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.


Anonymous said...

The way people perceive the word really IS interesting. I worked with mentally retarded adults for years. Hell, I first started helping people with disabilities in 8th grade, when I was a teacher's aide for a teacher who worked at the special ed school attached to our junior high. In high school, I volunteered to help out at the Special Olympics. And, as I mentioned, I've worked in group homes, first caring for 6 mentally retarded adults, and then filling in at 3 homes where I was responsible for 18 mentally retarded adults.

"Mentally retarded," or straight up "retarded" never bothered any of us working in the group homes, and I'm not talking some crappy state home where people send off their kids like bruised fruit they want to forget. They were nice homes where we really cared for the people we worked with.

One day at a 7-11, I was asked by a girl working there what I did for a living. I told her I worked with mentally retarded adults. She got very self righteous and told me the "proper" term was mentally challenged. I told her that's insulting to the people I worked with everyday.

Flash forward: I'm conditioning the guys at the group home for the Special Olympics. After training, I take them to 7-11 because they wanted to go. The person who scolded me for saying "mentally retarded" DID NOT like being in the presence of 6 "mentally challenged" individuals. You could see that she wanted them gone.

So she got worked up over me, who worked with them every day because I said mentally retarded, but when it came to being around them, she didn't like it.

Funny how that works out.

I have no problem with a friend calling a friend who does something stupid a "retard." Hell, when I see "the R-word," I'm always like, "What the hell is that?" until I remember that we're terrified to say it, even in passing.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty retarded...

Mark Finn said...

Good comeent, Chris. I would go so far as to call the 7-11 clerk socially retarded. But that's just me.

Tex said...

'Kinell, next they'll ban mook, yabo, drongo, swut, and Belgium.

When they try to ban grink and gronk, the Badger will break their kneecaps.

(WON'T be pretty)