Friday, February 5, 2010

It Wasn’t Meant That Way

(If you landed here after an image search, this post is better for you.)

It's time for a little etymology lesson. There seems to be great confusion about the proper usage of the word retard.

Even Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a bit discombobulated. After all, he was only trying to vent his anger and frustration at an idea presented by a group of liberal Democrats at a weekly strategy session last August, when you know, it just popped out, “Fucking retarded.”

Once his slur came to light and was publicized as a big faux-pas, Emanuel apologized. He meant no harm to the mentally disabled. He wasn’t referring to them. He meant “retarded” in a different context... And guess what? Many bloggers are defending his use of the insult.

They say... What is with all this politically correct stuff anyway? Why are you so sensitive? Nobody calls mentally retarded people retarded... It just doesn’t mean that anymore. Everybody knows that the modern definition of it is: stupid, nonsensical, ineffective, useless, uncooperative. Golly, its the perfect catch-all for most anything that is annoying.

The word has Latin roots and by the 1400s it meant, “to make slower in movement or time,” and forms of the word came to mean to make something or someone late... think “tardy” or the French, “Je suis en retard” which translates into “I am late” (as in for a very important date.) The English version of the word is still used in this innocuous form today... a fire retardant mattress, a chemical that retards weed growth.

So how did the word travel from fire retardant pajamas to a playground insult? What is the bridge between “late or hindered” and “stupid or aggravating”?

Hmm, let me think, let me think... what is the reference of our shared understanding of the slur?

Is it...
baby1

No, no, that's not it.

Is it...
baby2

No, though that may be our shared reference for “ewww”.

Is it...
baby3

Nope, wrong again.

How about...
baby4

Ah, yes there it is. A mentally retarded person. A person who is mentally late, mentally hindered. She, and all those like her, are the reference we share in order to comprehend the meaning of Emanuel's insult, “Fucking retarded.”

There is no “other context” for the put-down. Whenever you say “that’s retarded” or “Stop being retarded” you are referencing my youngest child. You are saying that something is stupid, like my daughter. That it is useless, like my daughter, worthless like my daughter.

The medical community (uh, unlike general society) has figured out the connection between the insult and the basis for our understanding of the insult, and they have moved to change the terminology used to describe people like my child. She is now intellectually disabled.

Do you know why they changed the terminology? Because mentally retarded people are not a synonym for stupid, or ineffective, or useless, or uncooperative, or worthless. So do them a favor and delete the slur “retard” from your vocabulary.

If you are not willing to do that, then maybe it is time to admit that something in your upbringing has retarded your sense of decency.

42 comments:

L.L. Barkat said...

Ouch. I can always depend on you for the straight talk.

Btw, all these pictures are gorgeous (and you can tell the Eldest that hers is so, so beautiful).

The Sanchez Family said...

Thank you for putting this so clearly. We need to STOP using the word. I love your straight talk and thank you for posting Sofia's button :)!!!

Tara said...

You, my dear are brilliant! Love it!

ajsf said...

Your absolutely right! Now how do we get everybody to see it this way? I couldn't believe some of what I read from bloggers on this story. How can their hate for Sarah Palin make them support such a terrible and mean word. I commented on the story just under where someone posted your blog.

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/john-farrell/2010/02/02/sarah-palin-embraces-retarded-political-correctness/comments/

thank you for your articulation of the situaiton!

Jasmine said...

That hurts!!!! You are such an apologist!!!

Brilliant!!!!

I haven't earned the right to say I love you, but you have touched me once again. :) xox

Bethany said...

Love it. I'd love to read these blog posts where people are saying that we should get over it. Seriously. On The View, Whoopi says it isn't the same as using the N word ... I disagree. Why is it different? Because to her, an African American, the N word hits home the most. To us, parents of kids who may be retarded, the R word hits home the most. How is it different?

Anonymous said...

not many have earned that right Jasmine, :)

Julie said...

