Thoughts and Ideas...
An open letter to my friends and family who use the word retarded;
Stop - I beg you. Please stop using this word. If you cannot completely cut it from your vocabulary, please do not use it in my company anymore. It hurts my heart.
I realize that to you, this word is just a word. It is a word that in its technical sense means “to make slow, delay, keep back, or hinder”1 and was first used to replace crueler terms such as idiot, moron and imbecile. But in time, it was transformed into an insult; an insult which many of you continue to use today.
You use it as a word to mean something is ridiculous. You mean it as a word to say something is stupid, bad, distasteful or unwanted. While I understand what you are trying to say, by using retarded in this way, I also understand the hidden meanings, judgments and assumptions laden within.
When you use retarded as you do, you further oppress people traditionally called by this name. You take their status of ‘retardation’, of delayed or different cognitive or physical ability, and you use it as a put down. Because for you, the societal understanding of disability is that it is unfortunate, distasteful and unwanted. Because for you, actually being ‘retarded’ is a bad thing.
When you say “that is so retarded”, you are telling me, the parent of a child who, sixty years ago, would have been medically labeled as such, that he is not ‘good’, that he is ridiculous, stupid, bad, distasteful and unwanted.
When you say “that is so retarded”, you are telling my child that he is not good enough. That he is less than you and every other person who can do all the things that he can’t. You are telling him and everyone else that you perpetuate the problematizing of people who think, act, speak or move in a way different than you do.
You are telling my incredible, amazing, beautiful, loving child that there is something wrong with him.
As you read this, I’m sure you are saying to your self that that isn’t want you do. That you love my little boy. That you see all the wonderful marvelous things about him that make him perfect, exactly as he is, and maybe you actually believe you do. But this isn’t just about my little boy. It is about all the little boys and girls, about all the people who are categorized in the same way my child is. All the people who are “them”, those poor, unfortunate souls unlucky enough to have been born or acquired a disability.
Unlearning what society has told us about difference, about disability, about non- traditional developmental trajectories starts with conscious choices. It starts with choosing your words, recognizing the incredible contributions each person on this planet has to make, even if those contributions look differently than what was expected. Difference is what fuels us and pushes us forward. Differences is what ascribes value and importance. My child is brilliant, wonderful, and incredible and completely wanted exactly the way he is, and I don’t ever want him to feel, for one second that he isn’t.
So to be clear, the next time you use retarded in my company, and I replace it with ridiculous, or another more appropriate word, I am not agreeing with your outrage at your story. I’m telling you that word isn’t ok. Not in my home. Not in front of my children. Not in my company.
Please stop using this word.
The Mama of three pretty spectacular children
1 https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/history-of-stigmatizing-names-for-intellectual- disabilities-continued/