Letting Go Of The R-Word

There are many different types of intelligence....

There are many different types of intelligence….

When I was in Junior High (“Junior High” for us meant 7th, 8th, and 9th grades), there was a strange man who would hang out near our school. He would stand on the sidewalk with a pad of paper, and he would yell things at the cars that drove by, followed by what seemed to be copious note-taking about each car. His name was Junior (no relation to the school), but when we talked to him, in the strange language he spoke, his name came out as “Pooner.” And we really only knew that because in the flurry of babble that came out of his mouth, he motioned to himself as he said “Pooner.” He was a giant man, with a body like a Far Side character, but there was absolutely nothing threatening about him…. He was kind smiles and gibberish.

I'm sure someone meant well with this, but.... Wow. I mean, really.... Wow.

I’m sure someone meant well with this, but…. Wow. I mean, really…. Wow.

My Junior High self was not completely unlike my current self, in that I thought I was funnier than I actually was back then too. I thought I was particularly funny when I wrote out a list of symptoms to disease I made up called “Pooneritus.” And I wasn’t the only one that found it funny–When my classmates read my list of odd characteristics and strange habits done by our harmless Junior, they laughed too. However, when our Bible teacher found the list, he did NOT find it nearly as funny. His spiritual gift was making adolescents who thought they were being funny suddenly realize that they, buried beneath the full weight of Christian guilt, were actually being the worst sort of cruel. He didn’t use his gift frivolously either–He only made us feel like crap when we actually deserved to feel like crap. And right then, we knew we deserved it.

Back then (and on into high school and college), many of the things that I really didn’t care for were called “retarded” (That or “gay,” but that’s for another post). Most of the times I used that word, I didn’t actually think of a person with an intellectual disability…. I was just thinking “this is stupid” or “I hate this,” and “retarded” was the word that came out of my mouth. There were times when I used it in a more insidious way as well–Like if someone was acting too silly or crazy, I might say, “Don’t be such a retard,” but most of the time it seemed like an innocuous enough synonym for something stupid or something that I hated. And I didn’t give it a second thought.

As is often the case, we don’t realize the ways that our words and our prejudices can hurt people until we actually spend some time with the people we are hurting….

I assumed that working with people with special needs would be much like an episode of "Life Goes On." I assumed wrong.

I assumed that working with people with special needs would be much like an episode of “Life Goes On.” I assumed wrong.

Fast forward to the summer after my freshman year in college where I found myself working at a camp for people with special needs. I was completely out of my element–Suddenly, the ease with which witty responses came to me was a much less valuable thing, and using a word like “retarded” to describe something I thought was stupid became much more risky. If I used that word without thinking, I might find myself apologizing to a mother who has dedicated her whole life to loving and caring for her disabled son. Or even worse, if I carelessly used that word, I might hurt the feelings of my camper–A kid named Jerry who had Down Syndrome (I say “kid,” but was was actually older than me) who was a smiling, playful picture of love–And the best kind of love…. A love that is simple.

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything.

I’m not sure what this has to do with anything.

I should mention that I’m not writing this out of a place of trying to be politically correct. A lot of times, political correctness just comes out of a fear of seeming “out of style” by using outdated terminology. As terms get older, they come off as more offensive. And so, when referring to someone with brown skin, “Colored” becomes “Negro” becomes “Black” becomes “African American” becomes “Person of African Descent.” Using outdated terms doesn’t necessarily say anything about a person’s heart–Just because a grandma somewhere refers to someone with brown skin as “colored” doesn’t make her racist…. Grandma might just be wearing last season’s shoes (though, if grandma is informed that using “colored” is offensive and she still insists on using that term despite the fact that it offends people, she might want to ask herself why she refuses to change). But if she is using the term “Colored” to mean “something that she hates,” Grandma needs to have a little talk with my Junior High Bible teacher, because she should be ashamed of herself.

This picture is from r-word.org. You can go there and join a bunch of other people who have pledged to stop using this demeaning word.

