I’ve always hated when people use the word “retard” to describe something that is stupid. Once, when I told one of my friends that he shouldn’t use the word in that context, he rolled his eyes at me and asked why I make such a big deal out of it. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “The same reason I don’t like it when people say something is ‘gay.'” The guy I was talking to suddenly had a look on his face, half indicating he was embarrassed, and half showing he understood why I even questioned his use of the word in the first place. The guy I was talking to is gay. I know that because I saw him propose to his boyfriend.
But going back to the word “retard,” it’s always been harder for me to explain to people why I don’t like how people use it, mainly because I don’t come in contact with someone who is mentally challenged on a day-to-day basis. Explanations always come easier when you have a personal connection to it, and while I’ve interacted with mentally challenged people, I sadly don’t have someone I can easily bring up during conversation. Which is why I was glad to have come across this nice piece written by an older brother of someone with Down Syndrome. He was able to put into words how I feel about the entire situation, and quite beautifully, too.
My entire life I’ve played witness to the continuous (and usually subconscious) relegation of people with disabilities. It’s an unfortunate habit passed down by our parents, and spread among millennials. It’s as simple as saying “Wasn’t that class retarded?” I bet if Aidan hadn’t been a part of my life, or had been born without Down syndrome, I’d be throwing the term retarded around like a baseball. So when I hear “retarded,” is my first reaction, “Hey you! You’re systemically oppressing persons with cognitive disabilities through your language!”? Of course not, because I don’t think most people realize that that is what they’re doing. It’s a word that has become so ingrained in our vocabulary that we think it’s disassociated with its roots.
The rest of his piece can be found at PolicyMic, and I encourage you all to read it. Even better, ask someone what they mean when they use words that can put down an entire community. You might not get an answer, but they are more than likely to question themselves. even if only for a second.