Sunday, October 28, 2012

31 for 21: The "R" Word Controversy

Being in the special needs community for almost 8 years now, I am fully aware of all the 'Politically Correct' lingo that should be used. You know, you say "a child with Down syndrome", not a "Down syndrome child." And there are also certain words which just are not supposed to be said, the word "retard" being at the top of the list.

It took some getting used to for me, because my family has never been very "politically correct" :).

Over the years I've seen the issues that come up when certain popular individuals use the "R" word, when someone who has a child with DS has a friend say this word in a conversation, or when it's use is discussed on a forum. I've never said much about it, because I think a lot of people will have a problem with my view on it.

Last week though, Ann Coulter called President Obama a "retard" on Twitter. There has been a ton of outrage over her use of the "R" word. So, I feel it's time that I say something. I fully expect people to disagree with me, but I'm completely fine with that.

First and foremost, the First Amendment to the Constitution gives us, as Americans, freedom of speech. We should all have the freedom to use whatever words we want to. If someone is offended by a word, then apologize. But it should not be turned into this national campaign to "ban" the use of certain words. That's simply against the first amendment.

When people go on "campaigns" to stop the use of a word, promote "gay rights", advocate for "women's rights", etc, it becomes something that is part of the problem that our nation is in - people thinking that government is the answer.

Besides the above reasons as to why the "R" word should not be an issue, let's look at a little more technical things.

What is the definition of the word "retard"? According to Merriam-Websters it is:

to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.

When I think of this word, I think of it's true meaning. Just like the medical books will use it for "retarded growth" (slow growth) or "mental retardation" (slow mental development).

 I wonder if people who have children with Down syndrome get so upset about the use of this word, because they don't want to accept the fact that their child with Down syndrome does learn at a slower level? Or often times do grow/mature at a slower rate? I know full well that my brother, O, learns at a much slower pace than his twin sister who does not have DS. Is there something bad about that? No, not at all.

Another way people explain this word is that it refers to individuals with a lower I.Q. This again brings me to the point above. If my brother has a lower I.Q., does it matter? No, it doesn't. Just because someone may have a lower I.Q. does not mean they are stupid.

I've often heard that if someone says the word "retard," they are insulting your child or loved one with DS because they are calling them "stupid" or "worthless." You know what, I don't think so. I don't view my brother with DS as "stupid" or "worthless," so I don't even equate that to him. Just because someone uses this word that has been used in correlation with special needs in a way other than the proper use, does not mean they are "putting down" someone with special needs.

Not that I am defending Ann Coulter here at all, but I think she brought up an interesting point when she was discussing this on the Piers Morgan show. I have no problem with the word "retard" being used with the definition above. Languages do change though, so *if* the word does not mean the above definition (I'm not saying it does), and society has changed it to meaning "loser", then let go of the word. It's not applying to your child. It's being applied to something totally different!

There's been a few times over the years that I or my family have encountered someone using the "R" word in their conversation with us. What do we do with it? Do we get all angry or tweaked out about it? No, we use it as a chance to educate them. We make it a light thing, because I don't want them to feel bad for using the word around me, because it doesn't offend me. We tell them it does offend a lot of people. And we also tell them the actual meaning of the word (slow) and how it's not really that bad of a thing.

Do I go around saying the word all the time? No, because I know it causes great offense in the special needs community.

My brother is not stupid. He's a smart little guy, even though he may have a lower I.Q. (could care less about I.Q. tests though) or learn things at a slower rate.

Bottom line though, I think people need to be less sensitive. It's simply a word.  When people read into the motives as to why an individual would use a certain word (to hurt the special needs community), it gets us into all sorts of problems.

Let the word go. Don't let it offend you. Educate people.

Country Girl Designs


Jill said...

I couldn't agree more, although we have stopped using the word since Moriah was born for the same reasons you mentioned.

My husband and I have discussed this topic several times, including many of the points you bring up. I have wondered aloud to him that if we "ban" that word, then what about it's many synonyms? Shall we force everyone to stop using all those words as well?

I agree that with you in that I do not believe people are even thinking of those with special needs when they use those words, but I also believe the words have come to have have connotations that can be hurtful.

I also agree with first amendment rights! This isn't something that should be legislated. But it would be nice if people would choose to be considerate and treat others as they wish to be treated.

Excellent post! I'm glad to see someone finally putting these points to paper.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree with your standpoint on the "R" word completely. However, I do disagree with Ann Coulter using it to describe the President. Her choice of words was disrespectful and demeaning. I live by the old saying, "Never call someone something you wouldn't someone else to call your mother.'

Anonymous said...

Great post, and I agree. I thought I should be like a lot of other parents in the same position as me and completely fly off the handle at someone who uses the R word during a conversation, in a non slanderous tone. I did it only once, and nearly lost a relationship with my brother (it was his G/F at the time)over it. I will be honest and say I did use the word often (mainly when I was younger)before I had my daughter. I no longer use it, but in all honesty, it doesn't really bother me that much when people use it within the context as a joke. I only feel obliged to be offended. I've let it go, and as you said, I can only educate people. On the other hand if someone said my daughter is a R, I really don't think I would explode, I would like to think I would say, we don't call people with IDs that any more, it's an awful word to describe someone as being.

I'm so glad you posted this, I thought I was the only one who thought this way. I thought there was something wrong with the way I thought. I know of a lot of people who no longer have anything to do with several family members because of the use of the word.

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