Thursday, December 31, 2009

The R-word(s): Let me be perfectly clear


That person who dropped the R-bomb on Michael and me the other night is someone with whom we have a long-term, professional relationship. A relationship which is now in jeopardy. I've been going over and over the whole exchange in my mind ever since it happened, and although at the time I appreciated the fact that she didn't become outwardly defensive, her explanation just isn't adding up in my mind, and now I'm left feeling that she chose to hide behind an easy, false explanation rather than just owning up to the truth, that she spoke out of ignorance or insensitivity. I'm having a lot of trouble with that, so I finally sat down today and wrote her a letter explaining where I'm at with all of this. I'd like to share a small part of what I wrote here for anyone who follows or stumbles across this blog:

Regarding the terms “retarded” and “retard”:

“Retarded” does have a clinical context. It originated as a medical diagnosis, and “mentally retarded” is still appropriately used in that manner, although it is falling out of favor, simply because over the years it has evolved into a general insult used willy-nilly. It’s sort of lost its original clinical meaning and is now widely used to disparage people. These days, the terms “developmentally delayed,” “intellectual disability,” and “cognitive impairment” are more appreciated by family members and loved ones of persons who have such diagnoses. However, the terms “retarded” and “mentally retarded” technically still have their appropriate places in a clinical context.

“Retard” as a noun – as in, referring to a person as “a retard” - has never had an appropriate context. It originated as a slur, and it remains a slur. It’s a hate word. Just like “nigger,” “dyke,” “faggot,” “spic,” and the like, it is a word that disparages, demoralizes, dehumanizes, marginalizes, and just plain hurts. There is no proper way to use it.



10 comments:

Adrienne said...

I still can't believe she said it. And it wasn't as if she said "I felt so retarded"-like a slip, she kept on saying it and I'm sorry but her excuse just doesn't add up in my mind either. I liked your letter.

Lisa said...

Lisa, I had just had a similar experience that I'm writing about now... I wasn't sure what to do but ultimately confronted the person. She got super defensive and tried to argue that "retard" has lost it's meaning. That it's not intended the way I perceive it. So, as a friend recently pointed out... if it has no meaning why does it hurt so much? Why does it mean the world to me that people stop using it?

ds.mama said...

I agree with you Lisa. There is just no good excuse for the way she used it.

Esther and Brian said...

Good for you, Lisa. Stand on your ground. I think that I shared with you that someone called my son a midget a few weeks back simply because he is smaller. And the first thing that I said on my blog was that the right word to use is "little person". Otherwise it is not appropriate to use in every-day language, or nilly-willy as you say it. It's just not. I almost emailed you the other night, Lisa. I follow www.celebritybabyscoop.com for giggles and relaxation. Well, there was a photo of Nicole Kidman's daughter. There were a lot of comments made wondering if "she was Down's". And it kept on and on. Someone even said that she looks like "she might have mild Down's". I do not know when people will understand that there is just no such thing as a Down's baby- ALL babies are the same, they are all babies. Some might have an extra chromosome, others might have a small person gene, and others might have genes that give them the propensity to be obese, for instance. As a twin Mom, you might also appreciate that a lot of us hate when strangers ask if our twins were "natural". Aren't all children natural? Are IVF babies made of plastic or something?

Anyways, good for you and shame on that person..ESPECIALLY since she said it straight in your presense...

Heidi said...

well said.

Susan Carson said...

I'm glad you wrote the letter- good for you! The way I see it, it's not up to the person using the word to decide if it's offensive or not. The offended person gets to decide. Happy New Year to you and your family.

Lisa B said...

I am sorry this happened with her. It is very disappointing for you I know. Language is tough - words and phrases work their way into common usage and what is right for one generation is wrong for the next. I recall all of the "lingo" that was popular when we were pre-teens and teens - "how gay" "you're a spaz" "that is so retarded" etc... and maybe since we were kids you forgive it now but you hope as adults people realize how hurtful the terms are and catch themselves before they utter the slang that was at one time "no big deal" to say when they were youths...and if they slip, you hope they feel embarrassed and try harder next time.

But your feelings are totally justified - no matter what, when any word is said in a manner to be insulting to the person it describes it is hurtful to that person and anyone who loves that person. I know I always get the twinge when people make "Jew" remarks because despite the fact that my husband is the most non-Jewish Jew out there, my children still are one-half of Jewish descent and the dig is thus at them, intended or not by the person speaking... sigh.

Catherine Just said...

Man that just got to me. She used it in a story to explain that the teacher started acting retarded like her students. And then she says she was just using it to make a point.
Augh.
A friend of mine just asked me if she could make our son a little art smock thing and wondered if there was any material or buttons, snaps etc that weren't ok for Max. She said she knows of the usual things to avoid for NORMAL kids but wasn't sure about him.
I know she was just wanting to make sure he didn't get something he couldn't use or would harm him - but the word NORMAL means my son is WHAT?
I don't know what to say to her and I'm not sure how to say it. Your letter was so well written and said EXACTLY what I wish I knew to say in the moment to my friend about comparing a NORMAL child to mine. Makes me sad.
Good for you for posting this and writing the letter. I hope you don't mind but I am going to post it over on my blog too.

Terri said...

Amen. Well written.

MaggieMae said...

Lisa - Can I reprint this as part of a post I'm doing over on my blog... I LOVE the way you said it! It hits the proverbial nail on the head.