This picture is from r-word.org. You can go there and join a bunch of other people who have pledged to stop using this demeaning word.

Well, the same thing is true for using the word “retarded.” Thirty years ago, that might have been a perfectly acceptable way to refer to a person with an intellectual disability…. so if you have been on a desert island for a couple decades and you call a person the R-word, you’re forgiven. Please don’t use that word anymore–It’s the disability equivalent of using the word “Nigger,” and it’s completely offensive. Stop saying it. And if you are one of the seemingly endless numbers of people who uses the R-word as a synonym for something stupid or something you hate (i.e. “This blog is retarded.”), you need to stop doing that. I know it’s not your intention to be mean or prejudiced when you say it, but it really doesn’t matter what your reasoning is–You’re using a community’s most hurtful word (a word used to demean a human beings whom God finds every bit as valuable as you) in place of calling something stupid. You’re acting like it’s no big deal, but it is a big deal…. And I don’t mean to go all “Junior High Bible Teacher” on you, but it is not okay.

During one of the presidential debates, Ann Coulter (if you don’t know who she is, be thankful) called president Obama a retard on her Twitter account. Twice. In response to her words, John Franklin Stephens, a 30 year-old Special Olympian with Down Syndrome, wrote THIS LETTER to her. Please, please read it. It is short and sweet and it is genuinely one of the most wonderfully kind and smart things I’ve ever read. It might have taken him a little longer than some to get his thoughts together, but here is an excerpt:

“I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have. Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next. Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift. Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.” He signed the letter with the words “A friend you haven’t made yet.”

Please read the whole letter. And please. Don’t be like Ann Coulter.

I’ll leave you with this story: The other day, I was doing a puppet show at a school (yes, one of the hats I wear is that of a puppeteer) in a school with quite a few developmentally delayed children integrated into the general population. There was a kid with some sort of intellectual or emotional disability who was watching our presentation…. Well, I wouldn’t say “watching.” He was basically wrestling with the woman who was sitting with him and holding him in this patient, loving bear hug. Every once in a while he would yell something, and we were in a gymnasium, so it was kind of echoy and distracting to have this kid keep trying to make a break for it and yelling out. The rest of the kids in his class didn’t seem to mind, but I was getting a little frustrated. I kept thinking, “Why don’t they just take him somewhere else? He’s not getting anything out of it, he keeps yelling, the lady he’s wrestling with has got to be getting tired…. What is this kid doing in here?”

Renaldo is the one with the cane.... Just in case you were wondering, he really likes playing Beep Baseball.

Renaldo is the one with the cane…. Just in case you were wondering, he really likes playing Beep Baseball.

A few minutes later, during the portion of the presentation when the kids ask the puppets questions, a second grade girl who had Down Syndrome raised her hand to ask my puppet a question–A puppet named Renaldo who is blind and teaches kids about accepting differences. The girl was a little smaller than most of the other kids in her grade, and she had a tiny little voice. She asked her question, but we couldn’t hear what she said. The girl sitting next to her (who looked to be her helper) put her arm on the littler girl’s back and leaned in as she whispered her question again…. “She wants to know if you like to play games.” And I saw clearly that kids with intellectual differences are not integrated simply for what that can get out of it–It’s just as much about what they can give. They give other kids an opportunity to get to know people who are different before all of our crappy prejudices develop.

Let it go....

Let it go….

So next time you say the R-Word, please think about what you’re saying. Imagine using that word while sitting next to that little girl who asked a puppet a question. Imagine using it while talking to that little girl’s mother or father. Imagine that little girl’s friend hearing you use that word to describe something stupid, and then imagine hearing her use it for the first time herself. Let it be a word that you just let go of. There is no reason to hang onto it. As you try to stop, it will probably slip out more than a few times–it definitely did as I was letting it go–but after a while, it will leave your vocabulary. And then when you hear other people saying the R-Word, it will sound as crass and ignorant and hurtful to your ears as it now does to mine. And then you can forgive those people for saying it, explain why you don’t say it any more, and maybe it will just disappear…. And we’ll all be better for it.

