I have a confession to make, dear readers. I have been known to refer to events, activities, and even people as "retarded." I still do, occasionally, although I try to self-correct. I hear others do it, and sometimes I don't speak up. No one really MEANS any harm by it, but I know it still CAUSES harm, and I want to be sensitive.
Recently I have become enamored with "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog", which is a funny little 3-part video series about a lovable villain named Dr. Horrible and his misogynistic nemesis, Captain Hammer. Captain Hammer is funny because he is supposed to be a hero, yet he looks down on everyone and is very conceited. At one point he is singing a song about how everyone can be a hero (only not as cool as him) and one of the lines is, "If you're not a friggin' 'tard, you will prevail!"
When I heard that line, I laughed. But then I thought, "What if someone who really does have special needs hears that line? How would I explain to them why the line is funny? What is funny about saying a retarded person won't prevail?"
I am learning to be a communications professional. I know that the offhand slang ("friggin' 'tard" instead of "retarded") and the contrast between what a hero is supposed to be and how Captain Hammer is acting is probably what makes the line funny. I know that the writers of the song didn't MEAN any harm by the lyric...and yet, as I sit here thinking about it, I would rather inhale chili pepper than try to explain a statement like that to a person with special needs. It's so awkward to face the potential consequences of what you think is funny. And I know that jokes about "retards" are abundant, and no one MEANS any harm by telling them and laughing at them, but...it all adds up to the perception that people with special needs are substandard. The more I read and see and hear, the more I realize that people with special needs are vital. They teach us so much. And I ache that some people would rather laugh than learn the lessons they have to teach us. And I ache that sometimes, "some people" means me. I don't want to put myself on a high and mighty pedestal of righteousness here, because I chuckle too. But I don't think I'll ever hear that line again without cringing a little.