“So, what’s wrong with ‘retard’? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the ‘in’ group. We are someone that is not your kind.”- Frank Stephens
To start this off; I hate the word retard. I also hate the word ‘spaz’.
“You’re so retarded!”
“Haha, you spaz!”
And so on.
Every day this is said, and every day I hate it.
For one, is that really the only word you can think of? Open a thesaurus; you’ll plenty of better, less insulting and demeaning words to use. For example ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’, the words you actually meant.
I admit to once using those terms, but I had one friend point out to me what it actually meant, and asked me to imagine what it would feel like to only be recognized like that one word. Not by your personality, or your achievements.
Most people understand why I hate these words. My brother has a brain injury, which has left him open to being called that and he has. He hates it. It insults him. It doesn’t make him feel like a ‘normal’ eleven year old boy.
It was used as a medical term, I know this. It’s also the most common excuse for using the word. But we stopped using for a reason.
This term also marginalizes and excludes people with brain injuries, and other intellectual disabilities. It lowers them, and makes them feel like they can never work alongside us. It also makes us recognize them only by their intellectual disability, not by their personality, their work ethic or their achievements.
Using the word in such a way also makes it a synonym for ‘stupid’, implying all people with intellectual disabilities are stupid. They’re not. My brother can write amazing speeches and wants to be a forensic pathologist.
There is also the case of a woman, who had a severe stroke, and retrained her brain (If you are interested in neuroplasticity, read “The Brain That Changes Itself”).
Jean-Dominique Bauby is another example; after he woke from a coma, after a heart attack, he was diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome. He could only communicate by blinking (with just his left eye). His book was released in 1997; he composed it in his head and in order to communicate it, somebody had to recite every letter of the alphabet and he would blink at the correct one. His book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is also a movie.
At the end of the day, it is just an offensive and derogatory term, similar to racial slurs that were once commonly used. We wouldn’t dare use one today, especially in an insulting manner; so why should we use retarded in the same way?
These days I will happily call people up on it when they use the word and explain what it actually means, its connotations and, if they absolutely have to use the word, don’t use it around me.
Moral of the story? Don’t use the R-word. Open a thesaurus or listen in English class for better words.
You can read more from Isabella Ferguson on her blog.
Featured image via.