Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The word "retarded" is not cool

I had a realization today, and it's one that's difficult to admit, especially as a mom of a child with special needs.

(Deep breath)

Here it is:

If I were chatting with a group of people (moms at the playground, folks in line at Starbucks, strangers at a friend's party) and someone used the n-word in conversation, I would have an immediate reaction.  After the shock wore off, I would either say something, or shoot the person a horrified look and leave the conversation.

If I were chatting with a group of people and someone used the word f-ggot in conversation, I would have an immediate reaction.  After the shock wore off, I would either say something, or look horrified and leave the conversation.

If I were chatting with a group of people and someone used the word "retarded" in conversation, I would have cringed, stared off into the distance, and probably waited a few minutes before leaving.  No confrontation, no horrified look.

Well, until today.  Now that I've had time to reflect on it, I've come to some conclusions.

1.  I'm a believer of First Ammendment rights.
2.  I'm also a believer of making hateful words socially unacceptable.*

*note: socially unacceptable does not meaned banned.  It means that it's frowned upon by the mainstream, the same way that the other words above are shunned.

"Retard" and "retarded" are words that are used hurtfully (aside from some specific scientific circumstances), usually to describe behavior that is stupid, clumsy, or hopeless.  Whether it's intentional or not, the word retarded conjures up a painful stereotype of people with intellectual and developmental disabilties.

Today is "Spread the Word to End the Word" Day.  The idea is to spread the idea that the word retarded is hurtful, with the hopes of minimizing the casual usage of it. 

I truly believe that "retarded" is used so casually because some people genuinely don't think twice about it, and haven't thought about the fact that it's painful for many people to hear, just as the other slurs I mentioned are painful for many people to hear. So I'm saying, think twice please. It's hurtful.

(And if you think "I'm just joking around with my friends, it's not hurting anyone"---you never know who might have a family member or a friend with special needs and might be cringing inside.)

Asking people to spread awareness of their disdain (or disgust, depending on the severity of your feelings) for a word is not unprecendented.  And it can work, as each person who choses to not use the word, or to express their displeasure at it, helps to shift the collective vocabulary.  I couldn't even bring myself to fully type the n-word or f-ggot because they are simply too hateful for me . . . clearly, there are words that are socially unacceptable.
Do you agree?  Sign the pledge.

Spread the word to raise awareness that "retarded" is a hurtful word.   Share your opinion when it comes up in conversation, or send out an email/tweet/FB status in honor of today. 

If you would like to help spread awareness, but don't want to be too preachy about the whole thing, then feel free to share the link to this post on Facebook, or email it to friends.  I would be happy to do the preaching for you  :)

Oh, and if you'd like to read more about what another mom did to help spread the awareness, check this out.  (It was a little confusing to me because I don't totally get the whole twitter thing, but pretty cool nonetheless.)


Jennie said...

Amen sista! I posted something similar last year when this came up. During the next year, it amazed me how many times I heard the word. It seemed to be spoken so casually. Thanks for helping to spread the word.

Erica said...

Dana, do you mind if I put a link to this on my blog? i've been meaning to write about this today but am just too doggone tired and you said it so well!

Dana said...

Erica, (and anyone else who's interested) feel free to link away!

kris said...

One of my mom's cousins has Down Syndrome. The "R" word is one we were never allowed to use in my house. It's actually the only word I remember being told not to say when we heard it used other places. I do speak up. I have a colleague at work (she's of my mom's generation) who uses's not a word she ever thought twice about. She thinks twice now. Still uses it sometimes as a 60-year habit is hard to break, but when she uses it in front of me, she always apologizes and rephrases.

Jo-Anne said...

Thanks for this post! It's really amazing how nonchalantly people use that word... and pass it on to their children. Working in schools with special needs children I unfortunately saw far too often the hurt from that word. I too would love to link to this post.

aviva g. said...

I recently learned that as of July 2010, what used to be called New York State OMRDD (the office of mental retardation and developmental disabilities) has been renamed OPWDD (office for people with developmental disabilities).
In the DSM-IV (diagnostic and statistical manual-used in psychiatry) MR (mental retardation) remains a diagnosis given when someone has documented IQ (based on standardized testing) of 70 or less before age 18.

Dana said...

Aviva, today I learned this:
"On October 5, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law Rosa's Law, which changes all references to the term "Mental Retardation" in the federal law to "Intellectual Disabilities.""

I actually prefer "developmental disabilities" to "intellectual disabilities" (as the former implies potential for growth and the latter sounds stagnant), but whatever.

Danielle said...

What a great post!! I wore my "Spread the Word to End the Word" shirt proudly yesterday, and took every advantage to explain to each person I could, what that shirt meant to me.
I have been following your blog for a couple of months, after seeing a link from another blog. As a graduate OT student at Quinnipiac University, I find your stories of Maya (and her amazing progress!) so great to read. Thanks for opening your world up to so many people!

Nancy Cavillones said...

I recently wrote a blog post for Offbeat Mama in which I used the phrase "mentally retarded," without thinking twice. But next time, I will.

Incidentally, I had a conversation with a student a few months about that same phrase, in the context of Of Mice and Men. She took issue with the phrase when it appeared in the book and we talked about the historical use of the phrase, and how it was acceptable back then and not so much now. I guess I forgot about that conversation when I wrote my blog post.

Julie said...

Thank you for this! :) I posted a link to my blog. :)