The R-Word: Attila’s Reaction

One of my favorite writers and dear blogging friends, Attila the Mom has this to say about my post on the r-word:

Oh I don’t know. Try
substituting the "R" word that you use in every day language with the
"N" word, or maybe "shiftless and lazy" to describe things you find

 Would you? If not, why not? Since you’re using free speech as a
reference, do you use terms like "hooked-nosed jew", "wetback"
"faggot", etc as a well?

 I don’t think so, but maybe I’m wrong.

 In a polite and civilized society, we don’t use words like this
because they marginalize groups of people and are hurtful to some/many
of them.

Sometimes the definition of words change over time to reflect
current culture and no longer retain much of their original meaning. A
good example is the word "gay".

I think that the word "retard" is another.

You’ve frequently written about different instances in your life
where you’ve been made to feel marginalized, misunderstood and degraded
in terms of your disability. You’re mad. You’re upset. You use your
voice to vent and to tell others how much different experiences hurt
and infuriatiated you.

Yet one person told you that your use of the "retard" word bothered
her and you blew her off. You’ve read reams of stuff on how the use of
the word hurts people, and spent a paragraph or two justifying your use
of it.

I guess you really don’t "get" it. 

You may have a disability, and work with people who have
disabilities, but bottom line—you don’t have a cognitive disability.

It doesn’t make you one of the "club" or give you a pass to blow it
off. Any more than I can tell people without legs to "suck it up"
because I once stubbed my toe.

You know, I love you to death, but you’re way off the mark. We’ve
spent years dealing with this kind of ignorance and bigotry, and it
hurts some very vulnerable people who don’t have the intellectual
capacity to raise their voices the way that you and I can.

So why use it if it hurts even just one person?  What’s the point?

First of all, let me clarify something. I don’t use the word "retard" and never in connection with anyone with any kind of a disability. As I stated in my earlier post, I learned that in grade school. Other words like those Attila mentioned in her comment are also not
words I use. However, in terms of free
speech, everyone has the right to use or not use them. That’s what
makes the First Amendment nifty.

I use the word retarded to describe things (not people) that I find dumb, slow or just plain backwards. I did not blow my colleague off. She mentioned the word "retarded", not "retard" bothered her and so I made a concerted effort not use it when in her company. Why? Because it bothered her. Did I stop using it altogether? No.

I do write frequently about how I have felt marginalized with regard to my own disability but rarely because someone has referred to me as a "cripple" or a "gimp".  Usually, it is with regard to people’s preconceived notions about hidden disabilities.  I can’t think of an instance where I have been personally hurt or offended because someone referred to me as a cripple or a gimp, regardless of the spin they put on it. My self-image isn’t contingent on someone’s idea of who or what I should.

In my opinion if the people we are referring to are indeed "very vulnerable people who don’t have the intellectual
capacity to raise their voices the way that" I can  (and there is a large population of people who fit this category),
then maybe we need to be spending time teaching self-empowerment and self-advocacy instead of teaching them it’s okay to censor other people’s words and ideas because we don’t like them and find them offensive.

But as for people with intellectual disabilities not able to raise their voices from what I can see they are doing a fine job. There are scads of videos on You Tube, national coverage in the Op-Ed sections of newspapers, it’s been mentioned at length on both morning and evening news, all protesting Tropic Thunder’s use of the R-Word abound. 

My point is that in demanding we ban offensive language and art simply because we don’t like it or find it wrong is censorship which is a constitutional rights violation. Since when are movie actors, directors and producers our arbiters of good role modeling? Why are they  responsible for educating and indeed, re-educating the people who view their films?  Can anyone honestly say they are looking for deep meaning or intellectual depth when they go to a Ben Stiller film? The people who make these kinds of movies are in it to entertain not educate.

Like it or not there appears to be a huge market for that genre of filmaking and comedy. IF his intent really was to poke fun at the movie industry, I still say what I said in my first post about this on Active Gray Matter’s blog- "Uhm, bad job dude". I may not like Ben Stiller’s word choice or portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities but does that mean he doesn’t get to express himself? Does that mean it’s okay to censor his words, his expression simply because we don’t like it or agree with it? I don’t think so.