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55 Responses to Letting Go Of The R-Word

  1. iamgoodenuf says:

    I find myself often searching for a different, ‘more nicer generic term to apply’… Ya know. Kinda like the word, ‘nervous breakdown’ – thats a dumb, hurtful, inaccurate word, too.
    You know, ‘she had a nervous breakdown…’.
    Aw, c’mon, ‘RE’… You know it schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder or some other temporary or permanent state of imbalance they cant help. We dont know what to, ‘call it’ – like ‘colored’ we say, ‘retarded’ an
    I think we need to be more aware and seaech for

    • iamgoodenuf says:

      Excellent – its from the ‘breakdown’ in my phoneternet that I hit ‘send’ when I didnt mean to! Im a RE. I think we are lazy characters of our culture and then when we witness someone being hurt or we get embarrassed from blurting out in the wrong crowd… We then find a yuckiness inside if we catch ourselves using the faux paux, over & over until we retrain our hearts and relay that to our mouths.
      Great post!

  2. Kim Ramos says:

    Excellent post, as usual! This is an issue close to my heart. As a teacher of children with many different kinds of disabilities, I find the use of the R-word repulsive. Recently, my 5th grade daughter came home from school very upset. When probing her about it, I found out that her teacher had called the class “retarded” for not paying attention. I had to decide how to deal with it. I could be a concerned parent, or I could be an appalled colleague. I called him at home and confronted him about it…of course, he gave me all that crap that he thought I wanted to hear: I’m sorry, It just slipped out, it was a horrible thing to say, I should have said a swear word instead, blah blah blah…. I dislike this man strongly, and I’m not one to hold back when it comes to calling people out as being assholes, but for my daughter’s sake, I was professional. (He was lucky that time). What I did say was this, and I hope it hit home: Those kids didn’t take home one bit of your math lesson today, they didn’t take anything from the MEAP either; they took home the fact that their TEACHER called them retards. I later posted a link to the web site you referred to, on his FB page, encouraging him to set an good example and pledge with his students to end the R-word. He deleted it. I hope your message reaches some of those “Mr. P’s” out there!

    • theboeskool says:

      Yeah, it’s hard for me to be too judgmental about other people using the R-Word…. As many times as I’ve used it. We just have to be able to talk to people, in a loving way, about how hurtful it can be. Keep up the good work, Kim.

  3. April says:

    Great message Chris! From someone who cringes daily because that word is used SOOOO often, my heart is happy that you have dropped it and that you are asking others too as well. The one good thing about Blake’s disability is that he doesn’t have the mental ability to understand how thoughtless and hurtful the more intellectually adept folks are that are around him. Isn’t that ironic? That those of us who are smarter, and who can understand how we affect others, are the ones that use the word inappropriately and hurtfully??

    • theboeskool says:

      I’ve never thought about it that way, April. I suppose that if our intelligence doesn’t lead us to more compassion, then it’s worthless. Thanks for your insight.

  4. April says:

    Another frustrating phrase… “the short bus” – that one should be removed from people’s “funny phrases” list too.

  5. Heidi says:

    Whats do wit does the picture with the mans pants open and mens hands on his chest got to do with the post?

  6. Heidi says:

    Sorry that got mixed up doing it one handed. Whats does the picture. Is what it was ment to say

    • lb says:

      “I’m not sure what this has to do with anything.” is the quote below it. :)

    • theboeskool says:

      So, here was the thought process: I write the posts first, then I find some pictures that I think are funny. Sometimes, as I’m walking around, I write ideas on my phone. One idea that I haven’t used yet (and thus, has stayed on my phone for a while) is a picture of Tracy Morgan’s character on 30Rock, Tracy Jordan, wearing a giant gold and diamond necklace that says “POVERTY.” Then, I thought (because that paragraph mentioned race) about a picture of Tracy Jordan “playing the race card” on the show. Then I saw this picture of him imitating the famous Janet Jackson picture (I believe in response to some insensitive things he said in a comedy bit about homosexuals) and I thought it was funny, so I put it in. <– That's usually the determining factor. Anyway, for some reason, this one picture is the only one that accompanies this post when it is being shared (usually I can choose whichever picture I'd like when I post).

