On February 22, 2009, Jerry Lewis will be getting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. You know, for all his great humanitarian work oppressing on behalf of people with muscular dystrophy for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Angry letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences follows:
Although his work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (and its telethon) raises a lot of money, his pity-based brand of advocacy harms the people he’s ostensibly supposed to be helping.
During the 1992 MDA Telethon, Jerry said: “”My kids cannot go into the workplace. There’s nothing they can do.” As many as 70% of people with disabilities are unemployed in industrialized nations (80-90% in developing countries), but not because we can’t work or don’t want to. We are unemployed because of prejudice and lack of accommodations–things non-disabled people can change. (This problem was recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). Lewis’s comment only reinforces the idea that people with disabilities don’t belong in the workforce, or in our communities at all (see below). Is this the kind of “humanitarianism” you want to award?
Perhaps Lewis thinks that people with muscular dystrophy “cannot go into the workplace” because he considers them all “kids” (his kids, specifically)? This kind of paternalism might make the person doing it feel good, but it is not helpful and not humanitarian. Especially when one sees how Jerry responds when “his kids” criticize him: “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair?” he said on CBS Sunday Morning on May 20, 2001. “Stay in your house!” In 2006, he told the Chicago Tribune that meeting with disability activists was like “entertaining Hezbollah or insurgents in Iraq.” Is it humanitarian to call people who disagree with you terrorists?
Jerry Lewis doesn’t care about people with muscular dystrophy. Otherwise, he wouldn’t denigrate them at every turn and lash out at people who don’t want his charity.