I've written a little about my feelings on language and perception regarding people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. When I did so, though, I was talking more about issues that are different than what's on my mind today...
...when I was teaching, it used to really really get me when kids would use the word "Gay". "That's so Gay, you're so Gay, how Gay". Just drove me up a WALL. I would call them on it, each and every time. Some smartass would always say "it means happy!" Another teacher I knew had the BEST comeback for that. She would tell them "Oh, so one genius learns how to use a Thesaurus and now you're all excited!" She was an English Teacher. It was a great line. Likewise, I hated when kids would call something "retarded", or call each other "retard". We actually had a student once who auditioned an act for one of the school's variety shows where he portrayed a mentally challenged man sitting and waiting for a bus. Muscular tics, facial expressions, speech patterns, all of it.
He didn't understand why his act didn't get in the show. Really. He didn't get it.
This is my issue. People don't get it. "Retard", to most people, isn't mean. I understand that in the original context, the word is not meant to BE mean. It means slower. I get that. But the way we use it now? It's mean. It's hurtful. And people don't get it. Kristin Chenowith, an actress I greatly admire, referred to herself as "one of those retards who starts playing Christmas music in October" on the Today show this past holiday season. Really? That's okay?
Here's what you need to get: the word is offensive. When you look at someone doing something stupid, something without thought, something they should know better than to do, and call them a retard? Yeah, that's offensive. You just compared someone being purposefully dumb to my oldest son. He isn't slower ON PURPOSE. He's just slower. He didn't learn to crawl or walk. Not because he knew how and decided not to, not as a joke, not because he made a stupid error. He did it because his growth and development were, let's use the word as it is supposed to be used: retarded. Slower. Not dumb. My son was not dumb. Not stupid.
I think people don't get that THEY might not be offended by a word...but THEY have no reason to be. They are not the one who is developing slower.
That's why, when reading an online friend's blog today, I was so happy to see this. And this. And finally, this.
Please, click through. Take a moment. I will, as bloggers love to say, wait.
Done? Okay. Thanks for looking.
Today, March 31, has been designated as a national day of awareness by Special Olympics. "Spread the word to end the word". Please, people, take a few minutes to pay attention to your own language, maybe for the next few days. Did you use the "R" word? Could you have avoided it?
Tell you what. Next time you feel compelled to use that word, consider this:This is my Tiny man. He and his brother are the light of my life. I love him and I miss him so very very much. When you use the word retard, you are negating every single thing he accomplished during his life. You are ignoring the struggle, the miracle, the magic of a little boy who just wanted to live life joyfully.
Let's just think a little, okay?
Think about that next time you use "the word".