeman’s words. In most ways, I’m actually glad he said these words. I take it as him trying to defend us against politicians and others who are trying to hurt us.

    After all, those of us who are active in the disability rights movement have said, and are constantly saying, the same thing. We are always calling out politicians/legislatures/governors who are basically making war on our community by cutting the social services (attendant care, healthcare, SSI, etc.) that most members of our community depend on for our basic survival. In fact, one of our primary tactics is to point out how politicians who are trying to hurt us, are cowards for attacking the disabled, seniors, and the poor, and any others who are in a more vulnerable position. Does this mean that pointing out our vulnerability is also wrong?

    In my opinion, some of you need to lighten up and start attacking the real enemy; the cold-hearted, bigoted, and oppressive system that is trying to destroy us. Some of you are carrying on like Morgan Freeman is Jerry Lewis, and you are totally wrong in doing so. I think his words as showing himself to be someone who is being friendly to our cause, not as someone who is trying to put us down or insult us.

  • I really appreciated your take on this, Meriah. I totally understand what you are saying. Looks like you got a lot of people thinking on this one!

  • Thank you so much. Your post is literally the only thing I’ve been able to find online critically discussing this quote (other questions I have — is this even correctly attributed to Morgan Freeman? If so, what’s the context?) rather than just repeating it, either by itself or in an inspiration porn quote salad.

    Treating attacks on disabled people as somehow uniquely worse than attacks on any other marginalized group of people irks me like little else. We’re not innocent, defenseless little angels, and insistence on seeing us that way won’t solve the problems we *do* face.

  • I recognize that this post is old, but I’ve just been linked to it.

    I find your points absolutely correct, but I read that quote as meaning something different. Out of context, without any particular knowledge of who this person is, I read it as “attacking people who face access barriers, given that they also face systemic marginalization, is the lowest display of power” and I like that reading. People with disabilities face more than just our own limitations; that’s the point. Society is set up to make it difficult for PWDs to stand up for themselves; access barriers to work mean access barriers to expensive services such as those of an attorney. Access barriers to voting mean PWDs are even less of a voice in politics than they should be. Access barriers to social situations make it difficult to form a network of friendships and other relationships, and yet people draw their strength from other people.

    Meanwhile, mocking disability is easy. Using ableist slurs is easy. PWDs who complain about abuse are routinely ignored on the grounds that even existing in the same room with them and breathing the same air makes their abusers saintly but understandably impatient. PWDs are also sometimes put into situations where their lives are run by others, such as institutional settings.

    It’s fairly easy to find a PWD you can exercise power over. If someone feels powerless and wants to fix that by taking it out on other people, it’s not hard to take it out on a PWD, and it’s not something to be proud of.

    It’s just as easy to read the quote from a medical model perspective as from a social one, and if it’s read that way, all of your points stand (and maybe I should link you to the video I saw the other day of a guy in a wheelchair stopping a robbery by wrestling the robber to the ground). It could also be read as oppression olympicsing, but someone saying “the most oppressed group is the one I’m not part of” is difficult to call out for that.

    • you just knocked the ball out of the field with your analysis on that meme – WOW!
      “attacking people who face access barriers, given that they also face systemic marginalization, is the lowest display of power” – I also like that reading.

      Thank you so much for joining this conversation – I really value your comment and am grateful you took the time to share it.

  • I don’t think he said this, as I can’t find it anywhere except on meme’s.
    I do hate it when people make shit up.

I'm opinionated, friendly & chatty... I hope you are, too