      Long story short, Tracy Morgan makes me laugh, as does arbitrary humor, so I added the picture. I'm just thankful that the "Forgivenall" picture wasn't the one that got chosen for me–I'd probably have half as many views.

      Sorry if it's distracting. : ) What'd you think of the post?

  7. Ed D. says:

    The label retard was a perfect description of the condition that these people have,, their progress as contributing people of our society was retarded by their handicap. The label “retarded” is harsh in the political correct society we live in but it is clinically accurate. I dont personally call them retarded though. I do say they are challenged!

    • k.w. says:

      I agree if retarded is not supposed to be used then the new word which you say is challenged, everyone will be in a upheaval yelling about how hurtful the word “challenged” is. If I say the word retarded it means someone is thinking or acting on the lower intelligent scale vis se ve (?) the i.q. scale and yes they can be generalized, not everyone but most. I have a psychology background so when you are describing someone below 80-90 i.q. you use a label. I don’t get upset with being called so blonde, i.e. dumb a blonde moment, are we going to come up with a different word for blonde that won’t be so offensive. People think of it as something dirty and offensive and don’t want to speak about it, and that’s why they say the world is offensive. The word is not offensive as no word is ever offensive, it’s how it’s used and the knowledge of what the actual definition of the word that makes it offensive. My little spiel. I dont like the campaign because they want everyone to never say what intelligent level they are. We know and no one should be that offended to want to hide all the “retarded” or “mentally challenged” people. That’s all the campaign is trying to hide the “mentally challenged” people. I see know reason to hide, everyone is different don’t hide the low or high intelligence, it’s what makes someone who he or she is..

      • Shannon says:

        Why do you think the campaign is trying to hide people? To my understanding I thought it was asking for people to stop using the word in the harmful way it is being used as an insult.

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  11. jaxdip says:

    Thank you.

    I’d like to add this to the list of words to give up.

    Crazy.

    For someone who fiercely loves her severely mentally ill brother (age 45 now having suffered more than half his life with delusions, homelessness, poverty, ridicule, shame, rape, criminalization, forced torturous drugging with high combination, high dosage psychotropic drugs that could’ve and should’ve killed him on numerous occasions. I hope I live to see the day when these most forgotten, uncared for, feared, shunned, laughed at, judged, abused souls finally garner some compassion and understanding in this country.

    We are good…no, we are great people. There are many families like ours. There are no resources or facilities to really help, much less solve. Only jail and the streets. We need long term hospitals. We need kindness. We need to not be the brunt of late night comics’ jokes about homeless folks that talk to themselves. A delusion is suffering. It’s hard dealing with that person, but imagine BEING that person. Crazy shouldn’t be used any more than retarded or gay should. It’s derogatory and no one gives a rats ass about these afflicted people. It’s time we cared. It’s time we had awareness. It’s time to end the damaging labels and realize what we are saying HURTS. it’s way past time. Thank you.

  12. jaxdip says:

    I’d like to add this to the list of words to give up.

    Crazy.

    For someone who fiercely loves her severely mentally ill brother (age 45 now having suffered more than half his life with delusions, homelessness, poverty, ridicule, shame, rape, criminalization, forced torturous drugging with high combination, high dosage psychotropic drugs that could’ve and should’ve killed him on numerous occasions. I hope I live to see the day when these most forgotten, uncared for, feared, shunned, laughed at, judged, abused souls finally garner some compassion and understanding in this country.

    We are good…no, we are great people. There are many families like ours. There are no resources or facilities to really help, much less solve. Only jail and the streets. We need long term hospitals. We need kindness. We need to not be the brunt of late night comics’ jokes about homeless folks that talk to themselves. A delusion is suffering. It’s hard dealing with that person, but imagine BEING that person. Crazy shouldn’t be used any more than retarded or gay should. It’s derogatory and no one gives a rats ass about these afflicted people. It’s time we cared. It’s time we had awareness. It’s time to end the damaging labels and realize what we are saying HURTS. it’s way past time. Thank you.

