The words we choose

At the BlogHer panel in San Francisco, one of the women in the audience asked a question about using the word retarded. Frankly, I was surprised that it was even a part of the discussion: it seemed odd and jarring, particularly after the previous questions, including one from a new mother of a 4-month old with Down syndrome about how to best use blogging to sort through her complex emotions and to find community.

In any case, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Patricia Bauer has links to additional stories in the media about a new movie featuring this same concept: that it’s a funny word and we all should laugh it off. Go here and here to read more.

I have to agree with Dave Hinsburger. Oh, how I wish this word would go away.

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12 thoughts on “The words we choose

  1. I just wrote a post about the “R” word on my blog. http://www.sealbark.blogspot.com So how appropriate that I just stumbled across your blog!

    I read your book in June and just wanted to tell you thank you! I LOVED reading it and ended up reading most of it out loud to my husband. I felt like I was re-living so much of Morgan’s first years and also feel like the book helped me heal some of the open wounds that I wasn’t aware were still lingering on. So thanks for giving all of us such a wonderful gift! I know it will be a blessing for so many new parents going through the adjustment of being parents to a child with Down syndrome.

  2. Archie had a teacher once who referred to him as a “Downie.” She said, “Well, most Downies…” and I didn’t know if I was more offended that she called him a Downie, or because she made a sweeping generalization based on his diagnosis. And this teacher? She works at a developmental preschool. She should know better.

  3. While I really do think that SK’s heart was initially in the right place, being called out on her misguided and hurtful language made her retrench instead of rethink. Which is understandable — no one likes to be spanked in public — but too bad. Her insistence on her right to use the word in question is not that different from Michael Savage’s refusal to retract his abominable statements about autistic children. They both shape their audiences’ opinions, whether SK owns up to that responsibility or not.

    I agree with @Jordan about the lack of compassion in our culture, and especially our media. I was raised with three Adam Sandler-type brothers and in a potshot environment, so my sensitivity about disparaging language towards people with disabilities has mostly emerged because of my son. I see my former self in most people, and I’m trying to reach them — as we all are.

  4. Thanks for the links and for keeping the issue present. I am still baffled by the parents who use this kind of language to describe their children. I’ve heard a father refer to his 21-yr old daughter w/DS as “a retard” IN HER PRESENCE. The look of hurt in her eyes took my breath away.

    I think those who use it as a humorous shield need to look for other ways to deal with their fears. Like educating themselves more, finding ways to help their children.

    Only then will the media/entertainment industry begin to take us seriously that these words wound deeply.

  5. Hmm. There was not supposed to be a smiley face above – I was so NOT feeling smiley. Somehow my end quotes followed by a parenthesis created a winky little guy. I don’t feel winky about this topic, either.

  6. Thanks for this post, Jennifer, and for the excellent links.

    I think that this word has become so horrid because of how it’s been used over time, which – in the end – brings us back to the basic underlying lack of compassion and kindness that seems to be so fundamental to our culture. (Anyone who wishes to argue that this is fundamental to our culture ought to take a look at how we treat our elderly, our young children, and those with disabilities, and perhaps take a look at what passes for “insurance” in this country. We cannot claim to be a compassionate and kind people as a whole, no matter how many of us would stand up and be able to say honestly, “That’s not me!”)

    We can – and many of us do – use different language, but this other language will only be meaningful if there are changes in our culture and society that support it. Movies like this, and people making jokes that use derogatory language only bring us back in time rather than moving us forward.

    Clearly, that depresses me.

  7. Jennifer, I have been so upset over the last day about this ridiculous movie — I read all of Patricia Bauer’s entries as well as Dave’s post and am sick to my stomach. Thanks for posting about it here — I did so on my blog as well, asking all my friends/family to boycott the movie — it’s the very least we can do. Every time I hear the R-word, I think what if they were using the N-word instead, it would be unspeakable…how I wish the time would come for that horrible, ugly word.

  8. Hi Jennifer–I agree that this is a word that should not be used. It really bothers me when people do find it funny or use it as an insult. I cringe everytime I hear it, because I don’t think those who use it really realize how hurtful it can be to those around them.

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