Written by: Charmin’ Carmen
I sat there numb for several moments when I saw it. A friend, a mere acquaintance really, showed up on my Facebook news feed ranting and raving about the recent local election and how if you voted a certain way you were a “retard” and to please delete him as a friend because he doesn’t associate with the “retarded”.
I chose my words carefully, but I didn’t hold back. I don’t have a lot of patience for the ignorant regardless, but his words made my blood boil. Just two days later another friend posted something similar, without thought or regard, and once again I found myself commenting to defend the mentally handicapped. The irony? She suffers from a disability.
Listen, I am no stranger to using the r-word. As a teenager, I would casually slip it into conversation completely unconsciously, without any thought to who I may be hurting. The word didn’t resonate with me as being insulting or bigoted, and I didn’t think twice about dropping it when I was frustrated or upset. But I was educated, and I learned my lesson: These are adults I am constantly hearing this from, and it pisses me off.
The R-word, once just a medical label for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was neutral, clinical, and incapable of offense. It wasn’t used derogatorily or with ill intent. But words are mere vessels for meaning, and this one has long since been put to other uses and I’m tired of it.
The word retarded doesn’t just mean slow or delayed anymore. The terms “retarded”, “retard”, and the colorfully charming “fucktard”, are popping up everywhere in daily dialogue as a replacement for stupid, pathetic, or weak. These words are flippantly used to describe enemies, uninformed arguments, and infuriating situations, and it pisses me off that the liberties taken with those words are so flagrantly ignored.
Ignored by strangers. Ignored by loved ones.
Words are powerful, and while word meanings do sometimes change over time, this shouldn’t mean that our own moral standards be abandoned, disregarded, or abruptly acknowledged as old or outdated because these slang terms are somehow reflective of the generation we live in. I certainly don’t accept the word “fuck” as a legitimately proper word to describe sex just because it’s heard a lot more often now than it was twenty years ago. Do you?
I’m tired of hearing people use the word retarded as their catch-all for dumb, upsetting or defective and I am just as annoyed with people who ask me why I take offence to its usage. There is a larger problem than the use of the r-word: There is a gross misunderstanding about the meaning of the word and why it is offensive in the first place.
Retard is a word that carries a long history of social exclusion and ridicule. When you use it, you are subconsciously reinforcing the stereotype that the mentally disabled are not worthy of equality. You are labelling the mentally handicapped as something bad, and that people who suffer from these disabilities are lesser than; to be excluded because they don’t carry the same intelligence or learning capabilities as you do.
When you use that r-word, you are hurting someone, and you are discriminating against people who can’t stand up for themselves. You are hurting me. And you are hurting my son.
Ryder is autistic. He is delayed and non-verbal. He suffers from a rare neurological disorder that makes learning difficult and progress slow. And every time you use that word to describe something that is worthless, you are describing Ryder as worthless.
Mental retardation is a disability, it doesn’t have a moral value nor should it elicit pity or shame. It only takes a second for you to call something retarded, but for my child and me, we will never be able to erase the negative connotations associated with the word. In that same moment you inserted retarded into your innocent conversation, I’m taken back in time to the moment a complete stranger referred to my son as a retard in the grocery store line-up. You brought up my personal feelings and fears about his future, for his quality of life. You reminded me of the endless days I spent at the Children`s Hospital by his bedside while medical professionals scratched their heads, baffled by a diagnosis they couldn’t pinpoint. And I was reminded again of the battles I’ve fought and lost for him and the many more that I will continue to fight for. I don’t need those reminders of the socially dismissive attitude towards my child; I live it every day.
That is why your use of the word retarded offends me. This is why it isn’t okay.
This is the face of the mentally challenged. And it’s beautiful. As a society, why do we need to associate the r-word with stupidity, ignorance, or defectiveness? And why do we allow others?
Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign to raise awareness towards acceptance:
….support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
Log on today and sign the pledge.