I have a confession to make. I use the word “retard.” And I use the word “retarded.” I like to think I use these words in a kind of 1970s throwback ironic way. That, somehow, given who I am and how I speak and what I’m saying, these words won’t come out as hateful or cruel. To me it’s almost a nostalgia for the pre-politically correct era– a time when just regular kids could utter such sentiments as, “Mom, that is SO retarded,” and “Dad, you’re totally gay.”
But I’ve been rethinking. My experiences as a mother– from making decisions about prenatal testing for Down syndrome to counseling my school-aged children about bullying, teasing and name-calling– has made me more and more aware of how unnecessarily mean the word “retard” can be. I recently read about how kids with disabilities are targeted by bullies. Not surprisingly, the word “retard” is used to detrimental affect in these situations. Maybe it’s time for me to change my ways. In fact, maybe today.
March 2, 2011 is “Spread The Word To End The Word Day.” A day devoted to spreading awareness about how hurtful the use of the word “retard” can be. It hurts people with loved ones who have Down syndrome. It undermines support and respect for people with special needs. If you go to the R-word.org you can pledge your support with the following pledge: “I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”
Twitter is on fire, spreading the word about “ending the word” and trying to raise awareness. Already this morning I’ve read several very moving blog entries about why we need to take this word out of circulation. One particularly eloquent and stirring post comes from The Red Neck Mommy:
“When you drop the tard bomb into casual conversation, you are demeaning disabled people and reinforcing the stereotype that mental disabilities are bad and that people who suffer these disabilities are lesser; to be excluded and ignored because they don’t know any better. Heck, it’s not like they even know what the word means right? Who are you hurting?
You are hurting me. You are hurting my kids. You are hurting everyone who loves someone who has been labeled a retard due to how they look, how they speak or how they learn.
It’s not okay to go on twitter and announce that your computer is retarded. Did you mean your computer’s operating system is running slow? You might have meant to convey that your laptop is a piece of shit that doesn’t work and you desperately covet a new one, but instead you just conveyed your ignorance and your lack of respect for the most marginalized, disparaged group of people in the world.”
This makes me think about other words, too. Moron, idiot, spaz, dummy… these are all related to actual conditions as well. It’s an important topic that warrants further discussion. Maybe we just need more precision in our language, as The Red Neck Mommy suggests. (My husband was not an idiot for running the dishwasher twice, but he was without intellectual merit.)
But today is about the offensive use of the R-word. The truth is I’ve nearly dropped this word out of my vocabulary. On the occasions when I have let it slip out, it lands with a thud. Once you become aware of these things, it’s hard to turn back.
So please join me today, with hundreds of thousands of others, in becoming more aware of the language we use. Go to the R-word website and pledge. Send The Red Neck Mommy’s blog post out to your social network. Or just quietly stop saying the word.