  13. A girl says:

    I love this. I too used this word growing up in the same exact way and am now in my late 20’s and have found myself saying it by accident on a handful of occasions and feeling really miserable for it. I agree that it should be eliminated from our vocabularies and will make the effort to never slip up again.

  14. Me says:

    Love your posts! And thank you for this. This is a word I need to give up also. I don’t use it a lot but I still use it once in a while to describe something I think is really stupid. It’s not right and I have known it for sometime but I needed a good shaming to definitively eliminate this word from my vocabulary. Thanks for helping make me a better person

  15. This Guy. says:

    I’d like to point out that what Ed D says is entirely true. You realize the exact definition of retarded correct? Stunted, inhibited, so on and so forth. That is exactly synonymous with learning disability. You also realize that by taking words and creating arbitrary general connotations for it, labeling a word as “bad” or “hurtful” only serves to stunt our own vocabulary? You understand that by limiting the usage of that word, replacing it with another word, eventually in time the exact same social connotations of the new word will replace the old? In twenty years instead of saying “that’s retarded” to refer to something inane, or not fully thought out, we will just say “that’s borderline mentally challenged” and it will have the exact same political ramifications socially. By creating the idea that some generalized words are harmful, you are the one giving more credence to that line of thought.

    What constitutes as socially acceptable word usage in contemporary society is all based around these (usually) vague and arbitrary misgivings of previous generations that have used the words as slang synonymous with other things. You realize that by changing your wording from “retarded” into “stupid” is basically the same thing? Implying essentially the same reference, yet stupid is somehow more socially acceptable? Why? The reason is because mentally disabled people are no longer referred to as “Stupid” instead political observations were made to change the more correct term to “retarded”, and now that very same word has become politically obsolete. You get where this is going? Understand that the cycle is just that, as one word becomes the replaced by a newer word, the associated people of the current generations feels less victimized by the word usuage, but in reality there has been no real change, all we have done is served to lower our own vocabulary, removing one word to replace it with something more in the moment.

    Please also realize that many words contain multiple uses, I can say chicken and mean “coward” or an actual fowl. One of these could be construed as insulting, and the other (usually) cannot. Why can it not be so that “retard” or other generalized words cannot be understood the same? I can use retard in it’s exact definition “that was retarded” and literally mean stunted, or without full complete growth, in reference to action or thought, and be well within the exact word usage. The hurtful connotations or the word are misgivings by people who feel that labels are in and of themselves harmful or hurtful. But that too is a social misgiving. Can we really not refer to people by what they are? is distinction through difference really so bad? We are all so afraid of being “outside” of the norm that people become vehement when it is brought to others attention that they are different. That kind of thinking is what leads to direct discrimination and social disunity. The very fact that we see abnormality as something we need to fight against being labeled as shows how very little humanity has come as a social entity. Accepting the differences of our fellow man should be the ultimate goal, and that starts with accepting labels. If you accept the things people label you by, and you cannot be hurt by them, then no longer do these arbitrary and general words hold any power over you, when everyone can just accept that there is nobody else quite like them, that everyone is really different, then we can finally see that labeling is nothing more than a set of descriptor words, and nothing more, the way they were intended.

    Please stop giving bad social connotations to words just because some people are too afraid of being pointed out as being “different”, Stop the mindset that words are hurtful, its only peoples perceptions of words that are hurtful, and the sooner people accept those words, the sooner those social implications for those words will dissolve.

    • deehitch says:

      I enjoyed this comment. I especially agree with the fact that people’s perceptions of labels are the real problem here. If you consistently get offended by words, you can’t expect everybody to stop labeling. You should do something about it. Either learn to cope with it or retort back. It’s been the way of the land for decades.

