When I was about 11, I went to stay at my uncle's bachelor pad in New Orleans. I think I spent the night; I can't remember. Either way, it was the coolest thing ever, because he was the coolest uncle ever and all of his nieces and nephews loved him (still do!). He took me to a catering job, took me biking in Audubon Park, and told me all about his girlfriend, who is now his wife. It was super exciting.
My uncle referred to a man using the n-word while I was there. My dad, mom, and stepdad all taught me to revile this word and to never use it because it hurts people, and I expressed that sentiment to my uncle. He said that it's just a fact that some people act like n-words, so he can use the word because no matter if it hurts people, it's still applicable. Also, since he'd never use the word when talking to a black person, it was okay, so he was never actually hurting anyone. This is, of course, ridiculous.
Thing is, I see the same thing happening every day, even now. Not my uncle, but from lots of people in the blogs and forums I read online, in conversation with friends, in news stories, etc. I'm not talking about the n-word. I'm talking about the r-word.
I used to use this word to refer to people and situations that I found stupid or annoying. "Why isn't the post office open after 11 on Saturdays? That's retarded." "That retard just cut me off in traffic!" It came naturally, just something I never thought about.
One day several years ago, I thought for a second... That guy who just cut me off in traffic - to whom am I comparing him? People with mental retardation, like Down's and autism? Are they jerks? Do they deserve to be compared to this guy that just cut me off in traffic, or the dude at the post office who keeps pushing the closing hour up?
Then I had a kid with special needs. Then my special-needs kid got put in a school for kids with special needs. Every time I hear the word "retarded" used as an insult, I think about those kids, and what they'll have to go through in the future. Because sure as shootin', they'll hear their parents call someone a "retard," log it as an insult in their vocabulary, find out that the special ed kids at school are classified as mentally retarded, and start using that word to refer to those kids in an insulting manner.
I know a lot - a LOT - of you reading my blog right now use the word "retarded" in an insulting manner, because every time you use it, I cringe. I know you're not using the word purposefully to hurt people with disabilities, just that you don't think about it that way. I'm not telling you what to say, I'm just asking you to think before you say it. The next time you go to use the word, think about the etymology behind it, and who the word refers to, and who it will hurt. Just as the "n-word" hurts an entire race, the word "retarded," when used as an insult, towards ANYONE, hurts an entire class of people. The difference is, a person classified as mentally retarded generally can't stand up for himself. Many people with developmental delays can't perceive and respond to insults, but they can certainly feel pain, as can those of us who are close to them.
The next time that guy cuts you off in traffic and you want to call him "retarded," think about whom you're comparing him to. The little girl who keeps macking on Ace at school? Ace himself? That's hardly an effective insult. "Bucket of dingleberries," now there's a good one.
I would appreciate your feedback on this, particularly if you have children with special needs. How do you feel when "retard" or "retarded" are used as casual insults?
4 weeks ago