Image courtesy of Red Bull content pool.
Over the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend, Max Verstappen was on the receiving end of some criticism after labelling Lance Stroll a “retard” and a “mongol” in which the two came together at the very fast first corner in practice. He was dismissive when pressed about it, and has since had a letter penned to him by the Mongol Identity Organisation requesting he apologise for his actions.
Now we have heard drivers say things in the heat of the moment. Infact Lando Norris during the race also had a run-in with Stroll at turn one in which he called him a few regrettable names in the wake of their clash, but apologised for saying them after the race. Though in Lando’s case, the words he referred to Stroll as may have been rude but not belittling.
We’ve all called someone a dickhead or a particular word beginning with C when frustrated with their actions, however Verstappen’s comments and his attitude afterwards cause some concern.
Firstly, I believe I’m not well versed enough to talk about his “mongol” comment, so I’m not talking about it not because I don’t think it’s important but I believe it wouldn’t be a good idea to talk about it when not completely able to understand the complexities. It’s better to not talk about something when you’re ignorant about it, than to try to talk about it and just ending up looking like so arrogant as to not know what you are talking about and trying to anyway.
I will however talk a lot about ableism and my own personal experiences being on the receiving end of comments like “retard”.
Full disclosure, I am on the autistic spectrum. Going through all my years in school, I always required extra support which was somewhat demoralising anyway but as a result of needing that extra support, I was always a target to mean spirited students. Of course, my experience isn’t exclusive to me and everyone regardless of the hands they’ve been dealt in life will have dealt with bullying in one form or another.
But in my personal experience, being part of a unit for kids with ‘special needs’ left me an open target to comments such as spacker and retard. These insults are derived from a place of believing someone is not of high intellect, and being at school when you’re the only one who needs support in class is already very demoralising.
So to then see people mock you by slapping their wrist with their tongue out when you are trying your best to fit in, it doesn’t matter what you did as to them, all you are is just some retard. Because of needing extra support, you are seen as lesser than them and will never be equal.
This is why when people use the word retard to describe someone doing an idiotic action, it further pushes this notion that the blatant accidental wrongdoings are associated as being the actions of someone who is mentally impaired. Now I could have chalked it up to a heat of the moment thing which we again have all been guilty of, but Verstappen’s dismissive attitude about it was very disappointing.
Now I’m not about censorship, and over the years I have appreciated Verstappen’s character and not being restrained by the overly monitored and polished media-friendly world. But I do draw the line when it comes to words that can fall back on others, because it’s not like a driver will say “piece of s***” and a toilet opens up somewhere in the world and some feces are going to pop out to say “I take issue with this!”.
The bigger issue comes about when you see people on social media who treat it like a non-issue and believe the “SNOWFLAKES ARE AT IT AGAIN!”. This is something that I really do take issue with, basic empathy is treated like an attempt to take away free speech and infringe on rights. It is seemingly born out of this need to be as far from “politically correct” as possible, but most of the time when it concerns you, people can change their tune. Even when confronted with the truth, some people seem so unwilling to concede that they were insensitive.
A couple of years ago, I would often misuse the word ‘triggered’, in line with the meme in which people get annoyed or angry about something. Someone told me that the word was insensitive because it mocks people who have post traumatic stress disorder. When these people are triggered, it represses awful memories that could really mess them up and they have to live with that.
Now if I was anything like the people who are like “LOOK AT ALL THESE SNOWFLAKES WHO JUST WANT TO GET OFFENDED BY EVERYTHING”, I’d have dismissed this person and sent an obnoxious amount of laughing-crying emojis and called them oversensitive. But instead, I listened and have attempted to educate others on this, and now I’ve adopted the term ‘Rattled’ in place of triggered in the context of someone getting angry.
Though all these people on the internet who don’t want to be educated on this and continue to spout ignorant and insensitive stuff, it’s very discouraging and disappointing for people like Max Verstappen to feed into this negative loop. Max has fans who receive these hateful remarks, and by failing to recognise the influence he has, he’s further alienating the people who live this reality every day and only giving the hate-spouting “i BeLiEvE iN fReEdOm oF sPeEcH” nonsense brigade all the time more fuel to further their toxicity.
If Max Verstappen went a step further, if he had someone crash with him and he said over the radio in response to it “This guy is 100% autistic” then I’d never forgive him. I’d rip my Max Verstappen flag off my wall, which I don’t want to have to do because I do like Max but also because the flag is from my best friend Nadine who is from the Netherlands and I don’t want to have to get rid of something that she bought for me.
We aren’t trying to cancel anyone here, but these people who have this reach on people, they need to recognise that their words can have major influence. We all know the phrase about sticks and stones, about how words can never hurt us, I do disagree with this notion. Words have power, words can tell us when we aren’t valued at a base level, and that you are not important.
There are pitiful attempts to look like you’re playing both sides as to not alienate anyone, but sometimes you need to call a spade what it is, a spade. You may think you’re being all hard with a silent H, by not caring about human rights, mental health, believing this has just been a ‘political’ post, that I’m preaching, telling you what to think, that you don’t care about what others think or what value you have towards others, you are kidding yourself when you think this is a non-issue.