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24 September 2020

Sentimentalizing Downs

For some time now, I've noticed something disturbing on social media. There are countless memes and several accounts/pages that are devoted to what I'll call the sentimentalization of Down Syndrome. (I will not link to them here, but they are easily discoverable.) On the surface, the content seems innocuous and heartwarming: cutesy photographs of young children with the physical characteristics typical of trisomy 21. Presumably, those who administer, contribute, disseminate, and "like" the content do so at least in part to destigmatize the condition. In that much, it seems admirable; however, it may have a darker component. I see parallels in the similar treatment of young, black boys. White women (and, yes, it is racialized and gendered because "social construction") will coo and ahh at pictures of black boys, but it is these same white women who will contribute to the negative, racist outcomes for the black males once they stop being cute and start to be perceived as dangerous.

Treating marginalized peoples in the same way that you would a puppy dog does nothing to normalize and everything to perpetuate otherness. The full personhood of those with Downs can be achieved only through full humanization, not through sentimentalization.

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