Retard (as defined here): noun, a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way: e.g. a hopeless social retard.
I had an entirely different blog topic lined up for discussion today, and I threw it out the window the minute I read this post.
Rob's post further stewed thoughts that were already in my brain about the same subject ever since I caught the above PSA on tv last week (featuring Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter from Glee). The campaign is called Spread the Word to End the Word and I think it is one that everyone should be discussing. As the campaign website states:
"When they were originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms, “retard” and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity." (from here)
I think it is safe to say that we have all, at one time or another, used the word "retard" or "retarded", either to describe a person or circumstance. I admit it - I have certainly used it in the past as a way to describe something as ridiculous. I am not proud of that. It is never a word I have been proud to use - I have always stopped myself briefly when I felt it getting ready to leave my mouth and sometimes would adjust my speech. But sometimes I would let it slip out anyway. It's not like I ever received retribution from anyone for using the word. It has become such a normal descriptor in our language that even I, someone who is intimately connected to a person with an intellectual disability, can say use it with barely a second thought.
That's right - I have a family member with an intellectual disability. My sister to be exact, and she has Down's Syndrome. Since my sister is five years older than me, there has never been a time that she has not been in my life, so to say that I am comfortable and supportive of people with disabilities is an understatement.
However, even if you are accustomed to living with Down's or a similar condition that closely there is this sense of discomfort. A sense that you are different from other people with "normal" siblings. That when you tell people about your situation, there inevitably arises a wall between you and them; a wall of misunderstanding, maybe mixed with a pinch of pity or perhaps even respect.
I don't want pity or extra respect because of my situation and neither does she. I just want to be seen like every other family. I want my sister to be seen as a person - a sister, a daughter, an employee, a human being - not just a condition. Not just a face or body shape, a voice or an attitude. Not an IQ level or a community services charity case.
When we go out to the mall or out to eat, I want the people (kids AND adults) who see that she is different but are not sure why to stop staring at her (newsflash: she notices and it makes her uncomfortable). I want to live in a world where she can have the things she so desperately wants - to get married, to have kids, to go to University - things that my mother and I know she will never have, but can't bring ourselves to admit as such. I want to live in a world where she isn't relegated to "special" groups (even though these groups provide wonderful support and resources for her that I am very grateful for), special times, special places, special tasks. A world where she isn't "special", she's just normal.
Sometimes I even want to live in a world where my sister is not so high functioning, so that she wouldn't know that she is different.
But we don't live in that kind of world. We live in a world where my sister is considered "different" and is treated as such by those who don't understand. We live in a world where the word "retard" is used for Hollywood punchlines that make entire theatres erupt into snorts of laughter. Racial slurs are no longer considered acceptable, so why is this? As Sue and Becky say in the video, it is hate speech no matter who it is directed to. It is just as shameful to refer to someone as "retard" as it is to refer to someone as "nigger".
This isn't a perfect world, and it won't be anytime soon. I don't necessarily want it to be either. But, we can make small changes. We can start to think about the context and true meaning of words before they leave our mouth. We can take a moment to stop and wonder whether or not the word we want to use is appropriate and change our language accordingly. I know that I am going to start doing this more, and I will encourage others to as well.
Think about it. A word may be a small thing to you, but it could be a very big thing to someone else.
I know one thing - I will NOT be going to see The Change-Up. Now, I am not some close-minded person who cringes at offensive movies - I am actually very open-minded, believe in pushing the envelope in culture, and am not very easily offended. But I also feel it is possible to go too far. It's too bad because the movie looked funny from the previews and I really like the actors in it, but call me crazy - I would prefer to not hear the comment "this one looks a little Downsy" in person (reading it offended me enough).
I also am not suggesting that you don't go see it - I am not about to start a "Boycott The Change Up" campaign or anything. But if you must, I will encourage you to do one thing - when you hear Ryan's character's comment about the baby, please don't laugh. I realize that might be tough, but think about how tough it is for someone who actually lives with Down's every single day. Then you might not think the comment is so funny.
As Rob says in his post: "'Downsy'"? That's vile. If you laughed at that, please go live in a hut somewhere, far far away from actual human people."