Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's Only the R-Word


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."

Learn more about the STWTETW campaign at r-word.org. Support the campaign by following them on Twitter or liking their Facebook page.

26 comments:

photomatt7 said...

Beautiful and important tribute to your sister and all with disabilities. Your words are the kind that must be spread.

jmrinaldo said...

Thank you for your blog post. I have a daughter with Down syndrome, and I am outraged that Hollywood persists in making films that ridicule the intellectually disabled. You say you would not tell someone NOT to see this film. Well, I will! It's only by boycotting this kind of film that we can convince Hollywood to stop making them.
Joe Rinaldo

Anonymous said...

Shameful the actors thought this was OK and acceptable. My thoughts on them just changed quite drastically. Even if there's no boycott, perhaps people should be writing everyone involved with this movie a letter/email. Doesn't have to be much, just state that you find this line unacceptable and offensive and not comical at all.

adrienne marie said...

Hello! As a special education teacher, I am constantly trying to advocate for my students. Thank you for advocating for your sister. I hope you don't mind I shared this post on Facebook. :)

Angie said...

My daughter, Caroline, is the person for whom my blog is named. She has Down syndrome -- and trust me, this little girl is going to change her world!

Your post was beautifully written, and I'm glad that I took a few minutes to read it.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Angie Aubrey (Carolinesmom)

annie b said...

Well said! I too have made the decision not to see that movie. I was a special education teacher for 32 years and the word still still sickens me. I also have a beautiful, caring and smart 23 year old niece who has Down Syndrome. She is an amazing person and sees the good in everyone ans simply adores life. Too bad others feel that is a disability!

Anonymous said...

I got to your blog from the "spread the word" facebook link. It is very well written and as someone who works with exceptional students (we prefer this term over "special"), I appreciated your post. After starting my ExEd program and my job working with Exceptional students, I have became hyper-aware of the common use of the word and find myself getting into long conversations (sometimes debates) when I correct the person I overheard using the term. It is very frustrating to say the least. I was not necessarily planning on seeing the movie, because I'm not a fan of that kind of "stupid comedy" as I often refer to it, but now I will for sure not see it, because it is disturbing that a writer could put something like that in a movie. Good Job again. Oh and by the way, don't lose hope that your sister can have the things she wants, marriage, kids, college, many people that have intellectual disabilities are getting to experience those things.
-C

Anonymous said...

Wow, your post hit close to home for me. I also have a sister who is five years older than me, she was not able to walk and she had the mental ability of less than 5 month old baby. I can really relate to your post, whenever we'd go places people would always stare but even though she wasn't ever aware... it bothered me because to me she was a normal part of my life and she was so beautiful, just so amazing. When I was younger everytime someone stared I'd either hug and kiss her, or try to make her laugh so that people could see that she is happy. Because she didn't know much beyond her circumstance and she was, she was always happy. I hate the use of the r-word, because my sister was so smart for what she was given and she knew how to show her love for her family more than a lot of "normal" people do.
My sister has passed away almost 3 years ago and I miss her like crazy. But I just wanted to say that I can relate, and I loved your post it helped me sort of re-live some of my memories with my sister and I am very thankful for that. Keep on spreading the word. <3

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great blog and bringing attention to this issue. You bring awareness to and make your points beautifully. I also had a wonderful, loving brother born with Downs Syndrome (sadly he's gone) but while that gives me greater appreciation of your words, isn't why I'm moved to comment. I also cringe when my three 20-something sons use this word so casually and without thought to its origins or how it degrades people - and tell them so each time. They don't seem to see the "harm" in it - so I'm thankful that people are starting to stand up against this.

Sarah said...

I couldn't have said it better! I absolutely loved the bit about staring. My younger brother has CP and since we were little I have always been totally annoyed by people who stare - I would stare back at them for as long as possible until my Mom told me to stop. Do they not think our siblings notice? They sure do! My brother has told me, "If I don't look at them then they don't look at me." Sure, that's his innocent way of thinking, but obviously he notices. Nobody wants to be stared at. Definitely not going to see the Change-up. Thanks to Spread the Word to End the Word!

winklett said...

