In honor of today being an awareness day to end derogatory use of the R-word, I thought I’d republish one of my posts from a few months ago.
Originally published August 29, 2011
I’ve struggled for some time trying to decide if I wanted to write this post or not.
Something that you may or may not know about me is that I really really really really REALLY dislike our society’s colloquial use of the word “retarded.” I inwardly cringe every time I hear someone say, “That’s retarded,” “You’re so retarded,” “Stop being retarded.”
I never call people out on it because I understand that 99% of you mean no harm whatsoever. You undoubtedly adopted your style of speaking from your peers, and I can honestly say that just about everyone in high school uses the “R” word in some capacity.
But here’s the thing that you might not understand. Your use of the word carries a distinct connotation. And that connotation is “bad,” “other,” “wrong.”
Think of the times you usually use the word “retarded.” It’s when you’re annoyed by someone or something. It’s your way of writing someone or something off. It’s your way of ending the discussion and refusing to see beyond what you already think you know.
Now, please, try to see how this affects someone who has a diagnosis of mental retardation. You are writing them off. You are labeling them “bad,” “other,” “wrong.”
You probably don’t agree with me. “It’s just a word! I don’t mean anything by it! It’s just something I say.”
But don’t you see? Words have power. Even the words that we don’t think mean anything.
With your words, you have the power to label someone with mental retardation, someone who needs a little extra love, a little extra understanding, a little extra compassion as “bad,” “other,” and “wrong.”
In addition to his diagnosis of PDD-NOS, my brother has an accompanying diagnosis of mental retardation.
So you see why I feel like a tiny dagger is pricking my heart every time I hear someone’s flippant use of the “R” word.
Does Dude understand that 5 x 6 = 30? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think he does.
However, he can kick your butt in harmonizing, he LOVES going to Maryland football and basketball games, he loves the beach, he has a memory like an elephant when it comes to quoting movies, and he loves his family very much.
How are any of those things “bad,” “other,” or “wrong?”
I wish I could say that I am one of those wonderful typical siblings who never used the “R” word. Who was able to see the big picture. I’m not. And I am ashamed by that. I used it (I’d like to think sparingly) in high school because that’s how my friends talked and, like any teenager, I wanted to fit in.
By college, I had more or less eliminated it from my vocabulary. However, I distinctly remember the last time that word escaped my lips. Actually, I didn’t even speak it. I typed it out while talking to a friend online in October 2007 while sitting at my desk in my dorm room in Hagerstown Hall.
As soon as I typed it. I regretted it. I don’t know what prompted me to use that word, a word I hadn’t used for so long. I actually remember quickly typing to my friend, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I just said that.”
I am so thankful I was talking to this particular person. Because he called me out on it. Instead of saying, “Oh lol. No biggie,” he said, “Yea I’m really surprised you said that. I didn’t expect that from you of all people, Julianne.”
It was one of those moments. Like the moment you realize you are absolutely done with a bad relationship or when you decide you’ve had your last cigarette.
Please. Maybe this can be your moment. Maybe not.
I probably won’t call you out if you use it in front of me. Unless of course you are directing your comments at my brother or any other person with a mental or developmental disability, in which case I reserve the right to punch you in the face.
I just thought that having some extra knowledge may inform your decisions going forward.
I just thought you should know what we in the special needs community feel when you use words that are “just” words and don’t “mean” anything.