This is ridiculous.
I can relate to this father; the word “retard” and its various forms never really registered on my radar of hurtful words before my brother was born. Sure, I understood how “the n word” was inappropriate and could hurt feelings. I even knew that to say “gyp” someone was an aspersion on the Roma. I never used racial slurs regarding people from Asia, the Middle East, or any other place in the world. At the very least, 99% of people know not to use such words in the presence of the people that they slander.
The problem with “retard”, though, is, well…there are a lot of problems. The first is that you never know if you are around someone who might be hurt by the use of that word. The second is that it’s belittling and mean. And finally, if nothing else, it shows a deplorable lack of vocabulary.
Many people are affected by mental disabilities – not just those who have the deficiency. My parents are affected by my brother’s struggles; my mom changed her career to accommodate his increased needs. They spend a lot of time going to therapy and doctor’s appointments, worrying and struggling themselves. I am affected by my brother’s struggles. I face a future of caring for him when our parents are gone. I certainly do not walk around with a sign that reads “my brother is disabled!” Most people would not know to look at me that mental retardation is a fact in my life, not just an “amusement.” So careless use of the word “retard” is usually what gets me.
Beyond that, if the only word that a person can think of to describe something they don’t like or don’t understand is “retarded,” then they show a severe lack of creativity. Is “retarded” seriously the best word to describe anything and everything? I once had a friend that wrote, on Facebook, “Mornings are retarded.” We got into a debate about use of the word, and we parted ways – what a silly reason to lose a friend – but my main argument was that mornings cannot have mental disabilities. What she was saying was that she hated mornings, despised them, found them deplorable or unbearable. She could have described her feelings in any number of ways. Here are a few:
Mornings are worse than a stab in the eye.
Mornings make me want to punch myself in the face.
Mornings are intolerable.
Mornings are infernal.
Mornings are the bane of my existence.
Any of those phrases would have conveyed her meaning – she doesn’t like mornings – without simultaneously belittling an entire population of human beings.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, a person gains nothing by using the word “retard.” They only prove themselves to be mean, thoughtless, selfish, and basically a deplorable human being. Often I hear the argument that we have the right of free speech – Free Speech! Free Speech! I can say what I want! – but this isn’t about that, and anyone who thinks that it is is clearly unfamiliar with what that means. “Free speech” only means that you cannot be arrested, and I cannot sue you, for being an asshole. This is not about free speech.
This is about coexisting with our fellow humans and not being totally shitty at it. It is really hard to describe what it is like to someone who does not love a disabled person. There is no way for me to compare someone using “retarded” to describe something to something that other people might understand. There is likely no clear way for me to insult their child in such a broad and socially-accepted way. For instance, “I hate these pens. They are so brunette!” does not accurately convey the sinking and nervous feeling I get when someone calls their phone “retarded.”
That’s just the problem, though. We don’t insult things or people by calling them out on their uncontrollable traits, except when it comes to the word “retard.” For whatever reason, people just throw that around like it’s an everyday adjective, completely ignoring that it actually, scientifically describes a portion of the population. How is it that people don’t see how cruel and thoughtless this is? How is it that people in my own family ignore this simple act of decency – not hurting those around them?
Finally, and then I’ll be off my soapbox, this isn’t about us being sensitive. Sticks and stones can break our bones, and words have always been hurtful. That is why the pen is mightier than the sword; that is why bullying leads to teen suicide.
If you use the word “retarded,” I only ask that you think twice about it next time. Are you sure there’s not any other word you can use? Are you sure that you don’t mind being hurtful toward a whole population, and their families? It’s about empathy, and there’s not enough of it in the world; please help spread the word to end the word.