Recently, a topic was brought up in the contributors page on The Mighty regarding the use of the R Word in some of the pieces written and published.
Now for those new to The Mighty, it’s a community news and media site devoted to stories and blogs that discuss the everyday lives of the disabled and those with any kind of illness. A good bulk of stories are sent by everyday people who contribute and if it’s worthy of a publish, it gets edited and cleaned up a bit for context and length. But at times, the term “retard” if used doesn’t get edited out, leaving a few people offended and upset. And who can blame them? It is an offensive word just like any racial slur out there. Outdated, cruel, and negative.
So why did I make a decision to use it in this post about my condition and it’s impact?
I guess the best place to start is the begining when I learned about the word from, suprisingly, a younger classmate during some kind of weird anti drug puppet show in third grade.
I asked to sit up front a bit so I could see the show better and managed to sit next to a very articulate first grader trying to dodge the obviously hyper active diaper clad preteen in front of us as he was in the process of having a meltdown. Never did I ever see this kid before, or the small group of five that joined him, all seemed to be off to some degree, one in which was sitting in a low to the ground high chair.
“Woah, what’s that?” I asked aloud.
“They have ‘metal’ problems.” Said the little girl I sat next to. “I heard they are in special class for the retarded because they are like babies and can’t learn the way we do.”
Watching them gave me a weird sense of curiosity. Never have I seen kids like them before. I was in a special ed class prior to first grade, but it was never as intense as that. I was considered “mainstream” so I was one of the few who went to class like everyone else.
I remember that year, I was scolded by the teacher when I asked what room to run an errand to, saying something along the lines of “Isn’t room 10 where the retarded kids are?” Never before then up until that point did I fully grasp the concept and how hurtful that word was.
And soon on the playground as I got older, that term became a rock thrown at me on a daily basis. And as I started to notice my differences, it became apparent to me that according to many, I was worth nothing more than one of those kids in that different room.
Although I know as an adult I’m far from what others think of me, I still associate myself with the word. To be retarded means to be delayed or slower to thrive. And for me, there were some things in my life that I have struggled with. And who hasn’t?
I remember one year in college working a puppet building workshop with a bunch of 8-12 year olds, the same topic came about in conversation amungst a group of boys. One asked what the term meant and when I explained it to them it’s true meaning, one boy put it in perspective.
“I’m slow at math. Does that make me retarded?”
But before I could answer, another chimed in “I suck at soccer and it took me a long time to learn it, I think I’m retarded too.”
And you know what? If you think of it in perspective, we are all retarded. Every single one of us. Each person has a flaw, a skill they can’t exceed in, a delay in learning or a topic they just can’t grab the concept of.
So when people ask me my feelings on the R Word, I believe although it is an unkind word to say, the term applies to each and every one of us.
Now, I would never dare use the word to describe others, because I don’t believe many have that viewpoint as I do. And it’s not OK to bring anyone down. But given rhe context in which I use the term in my writtings, I believe it’s a decent term used within reason.
I’m retarded in many ways. My math skills are yucky, I will never learn to drive because of my disability, I can’t sew or do anything that requires extremely fine motor skills. I’m retarded in those things, just like the next person who may have other difficulties. We all strive to be perfect, but the fact is that we are far from it.
And that’s perfectly OK with me.
We are all retarded…because we’re human.