More Attila, the R-Word and Me

Let me begin by stating what I thought was obvious: Attie (Atilla the Mom) and I have a deep and abiding respect for one another. We like one another. We are not fighting and I don’t even think we are disagreeing. We are having a discussion. I am re-posting her public comments for convenience and clarity, not because I am trying to make her look like an ass. (Anonymous jerkface who ever you are. And yes, you’re right I do think it’s  "pussified" to write a dickheaded comment, name call and then not have the eggs to leave a name or a valid e-mail address. But I digress).

I believe this a very relevant and intriguing issue for everyone to discuss, mull over and have an opinion about.

I understand that the issue of the R-word and use of the word "retarded" are very personal and emotionally charged topics for many, many people and many people feel attacked and threatened by their use every day.

Our First Amendments rights are also a very personal and emotionally charged issue for many, many people and they are being attacked and eroded every day.

Having said that, Attie wrote in response to my post on Wednesday:

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?

To refer to anyone as "stupid" or a "retard" or a "fucktard" is never okay. Let me say if Atilla’s son can look those kids in the face and ask them to stop calling him names, then he is pretty self-empowered and can self-advocate for himself.

I am pretty defiant and forthright about my use of the word "retarded". I have had to be because I have had to defend my right to use it in the current social climate. For me, it is a word to describe some thing (not someone) nothing more. Other people have a bigger problem, I think, with the fact that I say I use it and don’t apologize for my use of it. I think it’s pretty sad that I have had to defend and explain my right to use it.

I have zero problem with people standing up, demonstrating, screaming about how they don’t like that people use a term they find offensive. But when you begin demanding that not only words be "banned" but also radio, television and films you find personally offensive, that IS censorship and that is what is being asked for here. The exact words are "Ban the R-Word, Ban the movie!"

Attila’s son might not be able to interpret the nuances of censorship but those people who are speaking for him and for her DO and they are not just telling everyone they don’t like the r-word. They are demanding the word be "banned" and that artistic expression containing that word also be banned.  That IS censorship.

It’s important to note that the very first person I heard hollering and calling foul was NOT a
person with an intellectual disability. It was a supporter who
portrayed people with these types of disabilities as people who cannot speak for themselves and therefore needed others them to speak for them. They are unable to speak for themselves, the poor dears. That smacks of an entirely different kind of discrimination. And yet, there they were at the Tropical Thunder opening marching and chanting, "Ban the R-Word, Ban the movie!", the poor dears who couldn’t speak for themselves. C’mon now. You can’t have it both ways.

I am all for a campaign to create awareness and help people consider why they should eliminate the word "retard" from their vocabulary but
why do we need to include banning movies that include the word retard
in their dialogue? In fact, I am a bit miffed that I cannot put an
R-Word badge on my blog in good conscience because of the censorship
element it has taken on. I think raising awareness and
encouragement are excellent tools for reaching people when handled

It is true that many people with intellectual disabilities truly can’t speak for themselves but are their representatives really passing on what they want known properly? Is it really just about creating awareness in the general population about the use of a term that some people find offensive? Because it has become far more than that to people who are concerned with free speech and the freedom of expression.

I wasn’t asking that people teach courses on censorship, I am suggesting that we assist people in empowering themselves so that they can speak for themselves because there’s still far too many who can’t or don’t do what Attie’s son has done for himself. There are many reasons for this which would indeed lead us into many other discussions.

Instead, I have a question after reading Attila’s story about the boy with the ball.  I am not trying to be funny or snarky in any way. I am genuinely interested in the answer.

What if that boy had yelled  "Throw it back!  Are you slow or what?" Would that have made it any better an experience for either of them? Both words mean the same thing. The kid still yelled at her son. So is it the word choice or the attitudes behind them that creates the offense?

And frankly, how do we know that kids aren’t being taught not use such language at home?  How many kids are told not to use some word or term and so they don’t… while they’re at home or in the presence of their parents. My mother told me not to do or say a bunch of stuff and I didn’t in her presence. But peer pressure is a mighty thing and some kids are going to behave in ways and say things when they are among themselves regardless of what they are being taught at home and most outgrow it. That’s just the way it is.

So when I stated I think we should
spend more time empowering young people with disabilities, perhaps we
should start thinking of empowerment as something more than defending
oneself  and asking them politely that you be treated better. Perhaps,
we need to teach them that empowerment is that what we think of
ourselves is more important than what others call us or think of us. I
am not saying this is easy. It’s not easy for people without
disabilities. But self-empowerment is about more than just defending
ourselves and our disabilities. It is about knowing who we are and how we view ourselves beyond our disabilities and idiosyncracies.

Not so long ago I was in in a store shopping and a man called me a "fat, crippled bitch" because I was in his way and not moving fast enough out of it. He said it as he passed me. A few people noticed. Did it hurt me? Embarrass me? No. Because I am fat, I am crippled and at times I am very bitchy. Not right then, but I can be. My response to him was, "Yeah,and?" And what could he say, "I’m being an asshole because I’m having a bad day and wanted to hurt your feelings?" He could have but he wouldn’t, didn’t think to and in all likelihood couldn’t. I could launch into a thousand reasons why he shouldn’t talk to me like that, why he should change his words and his mind. And my point would be, what? I only have the power to change me and how I respond to the world around me, not someone else.

Indeed, people should be more sensitive to others. People should be more aware
of the diversity around them. People should treat each other better.
People should be more accepting of differences or eccentricities in others. People should do a lot of things. If we aren’t careful we’ll should all over ourselves.

The reality is many people don’t, won’t and don’t want to see or do anything if it doesn’t benefit them quickly and directly . There are other ways of empowering and teaching people with and without disabilities how to cope with that reality that don’t involve defense of ourselves to people who aren’t intrinsic to our lives or violating the First Amendment rights of others.


One thought on “More Attila, the R-Word and Me

  1. That’s why I love you so much—your willingness to discuss and discuss. 🙂 I’m not even going to READ the dorky comment left. Thanks for the heads-up.
    I certainly don’t think any words should be banned, and I hope it didn’t come off that way (and how in the world do you “ban” a word?). But to hear/read some people talk (not you, of course), you’d think that because some people have a disability, they don’t have a right to voice their objections either, much less occupy a space on the planet:
    “I think most people that have a disability should be dead- the ones that contribute nothing, they are like that cause they have bad genes (recessive genes), and keeping them alive and letting them breed is stupid- and- Tropic Blunder… what a retarded slogan”…from Youtube.
    In your post, you wrote: ‘”What if that boy had yelled “Throw it back! Are you slow or what?” Would that have made it any better an experience for either of them?’
    I’m not positive, but I think it might have. My son would have probably thought about it for a minute and said something like, “Well, I guess maybe I am being slow.” But as the word “retard” has been slung at him as an insult so often, I’m not sure he is able to distinguish it’s originally intended meaning from what it has become in our culture–a word deliberately used to degrade people with cognitive disabilities.
    You wrote: “Is it really just about creating awareness in the general population about the use of a term that some people find offensive?”
    It is to me, but obviously I can’t speak for anyone else.
    As always, love to you, my friend, and I appreciate your willingness to share ideas.
    I think I’m going to bow out of the discussion now because school, etc is starting this week and I’m going to have a whole new set of issues on my plate to stress me out and piss me off. I can only handle one thing at a time. 😉
    Thanks again,


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