Saturday, July 26, 2008

On the word "retarded"

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, 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.


Anonymous said...

If there is one term I was taught to reply to growing up it is calling people 'retarded'. I don't hesitate to tell people to try and refrain from using that word. I expect many children are not called mentally retarded anymore for diagnosis. At least I hope not. Still, some schools and doctors use this term. I will never like it.

Anonymous said...

I catch myself saying it too. I'm glad someone was able to come out and own up to it. I was too afraid too. Matty even tells people they are 'tarded when most would look him and actually mean it. I almost see it as if avoiding the word gives it power. And it is a word that no longer needs power

happycfam said...

Thanks for commenting on Myah's blog, and for the kind words. I also want to thank you for your post today. Before I had Myah I too used the word 'retarded' (although, never directed at a someone with a disibility). Obviously I have a whole new perspective and I now hate the word. I try to be understanding to others, because like I said, I didn't get it until I had Myah. I have kindly asked people to refrain from using it, but I try hard to not be judgmental. I have to admit, every time I hear someone use the word, I cringe and It hurts me for my daughter, but I try really hard not to take it personal or let it define her--because it never will!

SB said...

even before having my son (who has MR) I never used that word. Honestly never..

But I hang my head in shame and admit that I HARRASS people in public (mostly teenagae boys) for using it. Just a few weeks ago, a lady spit on me for it (she was parked in a handicapped spot illegally AND said, "hey, there are no tards around, what's the harm?" I blocked her vehicle AND called the cops.

I don't mind the term mentally retarded, it's the negative connotation that society has given it that I can do without.


little.birdy said...

There are people who actually use the word "tard" in a non-parody context? And when blatantly parking...gah. I don't think she could've been more crude or more of a jerk if she TRIED.

Osh said...

what a brave and thoughtful post...I have a confession that relates to this...When Evan was in kindergarten we had an autism specialist come in and talk to his class, in hopes that it would teach backfired horribly and Evan hated HATED all things autism...until we decided to make fun of it...not in public of course, but at home we started our own battle against autism and that was to be as goofy and exaggerated as we could when it was pulling Evan in its grasp...does that make sense? We laughed at it and made fun of it so it didn't seem so scary and frightening. And sometime we call each other 'tard...and we know it is wrong and horrible and it should never be used outside the house...but my thinking at the time (and as a single mom years ago) was that if we could make fun of it first then if others made fun of us it wouldn't matter. And you know what? Today, at 14, Evan can pick out an autistic child in a crowd, no matter where on the spectrum, and he will befriend them.
So in a way, my backwards and very unorthodox parenting did do some good.

sorry this was so long...

Niksmom said...

Hi lb; 've been remiss in commenting lately...this is a thoughtful and interesting post. It will intersting to see what firestorm, if any, the movie Tropic Thunder may create around this outside of our blogging world.

BTW, email me your twitter id? I may have accidentlaly blocked you not knowing your "handle." Thx.