There are many words in the dictionary that sound outrageous that I never use them, but one word, in particular, stands out that I came to despise once I realized how it was being used in a derogatory way.
The word is retard(ed).
There I said it, that is the only time I will type it on this blog because I have committed to never using it for as long as I live and I want nothing to do with anyone who uses it in their everyday language. Does that sound harsh? Well, too damn bad, the fact that it is prevalent in places like social media is repulsive.
How did this all begin, a bit of history for you: the R-word was originally used as a clinical term to refer to people with intellectual exceptionalities (my dad and I use this word in substitute for the word “disability” because the former is considered a much more positive way to address people like me), and other cognitive challenges like ASD. It was known as “mental retardation.” But this was back in 1961, and since then, the word has devolved into something worse and is now used in everyday language as an insult by people largely unaware of the damage it does to my community.
Most people who know me well or have been following this blog since I started, know that I have ASD so you can see how triggering that word is for me. Sure, you can argue that it’s harmless, or that it’s just a synonym for slow, delayed, stupid, etc. but this is exactly how it is harmful to myself and anyone else who is on the spectrum or has a different type of cognitive challenge.
One of the challenges of living with ASD is that sometimes I can be delayed in social interactions. If you were to give me your opinion on something, like your favourite film that I didn’t know about, or try to teach me something, my brain doesn’t process it as quickly as others do to generate a conversational response. It can take me a couple of hours or days to work my way through your words before I can tell you what I think.
Ever wonder why it takes me a few days to a week to publish my reviews of video games, studio albums, books, etc.? Because my brain needs time to process it, to think it through what I want to say in terms of praise and criticism. Sometimes I’ll start writing immediately because there will be some things I know right away that I want to say, but the rest comes with time, and that’s okay. The same thing applies to all other blog posts I write and my fanfics.
I first heard the word being used in high school, and I didn’t understand why people were using it instead of words like “dumb” it also slipped from my tongue a few times until I realized how harmful it was and then that’s when I made that vow.
So how is the R-word harmful? Since it used to be a medical term for anyone with a mental challenge: ASD, ADHD, Down Syndrome, learning exceptionality, etc. using it in your everyday language enforces hurtful stigma and stereotypes of these types of people, including myself.
These stereotypes can include things like we are slow, brainless, can’t communicate, we can’t be successful in life, you get the picture. This is not true, not everyone with these challenges is like that. There are many stories of successful people out there living independently with careers and families, and they have an exceptionality. Just google it.
Everyone knows Temple Grandin, but did you know that Satoshi Tajiri the creator of the Pokemon franchise has ASD? There are also some actors out there with Down Syndrome too.
Yes, there are some people with more severe issues that will need support for the rest of their lives, but the point is, not all of us are alike.
When you use the R-word in your daily language to insult or joke around, it enforces those negative stereotypes my community is fighting against. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough activism for this, but that’s a post for another time.
There has been lots of improvement in ending the word’s usage, but in the media, it’s palpable that more work needs to be done. I was outraged when I saw it used a few times in The Predator when the film introduced a boy with ASD, and Dear John suggested that the titular character’s father was on the spectrum too and when Savannah saw this, John said she thought his dad was… well that’s where he said the R-word.
Other than that, I still see some people online using it, I was heartbroken when Mr. Lordi said it in a statement to Mana about one of the tracks on Sexorcism when it was posted on the band’s official pages. Even though it was directed at Mana only and was him just joking it around, the damage was already done.
So whether your usage of the word is directed at us or not, it can still hurt. Please don’t use it, it’s just as bad as using the N-word even if you aren’t speaking with a black person.
One great advocacy group is Special Olympics for people with intellectual exceptionalities, I encourage you to check them out and take your pledge. Lecture over.