You changed my mind about the "R" word; even though I have a "mentally retarded" son with severe autism, I used to say it, usually about inanimate objects. But now that I've read your articulate post, I won't be saying it anymore, even jokingly. Thank you!

Stephen said...

Kim, I really enjoyed reading your blog. As the proud parent of a 28 year old daughter who has Down syndrome, I too decided not to see this movie! This, despite the fact that Ryan Reynolds has been a favorite of mine for some time (loved "The Proposal"!). Your family should not give up on your sister ever marrying or going to University! There are numerous married couples now where one, or both people have Down syndrome. And there are several universities, across the country, that have programs for people with disabilities. My daughter, Beth, is an accomplished artist who is part of a great progam in Boston, called Gateway Arts. Gateway is a program where the artists create unique and beautiful pieces of art - paintings, greeting cards, sculptures, pottery, and more. These pieces are then sold online and in a store front shop on the first floor. Proceeds for the sales go to the artist who created them. Oh, and she also teaches art at a pre-school in the Boston area!

Thanks again for your beautifully written blog!

The Bridges Foundation said...

Thank you so much for your post. There are a few words people use loosely and are not aware of the severe pain it can really cause. We, like you, fight everyday for people who have mental disabilities to be seen and treated as humans.

Hopefully there will be a day when people become more aware of how their actions effect others and we all become more compassionate.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post! My brother is physically and mentally disabled and the word "retard" and "retarded" offends me all the time. Although my brother does not have downs he and I both have friends that do and as you said in your post they have dreams just like everyone else. They have a future, as well as all other people with disabilities and they deserve the respect that every other human being on this plant does. So thank you! And I will be sharing this with everyone I know!

Me said...

There are people with Down Syndrome who have gotten married, had children, and gone to College! Just wanted to add that!

Kim Humes said...

Hi Me! Yes, you're right, I probably should have worded that differently bc, while it is not likely she will experience these things, it is still a possibility just as it's a possibility for everyone with a disability to experience everything that life has to offer. It's about possibility, not disability, I suppose isn't it? Thank you for your comment.

D.Cal said...

Thanks to Angie for calling this blog to our attention. Being retired from Dollywood, and seeing a lot of Down Syndrome people both as guest and employees, I found them very gifted and hard working. They are beautiful people and I am grateful to have several as friends. It makes me angry to hear of, or see them being made fun of or mistreated. If you don't have a friend with Down Syndrome you are very unfortunate. By the way they love to laugh, and it is a joy to make them laugh.

Anna Theurer said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog post. My daughter Ellie has Down syndrome. You can read more about her journey at http://ellietheurer.blogspot.com To know that it has become so widely acceptable to call people r*tarded, even in jest is horrible. To now throw the word "Downsy" into the mix is both disgusting and disappointing. A few of us are trying to make a change by forming Stop Disability Slurs. www.facebook.com/stopdisabilityslurs

Kim Humes said...

D. Cal: I totally agree - ppl with Down's have these uncanny personalities where they are so happy all the time. They are all some of the sweetest, most gentle people in the world!
Anna: Thanks so much for linking your blog, I will definitely add it to my reader! I really don't get why calling someone or something retarded is acceptable when so many other words on the same level (faggot, nigger, etc) are now so upsetting to people? All of these words should be considered offensive. There shouldn't be a double standard.

Anna Theurer said...

Kim, mosey on over to our FB page--your blog post is featured there :) http://www.facebook.com/stopdisabilityslurs

Anonymous said...

Loved this post! My brother is autistic and I love him so much. It hurts me when people use the r word as a synonym for stupid. Steven is many things (smart, funny, loving, giggly, and wonderfully weird) but stupid is not one of them

Martha M. Cruz said...

