An open letter to Rachel Maddow

On a recent show, you seemed to find it highly amusing to note the “irony” of a man named LaTourette calling for civility, and then characterizing a question received soon after as “bullshit.” This joke may have seemed funny at the time, but it was not harmless. The idea that Tourette’s syndrome equates to frequent swearing is a pernicious myth which dogs sufferers of this neurological condition.  Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by a wide range of involuntary actions, both verbal and physical. Physical tics constitute involuntary, often repetitive, movements. Verbal tics may include such things as compulsively describing an object, making inarticulate sounds, repeating a single phrase, etc. Each person with Tourette’s syndrome has their own unique set of tics. Though compulsive swearing- termed coprolalia- is one such possibility, it by no means characterizes or typifies the condition.

Sufferers of Tourette’s syndrome often face crippling stigma due to their seemingly antisocial and poorly-understood actions. Spreading myths about the condition, even as a seemingly harmless joke, only serves to perpetuate this effect by clouding public understanding. Furthermore, as a public figure with a great deal of weight in progressive communities, it ill becomes you to make a joke which draws its punchline from the symptoms of a neurological disorder. I hope to see you set aside a moment on a future show to set the record straight.

–Daniel F. Ross


One thought on “An open letter to Rachel Maddow

  1. Gosh, you said it so beautifully that I’ll just reiterate the terrible pain that the sufferers of Tourette Syndrome endure, not to mention the families of same. The hell of middle school/highschool where you are cast aside for not wearing the right kind of sneakers, much less not being able to control vocal or physical tics. And (for your edification, only 5% of sufferers have copopralia, the uncontrollable need to repeat swear words. But surely Rachael, as socially aware as you are, must have realized that it’s not okay to pick on the “different” one?

    I’ve lived with the different one for 23 years – wiped his tears, counted out his meds, explained his condition to dozens of teacher, parents, coachs, arrogant public school counselors and psychs”we just don’t understand him…he has an IQ of 140 but he won’t sit still”. That child is now 23, a licensed pilot, and recent graduate from University of CA with honors and a dual degree in French and Psychology. He is my hero, and the reason I let no slur get past me, so that I can educate the ignorant, so that they may research and learn. For my son.

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