Let’s Lose “That’s retarded”

header2_03I have an uncle with Down syndrome, and a cousin with an awful disease called Rett Syndrome—she’s 28 and has never walked or talked. Knowing how challenging my uncle’s life has been at times, and how downright brutal my cousin’s has been—not to mention what their parents have been through—I have never had any tolerance for what’s now being called “the R-word.” It was depressing enough last year when President Obama likened his bowling skills to the Special Olympics, and more recently when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel admitted that he called liberal activists “f—ing retarded.” But what I always find particularly tough is when the word is casually used by people in my own circle. It’s so jarring when someone I like—someone who’s unquestionably smart and decent—tells me a story and throws in some variation of “It was so retarded.” Depending on my mood and how comfortable I am around the person, I’ll either ask them not to use that word that way, or I’ll simply stay quiet.

But with this Wednesday designated by the Special Olympics and Best Buddies as the day to “Spread the Word to End the Word,” I’m rethinking my often-too-lenient policy. I took the pledge to support the end of the derogatory use of the word. I bought the T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, and will wear it proudly. And the next time someone says something’s retarded as a way of explaining how stupid it is, I’m speaking up. And I really hope you will, too.

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  1. by Catherine

    On March 1, 2010 at 10:15 am

    President Obama’s comment saddened me too, especially since I have so much respect for him otherwise. I hope the fallout from that comment, plus efforts like Spread the Word, show the power of words to hurt and to help.

  2. by Erin

    On March 1, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I was shocked to hear that President Obama made such a comment. I agree with the post above – most importantly that we speak up when others use the word to descibe something stupid or sub-par. I think it is crucial to speak up when your children are with you. You set an excellent example and they learn that you mean what you say!

  3. by Elaine

    On March 1, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue. It’s upsetting that this word is still used so flippantly by so many people, especially those in the public eye. I sincerely hope the “Spread the Word” campaign will help increase public awareness. And I, too, intend to speak up the next time I hear someone use this offensive term to make a point.

  4. by Christy

    On March 1, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I am the product of having been raised in an environment where certain words had no meaning at all, only effect. My grandfather frequently used the “N” word, but I always knew that it did not carry the meaning for him that it carried for me, and being family, I knew that despite his use of the word, he did not have the associated malicious intent that is behind the word. That said, this is a new generation and intent is no longer relevant, as the misuse of certain words within the home will certainly lead to the misuse of words outside of the home and will inevitably result in either anger, hurt or both. As parents, we have an obligation to teach our children that bullying and hate words are completely unacceptable in any situation. Period.

  5. by Gail

    On March 1, 2010 at 10:34 am

    The thoughtless use of the R word in recent years is partly why I’m uncomfortable even with the non-derogatory use of the word, i.e. the state “Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.” I understand why so many now want to ban the word altogether.

    Can I also put the insult “Did you ride the short bus to school?” on your list? Every time I hear that phrase come out of someone’s mouth, I shake my head at the insensitivity to children with delays and disabilities.

  6. by TimsMom

    On March 1, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I totally agree that people should stop using this word. People also need to stop saying “That’s so gay.” And making fun of how deaf people sound when they talk, and on and on. There are so many misused words and hurtful things done without “meaning to.” It’s time people STARTED thinking about what comes out of their mouths, and if they mean something is “stupid” then use the word “stupid”, not “retarded” which does not mean stupid. We have lots of words in the English language to convey what we mean. Let’s use the proper word for the proper meaning and not lazily revert to a derogatory term that hurts other people.

  7. by Betsy

    On March 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I completely identify with how you’ve felt in the past about saying something (or not) to a friend who uses the word in a derogatory way. It’s mean, hurtful and unnecessary, and it’s really unbelievable how commonplace it is in movies, tv and life in general. I hadn’t known about this campaign, but I think it will definitely help bring about a change by making people more aware. It’s great that you’re furthering the efforts.

  8. by sara

    On March 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Thank you!!! I don’t know why people think it’s okay to use this word so casually!!

  9. by Lori Toomey

    On March 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for a great post My sister has Downs Syndrome and I get very upset when people I know (and don’t know) use that word so casually. I’m off to buy a t-shirt.

  10. by Kristen

    On March 2, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Thankfully the “r” word has not made it to the lexicon of my daughter’s preschool classroom yet. My hope is that with this campaign, my fear of that happening will be a moot point by the time she gets to grade school!

  11. by Anita

    On March 2, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    When I was in elementary school, there was a handicapped girl named Anita. I remember having a crush on a particular boy until one day he said to me, “You have the same name as a retard.” And as you can imagine, that comment spread like wildfire. Before I knew it, people were saying that I must be retarded, too. Needless to say, it stung. So I can only imagine how it makes someone feel who actually has special needs. I think it’s great that you are going to stop people in their tracks. Nothing is more effective than speaking up!

  12. by I Dare You Not To Cry | GoodyBlog

    On September 13, 2010 at 9:24 am

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