Last year, I conducted a little experiment. I’d noticed that the word “retard” was all over Twitter. So for a few days, I tweeted at people who used the hashtag #retard. ”Mom of kid with special needs here, the word ‘retard’ is demeaning, please think twice about using it,” I’d write.
As you can imagine, a lot of people did not take kindly to this (one of the more common responses I got was “Fuck you.”) People argued with me, saying that the word had become slang. They defended the word as if it were their favorite one in the whole, wide world. More than anything, people seemed perturbed that I was acting like “The Word Police” and getting all politically correct. I even ticked off comedians, since the word is a mainstay of comedy routines.
As a blogger, I am all about freedom of speech. I’m also not speaking down to you from a soapbox—I used to call situations “retarded” before I became aware of how demeaning the word is to people with intellectual disabilities. Even when the word isn’t directed at a person with special needs, it perpetuates the idea that people with disabilities are stupid. There’s a reason Congress banned the words “retarded” and “retardation” from all federal laws (and why 43 states have passed or introduced similar legislation). There’s a reason the Special Olympics people started a campaign called Spread The Word To End The Word. Today is a national awareness day. I made this video.
I’m not naive or deluded; the word “retard” isn’t going away anytime soon. Getting people to avoid saying it isn’t going to suddenly make the world respect adults and kids with intellectual disabilities. I’m probably not going to convince the buttheads of the world who circulate memes like this one, called “retard girl”:
But there’s hope for the rest of us.
As the parent of an amazing kid who happens to be cognitively impaired, I’m speaking out against a word. This word.
Make no mistake, it’s hurtful.
Other posts to check out:
• Read more from Ellen at her other blog, Love That Max