Somehow, we as a culture were able to do it. The “N” word is offensive, it targets a specific group of people and attempts to describe how worthless someone thinks they are (well, unless it’s used by the people within that group but that’s another post for another day), and we as a culture have virtually eliminated it’s use in public settings. If you were to hear someone using that word to describe someone, you would recoil in shock, no? It’s a disgusting and low thing to do, and we all agree it should be stopped.
There are some other words that need to be eliminated from our casual speech. Specifically the words
when used to describe things we find stupid/idiotic/offensive/ugly/worthless/etc.
I admit, the LDS community, particularly in Utah, is awful about using these words in this way. I’m sure there are other subgroups out there doing this as well, but the LDS society is the one I am most familiar with. I wish I had the courage to stand up to my friends to their face and tell them how awful I think it is for them to use these words in this manner, but I’m worried about hurting or offending them if I tell them in person. So I’m taking the easy way out and declaring my abhorrence of the practice right here on my blog.
I’m sure people who knew me up until a few years ago probably heard me use the words gay and retard to describe things I found stupid, I cannot deny that I was once guilty of the practice myself. But a post on Katy’s blog about how hurtful it was for her to hear people use the word retard or make fun of people riding “the short bus” made me rethink what I was doing. It’s been at least a year since I read that post and I haven’t the word retard in that way since. Reforming my use of retard also made me think of some other words I was using, particularly gay, and I eliminated that one as well.
Recently Hollywood has been giving some attention to these slurs. I’m a huge fan of Glee, and I was surprised to hear the number of people expressing their dislike of a scene where a father of a gay teenager confronts a homophobic boy and tells him to stop speaking about his son in an offensive way. They thought it was over the top and unnecessary! Unnecessary? They must live in a totally different world than I do. I wish I could embed the clip, but I urge you to watch it if you haven’t seen it. Click here and scroll to 25 minutes in. The word that is used in the scene is “faggot” (which should be eliminated as well), but it’s the same as calling someone gay to insinuate something negative. The father points out that any decent person wouldn’t make fun of a girl with Down Syndrome and call her a retard, or use the “n” word. I was literally cheering when this scene was playing! It pains me that the LDS population in particular, a group who claims to be the true Church of Jesus Christ, would overlook how cruel and un-Christlike it is to speak this way. It needs to stop.
Editors Note: Reader Gabby linked to this YouTube clip of the Glee scene. The quality isn’t as good as the Hulu clip but you won’t have to watch any commercials to see it:
This post was inspired by a clip my friend Christiana sent me, from a show called What Would You Do? that’s currently airing on ABC. In this clip, an actor with Down Syndrome is bagging groceries. Another actor comes through the checkout line and begins to berate him for the pace at which he is working, treating him abhorrently and calling him a retard to his face. It’s frankly, very painful to watch. The part where the boy with DS says what he thinks about the treatment gets the tears started every time. I forwarded the clip on to Katy and the two of us decided that we wanted to write a joint post on this very subject. The point of the What Would You Do? show is to point out how important it is to speak up when someone is being treated inexcusably, but I think the real issue is that a portion of our society has been using these words this way at all, in private or in public!
I asked Katy to write about how the misuse of the word retard makes her feel, and any advice she has on how we can affect positive change on those around us.
Here’s a recent picture of her son, isn’t he adorable?
Words have always fascinated me – their meanings, origins, and modern usage. I love molding them to express myself and harnessing their power to say I what I mean (I’m much better at this in my writing). Word choice is always on my mind…which brings me to a word popular in our vocabulary today – retarded.
I dislike this term not only as a word-lover (because virtually no one today uses this term correctly) , but as a mother of child with Down syndrome, it offends me on an even deeper level. Many of you already know that my 4-year-old son has Down syndrome, but what you may not know is that I had a brother with cerebral palsy. Problems that occurred at the time of my older brother’s birth left him unable to walk, talk, or care for himself for his 30 years. Issues relating to the way we treat and speak of those with disabilities has always been very important to me.
It’s important to note that the word retarded has non-malicious origins and can be used in a non-offensive way. Those familiar with music will note (ha!) that when music is to be played slower, you’ll see the word ‘ritardando.’ Fire retardants are meant to slow the progression of a fire. I have no problem saying that because of Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) my child has a degree of mental retardation. Retarded in it’s correct form means ‘slower’. Those with various forms of mental retardation learn things a little slower than others, yes – - but that in no way means they can’t learn or are ‘stupid.’ Yet THIS is how people use the word retarded – to state what they don’t like, what is useless, pointless, or stupid.
If you use this term regularly, please take time to consider your word choice (that is my polite way of staying stop it! . Whether or not we say it, how do we get others around us to stop using this term? Good question. I’m in no way great at this – I’m such a non-confrontational person and sometimes care way too much about what others think of me. But I’m getting better. First, it’s easiest to address this problem when seen online. By writing of your distaste – in comments, message boards, letters to website owners, Facebook, or on your own blog – others will likely take note. Many people don’t realize how often they use this word or how offensive they truly are being and will try to change when it’s pointed out.
It’s a little more intimidating to speak up when you hear it personally (for me at least – Miss Non-confrontational). You can suggest to the speaker : “Isn’t ‘stupid’ the word you are looking for?” or “Just because everyone uses that word, doesn’t mean it’s okay to say” or you could point out someone you know that loves someone with a disability (you can use me!) and express that you’ve recently learned how rude that word is: “I know this gal who has a son with Down syndrome – she pointed out to me how much it hurts her when people call everything ‘retarded’ and say it in such a flippant way.”
While I’m asking you to stop using (and for you to ask those around you to stop using) the word retarded in this off-hand way, will you indulge me in a few more requests?
* Similarly to retarded, calling someone a ‘retard’ (whether or not they have a disability) is even more offensive. Forget that someone is showing their ignorance by using this word, it’s tone and intent is especially malicious. (This includes my fellow Mormon friends out there who unkindly refer to Utah Mormons as ‘Utards’. You know what two words you are combining… it doesn’t make the latter word less distasteful.)
*Using the term ‘short bus’ – Do people really mean to compare idiotic actions or words to those children – who through no fault of their own – have to ride a bus better suited to their special need? Really?
*Try to use people-first language. Instead of “that Down syndrome guy” say “that man with Down syndrome.” Instead of “that autistic kid”, say “that child with autism.” We are people before our diagnosis. If needed, the term ‘intellectual disablity’ is acceptable.
As I now gracefully attempt to step off my soapbox, I thank you for reading this. I thank you for allowing me to get a little preachy - I’m just a mother of an adorable, bright, funny boy – a boy who also happens to have Down syndrome. On behalf of all the mothers of children with special needs who love their children deeply and work tirelessly to help them gain acceptance, normalcy, and value in this society, I thank you as well!
Today, I’m writing this post, urging others to reform their language. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to speak up on Facebook? To talk personally to individuals I know and tell them how much it hurts me to hear them speak this way. I hope I am able to gain that courage soon.
I’m not the only one trying to encourage people to pledge to quit using the word retard in a demeaning manner. Visit http://www.r-word.org/ to read the pledges of hundreds of others who have committed to stop speaking this way.
If you’re willing to stop using these words this way, or if you’ve already done so, I urge you to comment below and say so. It might not happen overnight but making the commitment is the first step to eliminating this practice. Are there other uses of words we should be eliminating?
P.S.-Laura pointed out these awesome new commercials on eliminating the phrase “that’s so gay” and others like it! I love them.
The last one is my favorite. I like how Hilary makes her point but ends with a compliment.