Thanks for this thoughtful posting, Kim. As parents of a 24-year old with an autism spectrum disorder, this is an issue close to our hearts as well. Here are a couple of links to blogs my husband and I have written on the subject, his in response to the Jane Lynch/Lauren Potter video and mine, an open letter to the fictional Sue Sylvester written in May 2010 asking her character to take on the "R" word. We look forward to following your postings.

Blessings,
Rev. Martha M. Cruz

"Gleefully Yours": http://martha-antojitosyalabanzas.blogspot.com/2010/05/gleefully-yours.html

"It's Not Acceptable": http://thelittlescroll.blogspot.com/2011/05/its-not-acceptable.html

Rowena Beatty said...

Bless you for this post. You really said it all. Thank you also to all the others who posted comments of support. I have a wonderful 28 year old daughter who has a disability of Autism and ID. In support of her and others I have posted the following on Facebook, Movie Review Sites and emails to friends and family. People are free to do and think as they wish. This is what I think:

I am a Ryan Reynolds fan. I was looking forward to seeing his movie, The Change Up. I am now speaking out against the movie and encouraging others to do so because of the use of the words Retarded and Downsy to refer to the twin baby boys in it. The use of these derogatory terms is unacceptable. I encourage the writers and studios to be an example of doing the right thing by apologizing for their use in the movie. I also encourage them to remove this reference from the DVD version. A good comedy does not have to rely on hurtful and degrading comments about persons possible intellectual disability to be funny. To learn more visit: www.r-word.org.

Anonymous said...

Great post! My 8 year old son has Down Syndrome, so I can relate to everything you wrote. There are a lot of cruel, crude people in this world. But there also are lots of good people. I think sometimes people just don't think about their actions or comments, that they might be hurting somebody. I hope by getting the message out there that the r-word is unacceptable, that making fun of people with disabilities is unacceptable, maybe people will think before they say or do something hurtful to others.

Anonymous said...

I have autism. I'm on the road to success and riches. Life is happy and pretty easy, but when I hear people overdramatize my condition or express any kind of pity I find it very annoying. "Drama" and "Tragedy" BOO I love "Comedy".

This will probably be deleted, because you people don't actually care about us. You are doing this for pride, nothing more.

"Offensive Word Dramas" are one of the most selfish things a person can promote. When people question you you say you are doing it for the good of the minority group when in reality your actions will only increase stigmatization because of the absence of movements against words for other groups of people. It makes us seem more different than physically handicapped people, deaf people, blind people, they get to be made fun of! I want to be treated equally.

Let's imagine we were inventing language, what reason would there be to create any words that are considered "offensive"? Swear words? Insults? These things only exist because people react to them that way.

Why no campaign against "lame"? It's original use was to mean physically handicapped. I'm not "special" I have my strengths and weaknesses like everybody else. You have a weakness, that of turning the human condition into a tragedy. Why can't we all just laugh? This campaign is coming at the wrong time. Have you been paying attention. TV characters like Peter Griffin, Fry, and Jimmy and Timmy have made us normal.

Some comments are like "I wish they could have normal things?" How were they raised? Did their parents, doctors, teachers, aides tell them they had no chance and could never be independent? While my parents didn't do that they might have subtly if they had known as now my mother gets so melodramatic about this stuff. Even before they would say things to me that would make me question my self-confidence. I hate going home and enjoy spending as much time as I can with my friends in college. Speaking of which if I take something too literal or say something odd we laugh about it, you know like normal people. I'm sorry if that offends you, NOT.

Anonymous said...

I have aspergers and tourettes, and I personally couldn't care less on whether or not someone referred to me as a retard, I in-fact use the word on an almost daily basis, and I do so rather casually. These people can try to ban use of the word, but think of it this way, the n word was pretty much banned as-well, but people still say it, just like drugs and murder is illegal but people still do it. In my opinion, if they actually do try to have it banned, nd they think people will just stop saying it, then they are quite retarded them-selves, see how casually I used it then? You can agree or disagree with me, but again - I really couldn't care less.

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