It’s been quite sometime since I wrote one of these and honestly, the reasons for my absence are irrelevant. I’m back and I’m ready to kick some more ass. Apparently this month within the disabilities community is “Spread the Word to End the Word” month. Now I had no idea this month was devoted that cause which is a little sad because it is a reminder of how out of touch I have been with the world as of late. For those who are completely unaware of what word I’m talking about, it’s a word a lot of us use very nonchalantly and even I have been guilty of using this word a lot in my youth. It’s a word we use so much we sometimes forget who that word hurts the most and is also a reminder of how disregarded the fight for disability rights is. I’m talking about the word “Retarded” or “Retard”, a word which from personal experience even as a black person I find more offensive than the N word. Now before every African American person or person of color goes batshit crazy over this statement, allow me to explain myself and my own personal struggle.
I never grew up being singled out for being black. I went many schools where the population was predominantly Black/African American and even when I did go to a predominantly white college I fit right in. I have never ran into any issues as a result of my race and creed and though I acknowledge that my ancestors endured that struggle so I wouldn’t have to, it’s a struggle that I feel a great disconnect from. My skin color never played a role in my development however, growing up with a disability was a different can of worms. It was in fourth grade that the word “retarded” started getting thrown around and it was at that point that I became a casualty of war. Now in my earlier blog posts I have mentioned being called that word on several occasions without realizing what that word meant and how sharp that word truly was. Now the word dates back to the early years of mental health to describe people who were developmentally delayed. The word “Retarded” originates from the word ‘Retardando” which is Italian for slow and was used within the context of music and instrumentation. It’s variation “Retardation” was commonly used in physics for electromagnetism. It’s most prominent use however has been in the field of mental health and while the use was with good intentions, the word has unfortunately evolved into a slang word that people use as a way of calling others stupid or idiots.
What was once a term that simply meant “slow” or “delayed” has become a word that we as a society have started using as a way to put others down and make them feel like less of a person. As I have mentioned above, I have been guilty of using the word on many occasions in my youth. I used it as an insult towards many of my brethren on the lower end of the Autism Spectrum not realizing that at the end of the day I was only insulting myself. It was part of that phase where I never realized that my struggle was no different than their struggle and it was also that point in time where I didn’t see myself as being any different than the rest of the world. We’ve used the word so nonchalantly that we forget who that word was used to describe in the first place. The word doesn’t only hurt those on the Autism Spectrum, it hurts those with Down Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s, those who stutter and those with other speech impediments and any other mental impairment or delay or learning based disability. People are so worried about racial slurs and have instilled many measures to ensure that they are never used. All slurs are sharp within the context of their own individual struggles so why don’t we treat the R word the same? It’s a word designed to hurt a specific group of people just like any other slur yet we as a country don’t regard the disability rights struggle the same way we regard other struggles. Whether or not a struggle didn’t affect you doesn’t make it any less than your struggle. The fact that I don’t feel much of a connect with the civil rights struggle doesn’t necessarily mean I disregard it as a struggle, I acknowledge that my ancestors endured a great deal for me to have the rights I do but at the end of the day, it is not one I had to endure but I will never put my own struggle on a pedestal to the point that I down play the struggle of others.
To sum this all up I say this, regardless of where you come from and how you use the R word, just know that when you say that word that there is a chance that there is someone around you who has been hurt by that word. Whether the word was used to single them out or if the word was used as an insult towards someone they loved such as a relative, child, or spouse, just know that when you use that word you are hurting someone they same way you would if you were using any other slur that was once used to put down any other group of people. Regardless of where you come from and who you are, slurs are slurs and should be regarded as such. They may not affect you but always remember they affect someone and that someone maybe closer than you think. Our children lead by example and in a society that preaches tolerance, the last thing we want is for our children to run around using that word like it’s nothing. We have to end the use of not only that slur but all slurs. Slurs are never okay no matter what context you use them in or what way you say them. “Retard” is no different than “Retarded” just as “Nigga” is no different than “Nigger” just as “Fag” is no different than “Faggot” and the issue of slurs aren’t limited to just those slurs. Before you go using any slur regardless of context, always stop to think about who else you’re about to hurt when those words leave your mouth. Stay classy world….