Which brings me to ask,  why am I suddenly a bigot because I don’t agree with the current group
conscience? Why does that make me wrong or "off the mark"? This wouldn’t be the first time I have been told I have no business voicing my opinion by members of the disability community because I don’t meet someone’s idea of what being disabled is. Undoubtedly it will not be the last. If we are going to be proponents of inclusion and diversity, then let’s
do it. Let’s not just do it when it’s pretty or comfortable for us to
do so. Sometimes we have to include even the POVs we don’t care for.

Oddly, I am always not disabled enough or I don’t have the right kind of disability in order to voice a differing opinion about a certain issue. Yet, I am welcomed with open arms if jump on the band wagon without question.

Human nature is a funny little bird.


3 thoughts on “The R-Word: Attila’s Reaction

  1. Thanks so much on your continuing post on this! I felt bad about the way I left it, but it really is a personal issue for a lot of people.
    I certainly don’t consider you to be a bigot, and I’m sorry if I implied you were—and if I did, I was inadequate in my verbiage. I intended it to be a challenge to your almost defiant defense of justifying your use of the word once a friend/associate/whoever of yours stated that she found it distressing.
    A couple of days before I read your post, we were in the park, along with a lot of kids/teens/families enjoying a fabulous summer day. We were sitting under a tree, and my son was kind of wandering around in the vicinity, and watching some very young boys throwing around a nerf ball (a football, I think—it had a lot of funky aerodynamic wingy things) on it.
    One overthrew it, and it came under “our” tree. My son picked it up and examined it.
    Instead of coming over to get the ball, one of the kids yelled at him…”Throw it back! Are you retarded or what?”
    None of these kids could have been over 10 years old.
    No, this child didn’t call him a “retard”. He used the term “retarded”. But frankly, my son doesn’t get the difference.
    You wrote:
    “In my opinion if the people we are referring to are indeed “very vulnerable people who don’t have the intellectual capacity to raise their voices the way that” I can (and there is a large population of people who fit this category), then maybe we need to be spending time teaching self-empowerment and self-advocacy instead of teaching them it’s okay to censor other people’s words and ideas because we don’t like them and find them offensive.”
    Unfortunately my son doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand the concept of censorship. He is very self-empowered and self-advocated, because he has had to be. But he just doesn’t have what it takes to “get” the concepts you think we should be “spending time” on. Bad bad boy. Shame on him.
    He has been continuously called “stupid”, “retard” and most recently “fucktard” over the years by ignorant youngsters who haven’t been taught any better by their elders. With dignity he has repeatedly said, “Please don’t call me stupid/retard/fucktard, my name is xxxxxx”.
    He isn’t trying to “censor” anybody. He’s trying to live his life on this planet with the challenges he’s been given.
    My son’s condition isn’t a punch line to him.
    Exercising our right to speak up when we find a word offensive isn’t censorship. It’s letting others know that some of the terms they use in their language is hurtful to a segment of citizens. The choice is obviously up to them whether or not to continue.
    But if knowing that their language is hurtful, people continue to use those terms—well it says quite a bit about their character or lack of, doesn’t it?


  2. Thanks Eden… I have sentiments very similar to yours about Mr.Shriver. Patrica Bauer wrote an excellent Op-Ed piece in the post about this:
    She has also covered this whole story with objectivity and true journalist integrity on her blog.
    Have a look when you get time between chasing after your kidlets and taking care of the house.. 😉


  3. I agree w/ your last full paragraph there. That was the reaction I had reading the note you reposted here.
    I don’t use the word either, even with its perfectly acceptable dictionary definition. I just think it’s an ugly word that’s been used in ugly ways. I held my tongue on your previous post b/c I didn’t want to have to defend my opinion about our First Amendment rights (which includes the right of people who use “retard” as a slur to be assholes) or trot out my experiences with people who are/were branded with that term as some kind of justification for the validity of my opinion.
    Anyone can have an opinion on anything and there are few things that piss me off as much as someone telling me, “you shouldn’t feel that way” or some equivalent. I don’t intend to see this movie anyway but when I had some blue-blood, silver-spoon-up-his-ass Shriver telling me I would be wrong to go & see it, I wanted to buy a ticket out of spite. Agreeing with speech is not the same thing a defending one’s right to it.
    Good for you for standing up for yourself (twice).


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