When I see otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people using the word “retard” or any of its permutations, it makes me so sad. It makes me think of my friends Carla and Greg and their beautiful son Noah, who was born with Down’s Syndrome and who will always be subject to the word “retarded” as an insult and as a diagnosis, and the countless kids like him.
It makes me think of the wonderful folks at Becoming Independent, who I see picking up trash at the shopping center around the corner from my house. Always smiling, always happy to be doing something good for the community.
It makes me think of my friend Colby and his courageous intervention on the behalf of a young man with a cognitive disability working at Safeway, when he was being taunted by strangers in the parking lot. The kid came up to him the next time Colby shopped there and thanked him for helping him.
It makes me think of my friends Hollis, and Sean, and others whose children have a variety of mental and physical disabilities and processing disorders which make them different from their classmate and may make them targets for teasing and hurtful comments.
It makes me think of the wonderful kids I was privileged to work with at Saturday Sidekicks this semester, many with cognitive and emotional difficulties which mean they may not be able to play with other children in typical settings, and because of that have fewer opportunities to act like the kids they are.
And it makes me think of my friend Sarah, and my wonderful and very smart sister, and the many people like them, who simply have learning disabilities that put them at a disadvantage in a traditional classroom and heaped a world of shame on them simply for being different.
So, when you use the word “retard,” or “fucktard,” or “republitard,” or “libertard,” or even “demotard” (I haven’t seen that one, but I’m sure it exists somewhere), you’re not just insulting the people or person you intend to insult. You’re insulting all the people I’ve listed above, plus a whole lot more.
And let me stop you before you start with the “it’s just a figure of speech thing.” You’re right. And I’m not saying I’ve never used it as such. I’m sure when I was a teenager, I used it as often as everyone else. I’m ashamed to think of it now. And while I’d like to think it’s completely gone from my vocabulary, I have to admit it’s not an easy thing to do. Just last week, in a fit of frustration and tiredness, I reverted to being 10 years old, and I found myself using it for the first time in years. I know how easily it rolls off the tongue when you need something quick. But I know it’s wrong, and I immediately apologized to the people around me, and renewed my promise to myself to stop using it. I’m not even sure if anyone around me even noticed, and that’s the real problem. That such a hurtful word can be used so casually is a sign that as a society we still have a lot of work to do to make it safe for all the people I listed above.
And that’s why I will call you out on it. Not because I believe I’m holier than thou, but because of my commitment to making the world a better place. I may not do it every single time I see it because, frankly, no one has that kind of energy. But rest assured, even when I don’t say anything, I’m frowning and a little piece of my respect for you has been destroyed.
I know you’re smarter than that. You can come up with a new figure of speech to use that isn’t hurtful. I have faith in you.