    • So it’s OK to continue to use the N word? And, by the way, I totally disagreed with the call to abandon the use of niggard(ly) a few years back because people were ignorant of its denotation. The N word is a horse of a different color and so is retard, regardless of its denotation.

      • tosh-rd says:

        I think you are proving the point right there….when you write “N word” what you actually want people to think of is “nigger”. How is that any different than actually using the word itself? Calling something by another name is still referring to the same thing, if you don’t want people to use the word “nigger” stop using words that mean the same thing.

      • This Guy. says:

        There is a huge difference in these words usage. “Nigger” is a direct racial slur, designed to discriminate against an entire race of people without any objective view on the differences of those people. for example: “your skin is black you are a nigger”, without regards to any other specific quality of the person. This word is designed in and with prejudice. The word “retard” holds entire different denotation. You realize at one point “retarded” was the more politically correct evolution of other words like “dumb” (used incorrectly) or “stupid”?

        It was never designed to be insulting, and is only denoted as insulting because the contemporary society has been able to closely associate that word with insinuating “difference”, among a subset of people (regardless of race creed gender etc, as retardation is clinically found in all subsets of people), furthermore the association of the word predates our contemporary usage, and still falls easily within its casual portrayals. “Man what you did was retarded” for example can easily imply someone did an action or had a thought that was stunted, not thought out or incomplete. Retard was not designed as a hurtful word, in actuality it was designed as a word choice political improvement over another word commonly used to describe the mentally handicapped of the time.

        The difference here is large, “retarded” is only insulting because it points out a difference that people by nature are inherently afraid of admitting, or feel ostracized because of its social implications. Racial slurs on the other hand are ironically without discrimination in their usage, and with intentions and designs to be insulting and hurtful in society.

        Beyond that point I would like to point out that many people have evolved beyond the notion of racial slurs as even insulting, (please watch stand up comedy for examples, or visit your local Gang-Bangers favorite downtown bar), without restriction for just the word “nigger”, many racial slurs are less hurtful now than say, in the 60’s and prior when oppression and bigoted ideals were commonplace, and many of the people in our society now would agree that a camaraderie can be shared among people of similar ethnicity by referencing these outdated racial slurs (please check out your local top ten charts rap/hip-hop radio stations for reinforcement on this).

        By obsoleting words like “retard” and giving it a worse name than it has, you’re only serving to lower your (and anyone else that you feel like enforcing those ideals on) vocabulary, all the while nominating whatever word or phrase you choose to replace “retard” up for the next round of “politically correct word replacement”. People should be able to accept being labeled more readily, people are different, differences create labels, being labeled for what you are is only a description, so please stop taking offense to who and what you are (when labeled correctly), and start accepting yourself.

  16. deehitch says:

    I personally think you make this issue out to be too black and white. It can be used for playful humor, when used at the proper time. Now, I grew up using this word as slang. Was I out of line when I used it? More often than not. Is it wrong to call someone you just met a retard, even if intended to be funny? Absolutely. But I don’t get offended if a person in my group of friends say some inanimate object or action that i performed is “retarded”.

    It can be used as constructive criticism sometimes. I played football growing up, and I am currently training to become a boxer. My coaches/trainer would call me FAAAR more offensive terms than “retard” during a game or practice session, but that was only if it seemed like I wasn’t giving my best. Some athletes respond to that sort of criticism. My dad has coached high school football for about 40 years. He told me, on a few occasions, he used some regretful terms, but it helped his players get their shit together on -and off- the field. He doesn’t use those terms as vernacular -and his players know that- but they realize they muffed up when it gets to the point that their coach does use that language.

    I could explain other scenarios where it can be acceptable to use the word, but i don’t have all day.

    By the way, if there is a retarded person present in any of these scenarios, don’t use it. PERIOD.

    Please let me know what you think, BoeSkool.

