Friday, August 2, 2013

Retirement of the "R" Word

Well, we've been traveling this road for a whole 17 months. This means we've had 17 months to hear the response of people to our child. We've had rudeness, the suggestion that we would have aborted, and a reaction in the Las Vegas airport that still causes me to pray for that individual because, dude, what a mess. Mostly the response has been "Squee! Baby!" type stuff. So my opinion, it's not well formed by heartache, and you should understand that I have not had the experience of having my child feel the pain of the word I am writing about today. We're still newbies. One time I did hear a boy call his friend "retarded" and when he looked up and saw me holding Mae he said, "Which means your adorable." He was about 12, and I mentally high-fived his recovery. But that's pretty much it. Others have been people to whom I could say, "Stop it." and they respect it. All this is to say, here, have a grain of salt to be ingested with the following post. Know that I don't know everything, but know that I have real hope for the future.

The Social Security Administration has retired the phrase "mentally retarded". In a sense I am happy. I am happy because the word retarded has morphed. It is no longer a simple word with a specific definition. It is now a word with a connotation, one of stupidity and ignorance. It is a word used to dismiss others as being less-than. It is a word shortened to excoriate someone's position. "Lib-tard, Life-tard, Islamo-tard" and on and on. It's a word used to harm and the government has decided to replace the word with "intellectual disability".

The word "mongoloid" never should have been coined. It began as a racist term equating those with Down syndrome with a race that was considered by elitists to be the least intelligent of the humans. It was insulting to the people of middle Asia and to those with Down syndrome. If you ever read the history of Down syndrome you are likely to come across this term and you are likely to be disgusted with its origin. If you are not, something is wrong with you. The people of the late 1800 should have known better, probably did know better and nothing but intellectual laziness and a faux sense of superiority allowed the medical community and the community at large to accept this term. I am glad the term is almost extinct.

The etymology of the word "retarded" is something vastly different.  It is from Latin retardationem (nominative retardatio) "a delaying," noun of action from past participle stem of retardare "to make slow, delay, keep back, hinder," from re-  + tardare "to slow". The sense of "educational slowness" is from 1907. In other words, it was only descriptive and nothing more. There is nothing in the history of language to feel this word was ever meant to be disparaging or dismissive. It has never meant "ignorant" or "stupid", only delayed, or slower, or hindered. Is this not an apt description of many people with Down syndrome? I know it is for Mariana. In fact, when people stop to admire her at the store my only frustration is how quickly they leave because Mariana's response is slow, but she can say "Hi." She can blow a kiss. She can sign, "Thank you". It just takes her longer.

But lest you think I'm married to the word, I am not. I have come to understand that the harm caused by the ignorant is too great to overcome. I have come to see the pain the word causes and I have come to accept that the word is not okay, not benign. I am just a baby on this journey and the wounds caused by the hateful use of this word have yet to be inflicted on our family.

I just want to take this time to say, please friends of all who fall into the category of "intellectually disabled", for the love of humanity, don't let people of ill-will strip this name too. If you ever hear this phrase, or some cutsie, shortened version like, "I.D." used as an insult, tell that person to get a grip and pick on someone who can fight back. If you are a fan of Ann Coulter and she uses this term, call her on the carpet. If you are a fan of Bill Maher and he uses this term, flood his inbox with protest. Do not accept the jerkification of our language. Do not allow the conversation to move forward. Say no to this type of abuse of our language. Because these people take words and twist them into bad stereotypes to describe the people they hate. The problem of course, isn't that the people they hate are harmed, it's that the people least likely to do anyone harm are.

This is why I am saddened by the news our government has changed the verbiage. I do not care what word we use.  When a word is changed because people use the current one as a weapon, it feels like the wrong people won.

I will leave you with an example from the gay community. They got it right. Don't equate our people with stupidity....

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