I’ve been struggling for the last couple weeks with an incident that happened when I commented in a blog. The author (BA=blog author) was giving a commenter a really lovely, scathing set-down. And I was digging it, until the BA called the commenter a fucktard. Now, I’m all about using the f-word and didn’t object to the profanity. I did however, comment that fucktard was offensive because of it’s obvious association with the word retard.
What followed was an exchange between the BA and an other commenter (OBC) which basically said I was over-reacting, it was okay because they would call someone who was mentally handicapped a retard to their face if they were being an asshole, that their kids sometimes acted retarded, and that they’ve already had this conversation with others who’ve objected to the use of fucktard or edutard.
Since the exchange, I’ve tried to craft various responses from a lengthy, pedantic treatise on the words and how they can be linked to retard, explanations about intellectually capacity vs. mental developmental delays, to an open letter to the BA and OBC responding point by point using much sarcasm. I’ve considered not engaging these people, because clearly, they don’t get it. And, of course, I’ll never read their blog again.
But, I think, this is what I want to say about it:
I believe that using retard is offensive. Using its derivatives (fucktard, edutard, etc.), even more so. If elements of communication are tone and context, there are no circumstances in which the use of the ‘tard derivatives are anything but a substitute for the pejorative use of retard.
I don’t think using retard (and let’s just assume I’m also saying ‘and the ‘tard derivatives’ from now on) is clever, or makes your argument against ignorance, or is anything but one of the most heinous hate words. Think about it, if you substituted a racial epitaph, ethnic slur, or derogative comment about sexual orientation, people would think you were the worst kind of bigot. Use retard and everyone accepts it as okay. It’s not.
Retarded should be accurately used to describe the mental and/or physical developmental delays that some children and adults face, either from genetic or medical conditions, or from accidents. Correctly used, it only means that these things are slowed; not necessarily lesser or diminished. It certainly doesn’t mean ignorant or stupid.
Unfortunately, retarded is now equated with the undesirable characteristics of stupidity and ignorance. It is used to demean those who are “normally” developing at the on-going expense of those who are not. Like all hate words, it is used to perpetuate wildly inaccurate stereotypes of a group of people who, even more than any other group, are already marginalized through fear and ignorance. And if you don’t think people fear mental handicaps, then explain why the abortion rate for the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is over 90%.
Also unfortunate is that parents, caregivers, professionals, etc. of those with mental and physical delays are unable to use the word correctly without fear of the negative connotation touching their loved one. It denies basic human dignity to a group of people and insults their parents, families, caregivers, professionals who have invested their love, energy, and time to reach their potential, whatever it may be.
Amazingly, those of us given the gift of disability would not change it. The condition (in our case Down syndrome) is the least interesting thing about E. Unfortunately, it will be the most important for many and they will make so many incorrect assumptions about her based on the condition alone. And then many will then use these assumptions as the foundation by which they demean someone else. It’s wrong. It’s unacceptable, and I will continue to speak out against it.
In direct response to the BA and the OBC - Ree (from Confessions of a Pioneer Woman) accurately uses the word retarded. Her brother has some developmental delays due to a genetic condition. This, however, doesn’t give you license to use retard in a derogative way. I’ve never read Ree use retarded to imply that Mike is stupid or ignorant, or to demean him. Instead, she shows him for all his humanity - that he’s exasperating, loveable, flawed – as a sibling would, and usually at her own expense. And she writes about her other siblings and shows how they harass each other. It seems that in their family, harassment is just one (of what I would guess as many) expression of love. I’d also speculate that, given Ree and her siblings’ ages, she’s had to put up with a lot of ignorance and insult (intended or otherwise), which is why her use of retarded is not offensive to me.
Your post a couple weeks later about the Religion of Ethical Reciprocity post, your one commandment is to:
Treat others as you wish to be treated. Be unconditional in both love and forgiveness. Practice grace and kindness.
No one wishes to be treated to a label that denigrates a class of people and denies them basic human dignity. Everyone deserves a chance to unconditionally loved, even the mentally handicapped; and when we fail them by using inappropriate language, hopefully someone will come along to help us. Practicing grace and kindness might mean, in this instance, that when more than one person speaks up against the use of a word, that you take a moment to consider what they’re saying instead of going into a defensive mode. Try talking to your early intervention programs (all states have them) or finding out about the Special Olympics in your state. Read or watch the “Retard Speech” by 17 year old Soeren Palumbo, or visit his facebook page – Campaign to Ban "R" Word