  17. Kristi J says:

    I don’t have a problem with the word ‘retarded’. I have a problem with the misuse of the word ‘retarded’. Using it as a pejorative term is misuse. However, things have gotten so bad with the whole ” OMG!!!!! don’t use the R-word crowd! “, that I can’t even tell people my son’s medical/psychiatric diagnosis without having to whisper. It is honest to God, Autistic Spectrum disorder with Mental Retardation. Mental Retardation is a real condition! The campaign go so much play that it makes it difficult to talk to doctors and other professionals if my son is present. He’s been taught by the media that his condition is a dirty word and he gets upset over ANY use of the term.

    But of course it safe, if your a big name comic and get up on national television with your co star that has Down’s Sydrome and say “Don’t use the R-word”; because if you got up and said “Hey y’all! Quit making fun of each other and being mean and caustic to one another! Calling people names and belittling them is not cool!”, well there goes your career and material.

    The real kicker of it is, whatever euphemism those of us with mentally retarded family members have to start using to be accepted in polite society, will just end up being bent to make fun of people just like ‘retarded’ was. Instead of teaching people that it is wrong to make fun of people, it just made a new bad word out of an old good word.

    • This Guy. says:

      These were my points exactly, it’s the perceived negative social connotations of these words that make them “bad” not the words themselves. We need to get beyond labeling, realize that these words are nothing but description details, and stop being so afraid of being recognized as different.

      Furthermore, If we change the politically correct form of the label, then we just associate these people with a newer synonymous label, and we’ve obsoleted a perfectly usable word, all we’ve done is perpetuate the cycle.

      The only way to truly be rid of the hurtful sentiments is to understand that labels and diversity are not inherently negative, being different is no reason to not afford equal human rights to each other. The fear of that which we do not understand, the fear of that which is not ourselves, and thus any, and all differences outside of our perception of “normal” is so deeply ingrained in humanity that we have fooled ourselves into this kind of intolerant loop. We are so socially driven that the ones most probable of committing this vicious cycle are the very ones who are different.

      For example, we feel so strongly our need to fit in, that people will go to extreme lengths to hide their differences, to the extreme where being labeled as different evokes a series of mental stresses on oneself. If someone is mentally disabled, a literal retard, and they are called as such, they undergo a series of stresses because they feel their own difference is inherently negative, because they do not fit the majority “norms”, and as such over time, as these labels and stresses are applied to them though true, they feel the need to come out and fight against these descriptions, in a sense trying to cover up and hide the fact that they are different. They would have the terms swept under the rug to be never spoken of, so that they cannot be called out on being different.

      This is wrong, instead of rallying behind this feeling, and empowering the people who feel hurt because they are accurately labeled as this or that and giving further credence to the misgivings of word use, we should be teaching them acceptance of the self. We need to understand that no two people are the same, that difference is the only real common description when contrasting people. We need to drive away these ingrained assertions that difference is bad, we need to overcome that fear, and most of all we need to present that to the people who feel most hurt by their differences.

  18. Tyler says:

    I know I’ll get hate for this, but I slightly disagree. Words change meaning over time, and these days, being “retarded” has nothing to do with having a handicap/disorder. It might have in the past, but the meaning of the word had since changed because the way people use it has changed. Stop making a big deal out of the word, and stop bringing up what it used to mean, that way the old definition and meaning goes away. It’ll never go away if you keep bringing light to it.

    Hate away!

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  22. Ross says:

    As someone with a couple of pretty severe learning disabilities, but still ‘normal’-seeming due to being blessed with a respectable IQ ad great teachers (and therapy), I’m holding onto that word with a death grip. Like my own personal ‘N-Word’.
    The reasons it has stayed around has been dying a slow death is definitely because clinicians ( in small numbers) have sought to keep it that way so it keeps popping up in validating ways. Also it is descriptive as an insult to people who do things that are incredibly (especially habitually) who have no real excuse to. It just pops out of peoples’ mouth-and it isn’t the same a racial slur-it is similar, but it isn’t used in the same fashion when directed at, for instance, someone who makes a right-hand turn from the left lane without looking.
    I am not saying that people should use it, but it doesn’t offend me.
    I suggest watching this as well:

    • Seamus says:

      Ross,
      thanks for posting. Great sketch…I couldn’t agree more.

