Monday, September 19, 2011

Reclaiming Retard

I have come to hate political correctness for a number of reasons, most of them reactionary and contrarian in nature. The very idea of someone telling me that I just can't say something because I shouldn't really bothers me and makes me want to just scream it in their face instead. I also firmly believe that by outlawing certain words, you create the opposite in thought. That is, people still think horrible things in their heads all of the time, even as they are mouthing the "correct" words.  It seems to me the idea should be to change that way of thinking by explaining or showing how X can be damaging to Y and so on and so forth. I understand why some things have become culturally insensitive, and on the basis of not wanting to offend friends and family, I have cheerfully gone along with with whatever the enlightened thinking of the day is.

But there's one word that's become capitalized and hyphenated lately that I really have a problem with. Retarded, or retard, has become the "R-word." Oh, boy. This one I'm going to fight for.

I should tell you first that I have people in my life who have family members with some form of intellectual disability. That's the new term for it. It's a good one, I think; it encapsulates neatly what the problem is with a kind of clinical precision. My wife used to work with kids with a variety of LD, ED, and RD issues. Some of them had problems that registered somewhere on the spectrum of Autism, or Asperger's syndrome. And while I don't know anyone personally dealing with anyone with Down's syndrome, I recognize all of the above for their unique gifts, their personal challenges, and their daily triumphs. This is not what this is about.

This is about the right to call a friend of mine who is chronically unable to deal with women slow.

See, 'retarded' used to be the correct term for people with intellectual disabilities. It was a step up from moron or imbecile. But it really wasn't correct enough, mostly because the language was imprecise. We all know that the word "retarded" refers to "retardation" but the root of the word, to retard, is to "delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.)" Most dictionaries consider it desparaging slang and then show what I believe to be its NEW correct usage; you have to modify the word retard or retarded with an adverb, such as socially, emotionally, intellectually, and ideally, the phrase should speak to a person's specific actions.

This is NOT making fun of intellectually disabled people. Big difference. What I'm proposing gives a word to your boneheaded friend who keeps dating the same terrible people and never learning from the experience.  Retard=slow is a perfectly good word. It just needs to be repurposed, now that it no longer refers to a specific group of people. More to the point, I need that word back, thank you very much. I won't, and I don't, use it to refer to that group of people that I don't know. But it's very accurate when it comes to talking about people I do know, and know very well.

Many of my friends are socially retarded in one or more area of development. Some of them are so far behind the rest of us that they should just stop shaving and start picking food up off the ground. I know a few women who were at one point (and a couple who still are) emotionally retarded. They just don't get it when it comes to men. They have these ridiculous ideas and expectations that they should have grown out of by the time they turned seventeen. Instead, they are thirty or forty years old and wondering why they can't find someone to date them for more than three months at a time. And if you want a good example of someone who is intellectually retarded may I humbly suggest six or seven of the Republican party presidential nominees?

I'm sorry, but the word is just fine. Repurposed to cleave more closely to its original meaning, it's no less disparaging, but also not really insulting to a larger group of people because I'm not confusing the two. I'm not really expecting a fight on this, but hey, you never know. I had no problem with Rosa's Law.  I have no problem with the Special Olympics. And I'm all for anyone who is intellectually challenged getting a job or doing whatever the want to and can to contribute to society. I think it's awesome, frankly. The more, the merrier.

But I need something precise to use when I'm dealing with some of my peer group who are high functioning in most other areas of their life, except one. Retard is just a word. Used correctly, and with no malice intended, there's no reason why it can't stay in the zeitgeist.
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