Today I’d like to address a serious issue, one that I am quite passionate about.
I’d like to talk about the word “retarded.”
As you may know, I am not a fan of this word. But some people still continue to insist that it’s usage is ok, as long as they don’t mean it as an insult. And I would like to explain to those people that this argument is completely invalid.
I think we can all agree that calling someone with a mental or developmental delay a retard is wrong. Even though retarded is a medical term, describing a delay in a person’s development that is caused by something beyond their control, the word retard can not be properly used as a noun. A person is not a retard, even if their development is retarded (slowed). To use the word that way is to turn it into a slur. And slurs are bad. Just like you wouldn’t call a black person a nigger or a Hispanic person a spic, you wouldn’t call someone with one of the myriad of delays people can be born with a retard. If you would, just stop reading this post now because you are beyond hope of redemption and you should do us all a favor and crawl back into whatever bigoted hole you came out of.
So we are all agreed: calling someone with a delay a retard = bad. Yes? Ok, let’s move on.
There are a lot of people out there who still use the word retarded to describe things that they don’t particularly like. And they will defend themselves by saying that the word has taken on a new meaning, that it is now a synonym for words like stupid or foolish. They will claim that the word is not meant as an insult, so it shouldn’t be taken that way.
These people are wrong.
Here is an analogy for you, to explain why, just because a word is part of the mainstream vocabulary, it can still become offensive as times change:
These are Brazil nuts. You’ve probably seen them, most likely eaten them. They have wicked hard shells to crack, but are so tasty that they are worth it. What you may not know is that where I come from, they have a very different name…. Nigger Toes. Yes, you read that right. Nigger toes. That is what everyone from my grandmother’s generation calls these nuts. And you know what? They don’t mean to offend anyone. It is just what they have always called them, since they were young. They also call anise (licorice) bears “Nigger babies.” They wouldn’t dream of calling a black person a nigger, but using that word to describe things is still acceptable in their minds.
I think we can all agree that calling a piece of candy a nigger baby is no longer acceptable. Even though they don’t mean to offend anyone, the fact of the matter is that it is still offensive. The intent does not change the offense.
Let us think about what we are really saying, when we use the R word.
“Man, that movie was so retarded.”
Do you mean that the movie was slowed by some outside force? No. What you mean is that you thought the movie was stupid or bad. You have used a medical term for a mental or developmental delay to describe something you thought was stupid or bad. You have used the word retarded as a synonym for stupid or bad. You have made these words equal. Retarded = stupid = bad. This, my friends, is offensive.
And there is no amount of explanation or any kind of dense that will change that fact. Using the word retarded to represent something that you find unpleasant is wrong. There should be no debate about this. In the same way that it is wrong to call a nut a nigger toe, it is wrong to call a something stupid retarded. And in the same way that we have eradicated the word nigger from out everyday vocabulary, we MUST eradicate the word retarded from it as well. What was acceptable twenty years ago is no longer acceptable.
Some of you out there are grumbling as you read this, muttering about how “PC” we are all becoming, griping about how everyone needs to stop feeling so offended all of the time. And to you I say: Shut the hell up. Seriously. Just shut the hell up and get over yourself. Why are you so important that you feel that your actions should be exempt from common courtesy? Should entire groups of people have to listen to your offensive words just because you are too lazy or too much of a jerk to simply change the way you talk? It’s not like I’m asking you to do anything difficult. I’m simply asking you to stop saying the word retarded. Just use a different word. There are better words out there. There are a plethora of synonyms for the word stupid that won’t offend anyone. Pick one. Any one. Its not hard. So, please, get over yourself and show some kindness and decency.
There is NO good reason to use the word retarded, and a million reasons not to. My little Ellie Bean is one of them.
So the next time you are temped to call something you don’t like “retarded”, remember that what you are implying is that my Ellie is stupid or bad. She is neither of those things. Yes, medically speaking, she is developmentally retarded. Her development is slowed, due to forces beyond her control. But she is not a diagnosis. She is a person. A sweet, loving, smart, little person who melts the hearts of everyone she meets. And all I ask is that you show her some kindness and common decency.
(For the record, this entire post also applies to the word “gay” as a description for things you don’t like. But that is a rant for another day….)