Beautiful post. You've said it perfectly. I've been trying to find the words but the message is not working from me. I'd like to post a link from my blog to this post. Please let me know if you'd rather I not do that.

G-Zell said...

What a great post! I hope more people can read this and realize they are hurting people.

Jasmine said...

I posted a link on my blog regarding this post. I didn't think to ask you - I hope you don't mind. If you do, I will remove it. Let me know.

Thanks again.

Jasmine

Sally Carter said...

Excellent piece. Thank you so much.

patricia said...

wow. you said it!

Arizona mom to eight said...

Thank you, I know if we say something often enough, it has got to begin to sink in. I have three daughters with Down syndrome, and I never want them to hear this term used in front of them for nay reason. It is so difficult to get people to see that the word does damage.

one_plustwins said...

ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY FABULOUS! Great post! I stumbled across this post from another blogger. Great post! I LOVED IT!

Katie said...

Darn straight. I still get sooo upset when people use that word, but it was at it's most intense when Ben was a baby/toddler. I'm talking to the point of wanting to punch them in the mouth...and I am usually a very mellow person. Today my ire has dwindled to more of a highly irritated level, but I am glad, in a way, that Emmanuel has opened that can of worms. The more awareness about the offensiveness of the word, the better. I hope people start understanding that our children are being hurt by the use of that word.

Rosa Davila said...

I am 100% with you. There is no excuse for using derogatory words. There is still a lot of ignorant people.
Love
Rosa

Chrystal said...

Awesome, awesome post.

Lisa said...

Brilliant. You hit the nail on the head. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I was utterly appalled by Rahm's use of that word, it was not partisan (though I do love Sarah), because I also think Rush actually repeating Rahm's words and endorsing them was just as bad, or worse.

A good friend of mine has a younger brother with Down syndrome and when I first met her I remember her telling me about just how much it hurt when people used that word. Ever since then I never have and I'm strongly opposed to anyone who does.

ChaosDiaries said...

Great post--you really summed it up. I've always told my friends & family, 'look, I realize you mean no harm, but when you say someone is a 'retard,' or something is 'so retartded,' what I hear is "they're such a Mason," or "that's such a Mason thing."'

Thanks for spreading the truth!

Monica Crumley said...

I love it. What a great post. Thanks so much for sharing this point of view... and your daughter is beautiful and is so NOT synonymous with the R Word.

Sandi said...

Your post says it all. In fact, I added your post link to my blog, I think you definitely said what I wanted to say. This word must be retired. Hey, there is a better "R" word!
Sandi

jonashpdx said...

I've tried to make this same argument to so many people, but never quite as well as this. So thanks, and prepare to have it stolen. I wish I could get the whole thing to fit on a business card...

(though I've run into a doctor or two who was still using the term -- or other incorrect terms -- unfortunately...)

Katrina said...

Very well said! And the difference between the "R" word and the "N" word (re: the Whoopi Goldberg comment) is that people to whom the "N" word is directed have the ability to stand up for themselves and express outrage whereas those for whom the "R" word is intended need us to stand up for them and help them to have their voice be heard. It's' time to take a stand.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!!! Thank you! I'm afraid I've never read your blog, but will definitely have to start ... I may also have to link this to my fb page ;)

Tamara said...

Beautifully done! Bravo! You're last sentence was just perfection!

All 4 My Gals said...

PERFECT post! Thank you for writing so eloquently. I too would love to link this post to my blog and my fb page. I am standing and applauding you this morning!

Anonymous said...

Perfectly and intelligently put...far better than any of our "bright" politicians and entertainment figures...I think of my friend Stephanie's beautiful, loving daughter Katie, and hate the thought that she should ever be made to feel bad about herself because of someone's ignorance and inexcusable cruelty.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. I am going to post it to my wall. My sister has Down Syndrome and often times we hear the "R" word and it does offend her and I just tell her people are not trying to be mean, but they shouldn't use it. I need to find a "polite" way of saying something to those I hear the word from. I think the worst was when I took my sister to a Kenny Rogers concert and he made the statement "and all of the people in the audience are swaying like retards". I heard a few people yell out including my sister. It was horrible - needless to say, she no longer listens to Kenny Rogers. I can't seem to post this with my name ~ it is Kim. :)

Erin said...

