Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's Never "Just A..."

It never ceases to amaze me how many feel that this is actually open for discussion.

I, and countless other advocates for the Intellectually Disabled (including self-advocates) hear "it's just a..." in regards to each new thing that crops up, each new use of the word "retarded".  It's just a word.  It's just a lipstick.  It's just a shirt.  It's just a cat.

"Political correctness", "my rights", "free speech", historical etymology... it's almost fascinating to watch the entitled defense of this word, except the posturing makes me sick each and every time.

Here is the thing:  it doesn't matter who you are or who you know.
It doesn't matter what context you felt you were using it in.
It doesn't matter what poorly fabricated rationale you or your PR team comes up with to explain the use of this word.

Truth be told, you wouldn't defend yourself so hard if you didn't already know what you are doing is wrong.

Ultimately though, it's not about you, or your rights at all. 

It's not even about the Ann Coulters or the Jennifer Anistons or the Kat Von Ds or some comedian or shock jock DJ or any other sheltered celebrity or athlete that thinks they know better than the rest of us. It's not how you feel about this word, whether you are currently engaged in a scholarly debate or describing your life's latest little inconvenience. 

It's about others.

It's about the hundreds of thousands of people with Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Delays, whether acquired congenitally or otherwise.  It's about people with Down syndrome, Autistics and people that are brain injured.  It's for those with aphasia and disabilities that affect communication. It's about their families and those that love them.

It's about people that are different than you. 

This word, this "R word", whether used as "Mentally Retarded", "retard(e)", "tard", "celebutard", "fucktard" or any other mash up (portmanteau) word ending in "-tard", has been used to denigrate. 


It has been used by those in authority, by those in society to condemn people to a life of poverty.  To segregate.  To ridicule.  To sterilize involuntarily and subject to horrific experiments.  To abuse sexually, physically and emotionally.  To deny health care that many of us take for granted.  To isolate and institutionalize, to deny the most basic of rights...  including "free speech".  To bury in nameless graves by the thousands.  To be determined "life not worthy of life", loaded onto buses and killed, the bodies burned after being subjected to experiments.  To have the stolen organs and tissue to still be laboratory curiosities decades later.

This word, the one that you insist on using, yet claim means nothing to you?

It means EVERYTHING to us.

I mean "us" on this too...  Advocates of all stripes stand together on this.  This word means enough to us to unite and motivate us all to action, to write, to call, to petition, to picket.

This word?  You can call it our Jim Crow.  It is our Holocaust, both in reality and in metaphor.  This resistance is our Stonewall riots,  if that comparison makes it easier for you to understand.  Whether you do finally or not however, understand this:

It is not about you. 

It is about people like my son and their right to live in society;  to have an education; to live their life like any other.

This word embodies the removal of some of the most basic physiological and safety needs.  When you use this word or any of its permutations, when you exercise and flex your privilege, you participate actively in the removal of the rights of another.  You perpetuate the scorn, the hurt, the marginalization.

Those with disabilities are flavours of humanity; this world needs to accept this once and for all.  What keeps people with disabilities from leading their lives is not their "conditions".  It is society and the able bodied people in it.  It goes beyond a ramp, beyond an accessible door or parking, past service animals and assistive devices, deep into the rhetoric of our own language

Those who continue to use and defend this word are party to the atrocities committed in its name.

So it's never just a cat or a lipstick or a word or a matter of being polite.  It's not about being "too sensitive" or "politically correct" or "thinking that way" or intent or even "toughening up".  It's not about your rights to free speech.  It's about people.  People who live in a society that is ever ready to abuse and discard it's own citizens.

This has to stop.



  1. I adore you! Thank you for all you do!

  2. I am re energized! Off to share this!

  3. Normally, I would cry political correctness. In this case, I cannot. Not while the word is still being used full-forced. Not while the population is still ignorant of what we have to go through.

    I'm not autistic, or Down Syndrome, merely severally dyslexic. And a 'freak' by many peoples standards. Someone even trained professionals mistake for Asburger's. It was never 'just a word.' Being called names, even more 'innocent' ones (idiot, freak, etc) left scars that still haven't healed. I cannot say I fully understand the life many lead- but I've had a taste. It ain't pleasant.

    Kudos to you, keep up the fight.

  4. Thank you for this! I am sharing it. I am currently angered by someone's insensitive use of "the short bus" to joke with a mutual friend on Facebook. Thank you for writing so clearly.


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