It’s that time of year again, when those of us in the disabled community ask everyone to stop using the R-word as slang.
AKA – don’t say “Wow, my dog is so retarded!”
Having been down this path before, I now am familiar with the four types of people who you will encounter when you ask nicely “Please, don’t use that word that way.”
Type A – The Constitutionalists
They appear out of no where, waving the stars and stripes, a bald eagle perched on their arm, as they yell “I have freedom of speech! You can’t tell me what I can and cannot say! First Amendment! FREEDOM OF SPEECH!”
To which I say “Oh sit down!”
See, I’m not petitioning the government to banish the word from everywhere. I’m not calling my senator to ask that a bill be written to instantly jail anyone who uses the word. All I’m asking – ASKING – as a mother of a person with mental retardation is that you maybe think twice before using the word “retarded” and its ilk as derogatory slang. Because it is hurtful to those of us who have a loved one with such a diagnosis.
Also, I’m doing you a public service. Anyone who says “Geez, that’s retarded.” suddenly leaves a bad impression, goes down on the social scales, appears less intelligent. I’m just trying to keep you from looking like an ignorant ass. Aren’t I nice?
Now we move on to Type B – The Definitionists (soon to be a Broadway musical)
The Definitionists are those who, suddenly, are a walking dictionary, and expert in all forms of word usage. They like to argue that we’re just misinterpreting the person’s statement – “When he said his dog was retarded, he was referring to the French definition, retardé, meaning delayed, as in his dog was delayed in returning the ball to him. Not that his dog was stupid. Sheesh.” <eyeroll> <lights pipe>
Because we Americans always like to have a little high school French throwback in our everyday speaking.
Or, they pull out the “Musical Terminology” defense, along with the “Well, no one is upset about the phrase “flame retardant”.” Again, because when referring to your dog/car/radio station as “retarded”, what you really mean is that it is musically fire-resistant.
To the Definitionists, I say this – context is everything. If you say “My car’s being retarded, it won’t start.”, you don’t really mean any of the more obscure definitions, now do you? No, you’re using it as slang for something negative. Stop trying to argue you way out of it.
Type C – The Misunderstood
“See, when I was saying I was being retarded, I didn’t say it about your kid, I was just insulting myself!”
“I wasn’t talking about your kid when I referred to that person as a libtard – it totally means something else.”
“I was just using it as slang – it has nothing to do with you guys!”
Um. No. When your loved one has “mental retardation” written down on a medical form, it become personal. You may be calling yourself a retard, but in doing so, you’re saying “Geez, I did something SO stupid that I might as well be equated to your daughter who sits in a special ed classroom learning how to do the simple things, like zip her coat or put on her shoes.”
Sorry. No. You will not be her equal. First, because you take things like being able to put your shoes on easily for granted. You don’t even think when you zip up your coat, whereas zipping up her coat all by herself is a huge accomplishment that my daughter finally managed, at almost thirteen years of age, last Sunday. Second, and more importantly, you will not be my daughter’s equal because she can’t help the way she is – but you can. She can’t help but greet everyone with a smile and hello, whereas you can manage the words that come out of your mouth.
Yes, I take this personally, because it *is* personal.
So, to all the Constitutionalists, the Definitionists, and the Misunderstood – today I challenge you to be like the fourth group, the group that is the most welcomed in my circles – the Thinkers.
The Thinkers think about what I’ve said, what I’ve written. The Thinkers say to themselves “Gee, I never thought about that word that way, maybe I should re-think things.” The Thinkers actually *think* before speaking, work to make their own personal language use better. The Thinkers see my daughter, see what “being retarded” really means, and make changes to their vocabularies.
The Thinkers can be everyone. Everyone is qualified to join this group. All you have to do is think a little before saying something.
I know, it’s revolutionary.