Open Letter to a Young “Retard”

re·tard [ ri tard ]

  1. slow something down: to slow or delay the progress of something
  2. slowing of tempo: in music, a slowing down of a previously quick tempo
  3. offensive term: an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody with a learning disability or somebody regarded as unintelligent

I was doing a little research on Facebook the other day; actually typing the word “retail” in just to see what came up; if there was anything close to my own blog name out there. As I started to type, R . . . E . . . T . . . A . . ., imagine my surprise at the “suggestions” that started to pop up . . . in several different languages. Yay!

A friend talking about a mistake she made: “Sometimes I can be so retarded.”
A Facebook post a friend of my wife’s friend wrote: “I was playin’ outside in the snow and built the most retarded snowman.”
Fans at a local football game: “C’mon ya retards!!”

Did you slow down? Delay your progress? Can a snowman be slow? Did the referees slow a previously quick tempo? If not, that only leaves one other definition.

Look, those of you who use such wording, I’m not going to ask you to stop using the “R” word; I’m not even going to tell you that it’s wrong. I liken it to telling a blind-drunk alcoholic that the booze is killing him: It’s not going to do anything at the time but piss him off even though, deep down inside—somewhere—he already knows.

And so do you.

The difficulty with the drunkard is simply that he’s not at a point in his habit, his addiction, that he’s willing to hear it yet.

And neither are you.

Suffice to say, that even though this is the twenty-first century, I still have to use that term to describe my daughter—born with Down syndrome—to be able to give her the financial, physical and cognitive aid she needs to be an effective, functional member of a society that you are helping to create. And you see, the more “help” you give, the more she’ll need. I don’t like it any more than you do, but I don’t make the rules.

“What a ‘tard!”
“She can be such a retard!”
“You’re so retarded!”

I’ve heard all of these and more. You probably have too, and you’ve probably thought nothing of it. I can’t think nothing of it anymore. A term that you think is flippant and that you “don’t mean anything by it” I’m forced to use to describe my daughter. I know it, and more importantly SHE knows it. Anyone with a learning disability knows what retard means, how it’s used, and knows it’s not a positive thing.

It means SOMETHING to them. To me.

Someday maybe you’ll understand. Someday maybe you’ll have a daughter or son; a brother or sister. Or, if the diagnosis comes early enough, you or your family may choose to abort an otherwise healthy, potentially happy life because, even though this is the twenty-first century, this still happens all the time; silently, shamefully, needlessly. Not that I have an opinion on the subject.

But regardless, you’ll still be a part of the “family”.

Our family.

The family with the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters that are called retarded both by the powers that be and by people like you.

Then you’ll know . . .

Then you’ll be ready to listen . . .

. . . And that word will have a whole different meaning.

One thought on “Open Letter to a Young “Retard””

  1. Oh my friend, I won’t even come close to satisfying your much deserving frustration on this. But, silly as I am, I will try. We (social beings) use words to communicate huge breaths of thought. It’s part of the process of communication. We generalize to communicate a point. Strong, weak, -black, white- poor, rich, slow fast. When the terminology begins to overtake and define too rigidly the individuality in us must fight back. You are right in defining a word and even righter (hehe) in admonishing the word being used against you and yours. But please, I do beg of you, because you have a strong voice, do not let a word get in your way. I offer you the advice of my son-in-law to me when faced with social judgement, confusion and prejudice. Do not repeat the hate, let it fail and die with you. Restate your strength and recognize your chance to expose strangers to the gifts and joy and beauty of your lot. Repeat the joy. And if you can, share your difference. She will change the world.

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