I taught high school for a few years. And i heard this word repeatedly. If a shoe looked unfashionable, if a homework assignment wasn’t done correctly, if someone asked a girl out who was CLEARLY out of his league–they all carried the same epithet: RETARDED.
I have friends who use it. Aquaintences. I hear strangers use it. You hear it in the movies. ALL THE TIME. Everywhere. It is SUCH a part of our social vocabulary that we prolly don’t even know we are using it. Never even notice.
And there was a time I didn’t give a shit, it’s true. Prolly even used it myself–although I don’t remember it being a pervasive part of my vocabulary (preferring, instead a number of 4 letter words and shakespearean insults–You Fucking Piece of Warty Offal!) Even though I have an Aunt who was hurt as a child resulting in Cerebral Palsy and a mental delay that gave her this label–because at the time, that’s what they called it–RETARDED. I remember my mother never really using the word–usually picking a synonymous term because even though it was official, it still left a bad taste in her mouth.
But my Aunt wasn’t around during my childhood, so I wasn’t forced to deal with the language of my peers using that word. All i really knew was that I shouldn’t use it around adults, especially my family. So I’m sure it peppered my speech among my peers, but honestly I never really thought about it.
Until its consequences smacked me square in the face.
When Ben was diagnosed, and I was in the deepest of my depression, there was a thought that surfaced every hour or so that would have me in tears–hell, I’m tearing up right now thinking about it–and it was the idea that my son would be mocked and teased and *shudder* bullied because of his delay. I remembered the derision my high school peers held for the “special ed” class on campus, who were the butt of jokes more often than naught. I remembered the comics of the 80’s openly mocking those who were differently-abled, and everyone thinking it was ok to imitate them.
But the first time I heard the word uttered after his diagnosis, I wanted to smack that person–who was prolly referring to the traffic, or a missed sports shot, or the state of her perm–with a chair. A heavy, metal one. With spikes. A few times.
And from that moment on, every time I hear or read that word, it is like a spotlight on a stage, and I cannot think of anything else, but wanting to shake that person by the testicles and saying–DO YOU NOT SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING? IDIOT?
When you use that word you are demeaning an entire group of people who are not DEFINED by that word—but whom you continue to define through your nonchalant usage.
Everytime you imply stupidity by using that word, you are claiming that ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE who have been diagnosed with any sort of mental or developmental delay, has no intelligence or value.
Everytime you use that word in reference to an OBJECT that has no life, you are saying the same of an ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE
Everytime you use that word to imply that something is annoying and you’d rather do without it, you are saying the same about an ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE.
Everytime you laugh at a comedian, like Carlos Mencia who is a loser in his own right and who is getting paid to make fun of an ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE, you insult them (and the comedians he stole his other jokes from). If you imitate that comedian, you are doing it again.
I suppose this means alot to me, not only because my son has a delay and could be called this by someone who has a death wish, but also because of my history. Lemme splain.
I taught Middle and High schoolfor 7 years in South Los Angeles. A white girl in the middle of a not-so-white area. And there was a particular word I would never be allowed to say. EVER. And I knew it. Because of the power it held–HOLDS, when uttered by someone white. I am not making an argument here–I am stating fact. I am aware of how that word was used in history–and today–as a weapon, as an epithet, as a means of oppression. I also grew up in an extremely racist part of Southern Indiana, with a few of my Junior High teachers being KNOWN members of a certain sheet-wearing organization. And my best friend in childhood was black. It was a word I heard A LOT, and it will NEVER be a word I am EVER comfortable saying.
In fact, I did an experiment one day in class. My students were forever trying to tell me the word had no meaning, no power, and that I was cool and practically one of them and if said it, it wouldn’t matter.
So I said it. In context, mind–something like “so if I said the word______________, you would be ok with that”
SILENCE. (and yes, at that moment, I thought my teaching job had just come to an end. I won’t lie)
And one girl looked at me and said, “no. I’m sorry Ms, but I’m not. And I’ve got no reason–except that it changes everything to hear you say it” And they all realized that it DID have power, and that as cool as they may have thought i was, it would NEVER be ok for me to say it. And I will say I rarely heard it within the confines of my classroom again. ( I was also never called to the principal’s office, so they must have kept that lesson under their hats, so to speak)
WORDS HAVE POWER, even if we claim they don’t.
You cannot say that just because the word RETARDED is no longer used as an official diagnosis in most states, that it no longer has power. You cannot say that if you use the word in a slang fashion that you don’t mean it. You cannot say that it’s ok to use the word because you have a sister/brother/cousin/neighbor who has a delay, and that they aren’t bothered by it–BECAUSE WE KNOW YOU’RE LYING.
This word needs to leave our social vocabulary. People need to be as uncomfortable saying it as they would a racial slur (and if they’re not uncomfortable saying either, well, then at least you know who to avoid). It needs to become such a social no-no that if anyone says it, it will mark them as undesireable. It needs to STOP.
If i hear you say it–I WILL call you out. If I read it on Facebook, I will defriend you. You can think me over sensitive or uptight–but if it is more important to you to mock and entire group of people so that you can sound “cool”, then you are an idiot with whom I do not need to associate.