Tuesday, March 1, 2011
My feelings on the "R" word...Again!
Everybody knows and agrees that the word "retarded" used in a clinical setting defines a group of individuals as having limited cognitive abilities. In this respect, the term carries similar effects as racial or sexual orientation categorizations, in that it invokes a specific class of individuals with immutable characteristics.
But what not everybody seems to realize is that the current, common definitions of the word "retarded" as stupid, wrong, ineffective... the catch-all for anything that is annoyingly deficient, are steeped in our cultural view of people with mental retardation.
So whether one is using the term as an insult or to raise laughs through satire, the speaker is tapping into our common cultural understanding and belief that people with mental retardation are characterized by those negative definitions listed above. The speaker references a group of individuals defined solely by their cognitive limitations, denying them their individual personalities, and by extension their essential humanity. He agrees that this group is inferior and worthy of our scorn. This use of the word "retarded" has become so deeply ingrained in our society that the user probably doesn’t even realize that he has done this.
Many people, when called out on their use of the word, insist that they meant no harm to the mentally retarded community, that their use of the word had nothing to do with this minority group. These people must be made aware that there is no separating the insult/joke from its basis for understanding it.
No one believes that Rahm Emanuel or Rush Limbaugh thought that they were insulting those with true mental retardation when they called people whose ideas they objected to "retarded." But we do believe that both men were making the point that their targets' ideas were of so little merit that they deserve to be grouped with an undesirable category of people. Both the direct target of the insult, and the class of people it refers to, are indisputably demeaned by such a slur. You cannot have one without the other.
Put a simpler way, if people with mental retardation were generally well-respected and thought highly of, the insult "retarded" would not exist.
Having the government remove the term retarded from the books, and having the medical community change the diagnosis terminology to "a person with intellectual disabilities," is not enough to eradicate the insult. The public must be made aware of how the insult relates to and hurts an entire group of people. This is not a word police PC thing, rather it is a matter of common decency.
Some argue that the insult "retarded" will simply be replaced by another word that is just as hurtful to the intellectually disabled community. But just because some group of the population will always turn clinical or descriptive terms into epithets does not mean that we should condone it. Such a standard would condone the use of virtually any racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation slur.
Thanks for reading, and please help Spread the Word to End the "R" Word.
Watch this video, it shows just how overused that word is in our society, and how so many people don't think before they talk! It makes me ill!