Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why Your Language Matters


Let's say you and I are out to lunch and a very thin woman walks by.  I make a disgusted face and say to you, "Ugh, she is just CANCEROUS."  I think you would be a little taken aback at my harshness.  Let's say a young man walks by the table and trips on something on the floor and I yell, "Nice walking, Palsy!"  You'd probably be looking for a place to hide.  But let's say you are telling a funny story about something really stupid you did on a date and I go, "OMG, you are such a RETARD!"  Most people would probably just laugh harder.  This is what people who are diagnosed with mental retardation (and their families) face on a daily basis in our society.  While it would be considered very insensitive to make fun of someone with cancer or ALS or MS, it is considered perfectly acceptable to use the medical diagnosis of mental retardation as a synonym for doing something stupid.

The word "Retard" (and permutations such as "Fucktard" and "Libtard") are prevalent in our society.  There are Facebook groups called "Retarded Mom", "Americans Against Libtards" and "Fucktards Unite".  When special needs advocates have petitioned Facebook to remove those groups as hate speech, the response from the Facebook Quality Control Department is, "Your complaint has been reviewed and no violation has been found."  As in: IT'S PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE to compare someone with political viewpoints that differ from your own with someone who has a medical condition resulting in a lowered IQ and developmental delays.  GO RIGHT AHEAD!  Nothing wrong with posting pictures of people with average intelligence doing stupid things with the heading "Retards."  I have seen everyone from nurses to lawyers to special education teachers using these words.

I have actually seen people use the argument that people with mental retardation don't know enough to be insulted, so who are they hurting?  This point of view is so ignorant, I don't even know where to start.  Clearly, there are millions of people who are classified as mentally retarded (or "intellectually delayed", as is the preferred term these days.  These are people whose IQ falls below 70) who are perfectly capable of carrying on normal conversations, caring for themselves and holding jobs.  These people, such as actress Lauren Potter of Glee, who was born with Down Syndrome, will tell you flat out that using these words HURTS THEIR FEELINGS.  See for yourself:


Shouldn't that be enough??  If it's not, I will tell you that for those of us whose family members are, in fact, blessedly ignorant of the unkindness in the world, it is heartbreaking to have our innocent loved ones constantly degraded and dehumanized by having their medical diagnosis turned into fodder for taunts and jeers.  When you freely use language that makes a group of people seem less than human, then that is the way society as a whole learns to treat them.  It is why I had an aide to a congressman on Capitol Hill ask me how I can justify all of the public resources put into caring for people with special needs when they will never grow up to be tax payers.  "A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable" - Gandhi.  And I, for one, will be judging YOU by the same measure.

Here is the bottom line: If you use the "N" word, you cannot expect black people to want to have anything to do with you.  If you use the "F" word, you cannot expect gay people to want to have anything to do with you.  And if you use the "R" word, in any of its iterations, do not expect my child or myself to want to have anything to do with you.  You have been put on notice.

"That which is said, cannot be unsaid" - Danish Proverb


My reasons for always minding my language

4 comments:

  1. Kate - What an excellent piece! I support you all the way. Bless you and your family. Ann Haslanger

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  3. This is perfect! I hear the "r" word constantly at work. It bothers me so much! I've spoken up about it but that doesn't keep ignorance from rearing its ugly head on a daily basis!

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  4. This is perfect! I hear the "r" word constantly at work. It bothers me so much! I've spoken up about it but that doesn't keep ignorance from rearing its ugly head on a daily basis!

    ReplyDelete