Heartbreaking to read. I agree, people must stop using the "r-word".

Julie said...

Well said!!!!!!!!!

melissa said...

The "R" word has always made me cringe. I couldn't bring myself to use that word in any context. If anything I use mentally challanged, however, "extraordinarily special" is my preference for such unconditionally loving children.

macgeekgrl said...

While I agree that insulting those with intellectual differences or special needs is deplorable, I also think that language evolves. As you've pointed out, the terminology has been changed over time to reflect changing attitudes, political correctness, etc. So why, if language is capable of evolving, do we have to stop using a word? Can't we just let it evolve into the meaning that a lot of people assign to it now? Or do we have to stop using "crazy", too, because it was once used to describe the mentally ill? Does the word "fat" get retired because political correctness now tells us that "plus size" is now the proper term? By the way, I'm overweight, suffer from bipolar disorder, and have an aunt with Down Syndrome, and "crazy", "fat", and "retarded" don't offend me at all. Words are just words, and only have as much power as we allow them to have.

TUC said...

I see your point. I think, though, that retarded has evolved into an insult based on our culture's views on people who are mentally retarded. So this particular insult is directly linked to my daughter, and those like her. Whenever it is used, it invokes our shared understanding of people with mental retardation, and assumes that they are undesirable and stupid.

The word really doesn't hurt me all that much since I do not see her that way, but it hurts her, and for that reason I will fight to make people think before they select an insult. There are so many other great ones to choose from in English, I can't see why anyone would need to hold on to retarded once they know it hurts innocent people.

I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts in your comment.

Christina said...

This is a GREAT post and I am going to post a link from my blog to yours! Thanks for putting it so well, though I must admit, people will never get it.

Jenny said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I just recieved a link to your website and this post. You stated this so well I must now pass the link on to others.

This is exactly why we MUST END THE "R" WORD!! It is hurtful and wrong.

Thank you for your voice!

Roberta said...

Thank you, thank you! The "R" word is just as terrible as the "N" word.

Natasha said...

I'm an African American mom of an MR 19 year old daughter. It took me years to get over the hurt feeling, the use of the word to describe my child when I first heard it professionally back in the 90's!! I used to tear up....had to calm myself to ask for another term. I was told back then that is the only term(MR)..so that's all I've said all her illness: my daughter is MR/MMR, that's what they first called her..short for Mildly Mental Retardation. None of this seem to make me/my daughter feel any better, not then / now! Some say mentally challenged, then you go out in this world & hear folks calling other folks that too....what gives?! It's hard enough trying to take care of her, let alone to make her feel better about the proper(improper for real) name of her disability. Thanks for your blog & thanks to you all for reading our feelings!

doozee said...

I re-posted this ages ago on facebook... in response to when Regretsy (which I was a fan of) changed their name to Retardsy. Just for a day or something. And there was a ton of people saying all kinds of stuff defending the 'r' word. After I posted this, there was even MORE nastiness. Completely shocked me and I removed myself from being a fan of Regretsy.
But I never did tell you about it all - I should have, especially since it was this that I was linking to!
But please know that I really appreciated your writing this piece and loved it.

maggie said...

I loved this so much when I read it last year, I'm reposting on FB for tomorrow's "Spread the Word...." day. Thanks for writing such a powerful piece.

Ilisa Ailts said...

Gives me goose bumps! Thank you. I'll be sharing. (I have a 27 month old boy who is 'retarded'. He has Down syndrome. I would never call him that. But, he is slow. There is a difference between calling someone a name, using the word as a slur, and using it to describe what is happening to someone).

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