Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The r-word is hate speech in EVERY case

I'm really frustrated that so many people are okay with the word "Retarded," which its defenders so ironically guard tightly as if it belongs to them (It doesn't). A word that those awful PC people are trying to take away from them.

It's common that r-proponents troll those who condemn the word, by calling them "retarded," for example. You know, because that is so clever and rubbing perceived discrimination in someone's face is hilarious and proves that you are actually tolerant and logical.

Some r-users become defensive when criticized, merely because they understand the personal ramifications of an unjust negative perception and seek to avoid them. Another irony alert. What do you think the disability community and their allies are trying to do? Do you think your voice counts more? Do you think you are the one being oppressed because people are challenging you?

Those in places of privilege shouldn't have to afford marginalized groups the right to acquire control of what has been used against them; these groups should have the autonomy to take it themselves.

"Retard" has transitioned from a term to describe a compromised ability to learn and function independently to a term that means undesirable, ignorant and stupid. Do you see the relationship there? In jest, people use it to make fun of their friends' poor choices and foolish actions. This is all about intelligence. We use metaphors that resonate with our feelings about what we're trying to say.

I think the key to conveying the hate and discrimination inherent in the word is to educate people about the contempt, stigma, hate and hate speech many, many generations of people with intellectual disabilities have faced, and still face, for their whole lives over their intelligence and differences.

When people have ever said "Look at that retard" in reference to a person with an intellectual disability, were they ever being respectful? Of course not. It's dehumanizing. The word has always been used to perpetuate disgust and marginalization. Stop trying to erase that. It's not about you and your love of "free speech."

R-defenders think the word is okay because by definition, it is a clinical diagnosis, but they're ignoring the underbelly of contempt for people with intellectual disabilities.

This contempt and oppression should explain why the R-word is hate speech and why it offends people -- feelings that don't require your validation. Many people just don't see the pain of the word because discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities hasn't become fully socially unacceptable yet.

Regardless of intent or topic, the R-Word is a slur and it doesn't become less of a slur in cases when people aren't directing it to people with intellectual disabilities. People appropriate the word for their own supposedly irrelevant means and then complain about the people who call them on it -- the people who understand it and why it hurts.

Find another word. Better yet, stop insulting anyone's intelligence. If it offends you so much that people aren't tolerating a slur, then maybe YOU'RE the one with the problem. We aren't whining about nothing, throwing our toys out of the stroller. YOU are and IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. If everyone crying political correctness felt as much passion for making the world a safe, tolerant place as they do about defending stuff like this, we'd all be better off.

The Special Olympics and Best Buddies are campaigning to to End the R-Word. Please check it out.

Note: When I refer to discrimination and social acceptance, I'm not just talking about insults and relationships, but also about systemic, institutionalized discrimination, the kind that history shows us is invisible to our psyche until social justice finally flips the switch and the world around us starts to change. The kind where major problems still exist, but the group in question now has a seat at the table and more in the outside populations comprehend and reject the dehumanization.


  1. I never use the R word or "gay" (as in, "thats gay") because of everything you just said. It's so insulting to equate someone with a mental disability to someone with a "fully functional" brain who wants to see if they can do a back flip off the roof into a swimming pool. I am pretty sure the word "idiotic" covers that one so why use the R word?

    1. Sorry for the delay, Matt. Busy day yesterday! Yes, it totally equates no matter what you're intending and this doesn't even make sense!

      I wouldn't use idiot or idiotic, actually. I'm sure you didn't know this, but historically, the word was used in psychology to refer to people deemed to have intellectual disabilities and it has evolved to mean stupid.

  2. Thank you for this post, Ashley! We discussed the topic yesterday and I totally agree with you.

    I think what resonates the most with me is this quote:

    "When people have ever said "Look at that retard" in reference to a person with an intellectual disability, were they ever being respectful? Of course not. It's dehumanizing. The word has always been used to perpetuate disgust and marginalization. Stop trying to erase that. It's not about you and your love of "free speech.""

    1. Thanks, Cendrine! I was proud of that paragraph after I wrote it because I think it really brings the issue home. Intentions really mean nothing, especially if you aren't considering the people who actually own the word. Ignoring their presence and their voice is oppressive, just as intentionally hurting them would be.

  3. Love this topic. This is somethingII feel strong about. I actually call out any friend or family member I hear saying words like "retarded" or similar. However, most of my family doesn't use the word, because my cousin is actually intellectually challenged. She is 20 years old and probably around 12 years old mentally. She is very sweet, intuitive, funny, creative, and charming. When people use the word in such a negative way I take it so personally. My cousin may have her challenges and she may learn at a slower pace, but she isn't stupid or dumb (which is what ppl imply when using it). She is learning daily chores, basic financials, trying to find a job she can handle and has a goal of wanting to live on her own. In her spare time she likes to design (draw) different fashionable outfits. She is a joy! I agree completetly with what you said. I think the problem is people have de-sensitized these words so much through media/etc. Most people don't even realize what they are doing, all my friends now have either removed the word from their vocab or correct their bad choice of words. They never realized until someone pointed it out to them. So kudos to the post.

    1. Good for you, Cheriz! It takes courage to speak out against something so socially accepted. As you said, people are desensitized, so they don't see the problems. If people had a personal insight like you do, I think less would support the r word. Thank you for sharing your story!