      Words morph and change all the time, and so does their meaning and their usage. Whatever the initial meaning of the term, it has changed. If I have ever used the term it has only ever been used in exactly the way Christopher Titus talks about: in relation to people with no excuse for operating way below where they should. For someone to say it is deeply offensive is to suggest that it can have only one meaning, their meaning. They are telling me what I meant rather than trying to see what I meant, which I personally find offensive (even more so, and with no small amount of irony, when they are supposedly making a point about not offending people).
      No word has ever got just one meaning, and if you try to give it one and enforce that, you will fail. That is the main drawback of language: it is interpretive. We are all interpreting the words we encounter from within our own version of reality. Rather than people taking offence, maybe they should realise that they don’t decide how the world they live in is defined for everyone else.
      That is why there are thousands of different versions of Christianity, because the one set of words mean completely different things to almost everyone who reads/hears them.
      So, in short, if you don’t like a word, then don’t use it, but don’t tell me not to use it, because you can’t tell me in advance what I might be meaning when I use it.
      And don’t tell me a word has a particular meaning to a specific group, because I will tell you language doesn’t work that way. Nobody gets to own a word.

  23. Boobilee says:

    John Stephens didn’t write that letter, only letter he wrote was “I.”

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  26. A dear friend who clearly not only loves my developmentally challenged sister but appreciates her asked me not long ago what was wrong with using the R word–an honest question no doubt deriving from the fact that she never had used it with any more derision that she used such words as blue-eyed or brunette–gentle loving soul that she is. I wish I’d have had your words to refer her to because, although she seemed to “get it” when I explained, I was hard put to find the eloquence the situation merited.
    What might have helped me explain what was wrong (and at the same time demonstrating Seamus’ point) was to have recalled for her an image that is as frozen in my memory as my own name–not an event, simply an image: I was sitting near a window in the back of my 7th or 8th grade “civics” class (an unusual spot for me because I was not only studious but genuinely eager to learn) in 1952 or 53 with my book open. The brilliant sunlight fell across the page on the passage that revealed (in italics; watch out for those; they indicate something important) the three levels of “feeblemindedness.” They were, in order of severity: idiot, imbecile, and moron. The only other pertinent detail of the memory is the sweep of shame I felt and my internal query as to which category my sister fell into

  27. Since 1964, the MHMR building has been right across the street. Last year, they changed the name because the organization, formerly known as Mental Health and Mental Retardation had become offensive. Despite the knowledge of this, I have continued to call it MHMR, because that is a name everyone recognizes and I have justified my stubbornness until now. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will try to change.

  28. Mindi says:

    I think most people have forgotten how to think before they speak. I would just ask my self would I be offended by some one calling me words? I still think the Golden Rule is one of the best ideal to ever come along. Treat others the way you would like them to treat you! If you don’t have something nice to say just keep your thoughts to your self.

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  36. Tempest Rose says:

    I can’t even explain how much I love this. I have been contemplating writing my own post on the subject, but now I’m slightly afraid to for fear that it won’t come close to this. (I still will, though.)

    I’ve been having this discussion with a few people very, very close to me and they just don’t seem to get it. They keep saying it, I keep getting super offended, they keep telling me they’re not going to stop saying it, we keep arguing. I don’t want eliminate these people from my life because of this one factor (I was going to say “small factor,” but then I realized it’s not small at all), but I also don’t want our relationships to slowly but progressively cave in on themselves because we both stand firm on opposite sides of the debate, nor will I bend my own rules to accommodate them. It’s a tricky situation — I’ve shared your post with them in the hopes that maybe one more person will truly understand.

    Thank you for this.

    • theboeskool says:

      Let me know what they think. :)

      • Tempest Rose says:

        As of right now, they SAY they’re sticking to their own beliefs. But, I’ve noticed an increased amount of stopping before they say the word, or stopping halfway through, or saying “I’m sorry” after they say it. Usually they end up saying it anyway, but at least I’m making somewhat of an impact=]

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