Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Special Cousin - (A post inspired by Ann Coulter's ignorance)

At the time of this posting, our country is nine days away from a presidential election, in which America's citizens will exercise our right choose our country's leader for the next four years.  As the campaign season comes closer to an end, more and more high-profile people are stepping into the media spotlight to express their views, and in more than one instance, they are exposing their "true colors" to the world.  One such example occured this past week, when conservative social and political commentator, Ann Coulter, referred to the President of the United States as a "retard" in a post from her Twitter account.

Deservedly so, Ms. Coulter's remark has instigated a monumental backlash from multiple demographics, the most notable response being an open letter from Special Olympian, John Franklin Stephens, who so eloquently and maturely gave Ms. Coulter a verbal "spanking" for her comment.  I applaud Mr. Stephens, whom I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Thursday night on a CNN segment of "Piers Morgan Tonight". 

However, the unfortunate statement by Ms. Coulter (for which she blatantly gives no apology), also was the impetus for another piece of writing, which has effected me deeply, and personally, and has caused me to reflect on a yet untouched aspect of my genealogical research and family history.  As a result of our first ever reunion of the descendants of Nathaniel Hawkins and Anna Green, which occured this past July, I've met several new cousins, either in person, or electronically (via Facebook).  One of these cousins, Jamila Taylor, who lives in Seattle, Washington, composed a tribute to her twin brother, William, in response to Ms. Coulter's remarks.   Her well-written, articulate essay moved me greatly, and immediately after reading it, I contacted my cousin to ask permission to reprint it, on my blog.  Here, in it's entirety, is her letter:

My Special Twin

by Jamila E. Taylor on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:27am

After reading the eloquent open letter to Ann Coulter by John Franklin Stephens (http://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/an-open-letter-to-ann-coulter/) about her remark using the "retard" word in reference to President Obama, I thought I'd share my thoughts on my twin brother, William. As some of you may know, my brother has learning disabilities. That open letter and my brother both embody the heart of the matter -- true character.

If you see us together, we still enjoy the brother-sister banter and yet, he is a very significant reason of why I am so driven. My parents aptly chose to enroll him in schools that could best address his academic development. Out of the 12 years of public education, we only attended 3 years of school together. While I was in advanced classes, my twin was in special education. In our early years, the doctors and specialists didn't believe he would graduate high school; He did that. They said he would never step foot on a college campus as a student; He did that. They said he would never get his driver's license or drive a car; He did that -- and I dare say he has a spotless driving record. They never imagined he'd appear in the local newspaper. And yet, He did that.



Willliam's photo from Eugene's Register-Guard in 2004 when he worked at the Oregon Ice Cream factory.

William is a paradox of expertise. If the family needed someone to set up the new electronics, we call on William. On many occasions, you could hear my mom or dad affectionately yelling, "William! Come set up the VCR so that I can record my show." His video gaming expertise has always been top-notch. I hated losing to him ALL of the time. He could finish a newly-released game in the first week. What's interesting is how he immersed himself into the gamer world in such a diligent way. He'd subscribe to the gamer magazines, read them thoroughly and then explore the video game in a whole new way with the new tricks he learned. After all, he is from a research-focused, academic family. Why would he be any different?

As an adult, William struggles to find employment although he's probably one of the most reliable and consistent people around. He's always on time, rarely misses work, and willing to learn. William puts forth a meticulous effort in his tasks.

William is a keen observer of the world around him. He learned early on to carefully, quickly, discern someone's character. He is my protector in so many ways. At 6'4" he is the absolute tallest in our family and he towers over all of us. He stands out and sees what we don't. He chooses his words with much effort. When he speaks, I listen. Sometimes I pretend not too. Come on, I'm still his sister. It's easy for me to feel comfort and protection just being in his presence. I look forward to the day when he gets to be the loving uncle to my future children.

William is known by many, friended by few, loved by us.

I've never met my cousin William.  Beyond entering his name on my numerous family trees, I've known nothing of his existence.  But, thanks to his sister, I now know who he is, and it would be my pleasure to meet him (and Jamila), someday.  Reading this tribute to him has brought to my attention the fact that I've never even considered looking back into my family history to determine if any of my ancestors may have had intellectual disabilities.  I have profiled them according to where they lived, types of employment, diseases and causes of death, literacy levels, whether they owned land or not, racial characteristics, evidence mental illness, and more; but it never even occured to me to see if our family has any history of intellectual disability, or what used to be referred to as,"mental retardation". Furthermore, in the many years that I've been a part of the online genealogy community, I haven't encountered a discussion on this matter.  (I'm not saying it hasn't happened, but I just haven't run across or been a part of it!)

That said, I am going to make this a focus area for my next segment of research.  In thinking about the family members that I do know of, I can only come up with one person in my direct bloodline who's had a documented intellectual disability, but there have been several in our extended family tree.  I know that it will probably be challenging to uncover this kind of information, espescially since prior to about the 1950's, quite often people with intellectual differences may have been hidden, or institutionalized, but I'm going to start digging.  If anyone has ideas about good resources to check, please share them in the comments section.  (I will be looking for resources in North Carolina.)

Thanks for reading, and thank you, again, Cousin Jamila for your insightful tribute to your brother, and my cousin, William.

Renate

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7 comments:

Kristin said...

Bravo! Good post.

Valerie Craft said...

Very inspirational and thoughtful. Thank you for sharing and giving us all something to consider.

Joan said...

Very cogent! Well said, and important to hear.

a3Genealogy, Kathleen Brandt said...

So heart felt. It reminds us that our words are universal and can be hurtful not just to the directed, but to a full community.

Renate said...

Kristin, Valerie, Joan, and Kathleen - thanks for your comments! :)

Renate

Robyn said...

Renate, a lovely and insightful post, as always. Your cousin brilliantly captured her brother. I have a young cousin with similar challenges and similar skills. I have also documented a few cases of mental illness in my family, so I am very cognizant of that in my own life.

Renate said...

Robyn, thanks so much. I agree that my cousin did a fabulous job with her essay!

Thanks for reading!

Renate