Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


In the last few days there has been a lot of talk, online especially, about the use of the word "retard" as a derogatory slur. This time, the debate was ignited when Ann Coulter used the word to refer to Barack Obama.

I don't really care much about what Ann Coulter says, because I think she mainly says things to stir people up, make them angry, and make them talk about her. After having mentioned her here, I will continue to ignore her, because I don't think she is that important.

The debate about using the word "retard" is important however. I have friends and family who use it, in everyday conversation, to describe something stupid: other people's decisions, bad software, what politicians say. Do I have a problem with the word? Yes. My son has special needs, and I am acutely aware that this word can be used as a derogatory slur against him.

Of course, most people wouldn't dream of calling a child or adult with special needs "retard" to their face, or even behind their back. Many of those people still think that it's OK to use the word, as long as you are not referring to a person who has special needs or a disability of some kind. I understand how they think, but I also think they're wrong. Why? Well, here I'm going to refer you to two insightful posts by other people who have already stated the case much better than I can.

Please click on the links and read the full posts. They're worth it. And check out the site: R-Word.org.

1. "Being Retarded" - by Phoebe at Herding Cats
This blog-post explains perfectly why you should not use the word "retard" as a derogatory slur. It was published last year, but it's just as relevant today.
This is Maura.  Her diagnosis?  Cognitively disabled.  Which means retarded.  When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my child stupid.  Because you use the word as just that – another form of stupid.

Let’s get something straight here.

My daughter may have cognitive issues.  She may have delays.  She may never live on her own.  Scratch that.  She will never live on her own.

But Maura is not stupid.

In her own way, Maura is very smart.  Maybe smarter than us at times.  She has more self-confidence than anyone I know who’s called themselves “retarded”.  She is the best judge of a person’s character than anyone else I’ve ever known.

Yes, she is slow to learn things.  But she is not stupid.

I know that most people don’t use the word “retarded” maliciously.  Most people I know use it in a self-depreciating way.  And when I point it out, they go “Oh wow!  I’m sorry!” and they truly feel like a heel. But the thing is, you’re still using it in the way that people who do use it maliciously use it as – to describe stupidity.

So why not just use the word “stupid” instead?  Because I know what “retarded” is.  I live with it in the form of my daughter.  And in our world “retarded” doesn’t equate to “stupid”.

This beautifully written, funny, and intelligent open letter to Ann Coulter, is also a must-read.
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

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