Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This Blogzilly is Rated 'R' for Use of the Word Retard

If that sounds harsh to you, it should. It is meant to. I wrote it that way to prove a point though, not to offend. So bear with me please before you shred me a new one.

I've always feared hearing the word 'Retard' applied to my son. That's as honest and brutally truthful as I can be. Bennett, as he rounds the corner and approaches his 3rd birthday, is getting bigger, and as cute as he is, as much as I love him, as much as he is progressing (albeit slowly), I am not going to be able to protect him that much longer from the harshness that the species to which he belongs is able to spit in his direction.

And part of that harshness happens to include the word 'Retard' or 'Retarded', words which I am absolutely certain, should his situation not dramatically change in the next year or so, some child will call him. Will Bennett be aware of these terms and will they hurt him in any way?

I can't know the answer to that.

But I do know this. I have waffled back and forth on whether I was against or behind the whole movement to 'Ban the R-Word', as they say. And MAN-I-SCHEWITZ have I waffled, believe you me, unable to actually face reality.

No...un-WILLING to face it.

That, and I have an instinctive revulsion (and this is a GOOD thing) to the word BAN. This is why my blood, in addition to red, also runs blue and white. I hear the word ban I head for ze hills. I'm supposed to be anti-ban. I'm American.

But the reality is...some things are better left unsaid.

There is no real danger of the loss of freedom of speech if a law is passed that removes the word 'retarded' from federal health, education and labor laws, something that the Marcellino family has been fighting to achieve for quite a while now.

They achieved their victory, and that victory is something that deserves a lot more recognition that it is getting. It certainly had a major influence on helping me come to terms with my own understanding of the word and the necessity for its removal from legislation.

You ever notice that while you are on certain paths in your life, there are indicators, certain signs, that lead you places? Some people call those signs acts of God or miracles or messages from Jesus. Others call them some kind of cosmic flow of Karma, some consider them mere coincidence that our brains connect together as our conscious mind begins to make conclusions that our subconscious was kind of cooking up over a period of time.

Somehow, as much as I kept trying to avoid this topic, it kept coming to find me.

Different blogs addressing it as their subject. At first my reactions in the Comments was to to point out that it was 'just a word' and that people were over-reacting, that this was getting blown way too out of proportion. But man, it was always making for lively discussions.

I was hearing the word more and cringing at it while listening to The Howard Stern Show in the morning. Now, c'mon, I ain't no dummy, I get it, Howard Stern is not everyone's Cup of Soup. I happen to like the show. Most of the time I'm laughing or at least very entertained. And the man is very, very smart in the way he often exposes very subtle hypocrisy in people and his interviews are, well, the stuff of legend.

Sometimes I'm horrified at what goes on during the show, but in a morbidly curious kind of way. But I do find that the word 'retarded' is tossed around a bit too casually, and often, and I've noticed that it bothers me more than it used to.

One night, while playing on X-Box Live with some high school kids (OMG I AM A GEEK) one of them said 'OMG duuuuuuuuude, that's so freakin' retarded.' and I found myself correcting the kid, telling him that he really shouldn't use the word in that way. The kid didn't get all uppity about it. If he had I would have shot his character in the face with my Double Action Revolver, but that's beside the point.

But I thought...Man, that was weird. Look at you. What are you some kind of a cause guy now? You can't get involved. It's not like you like the Empire you hate it. But what are YOU gonna do about it? It's such a long way from here.

Now that's downright spooky.

Then I find myself on Facebook, wondering why I have no life, and in one of the little mini-threads about a politician I see someone comment that the guy was something something and then something and then oh yeah...'just some fucking retard!'.

I can't remember what I wrote exactly, but it was something like 'if you wanna bash a politician if you could find some word other than 'retard' amongst the other hundreds of thousands of words in the English language to use instead it would be very much appreciated by many of us parents who have kids with special needs.'

I didn't know where this stuff was coming from.

I thought I didn't care.

But I guess the truth was I was starting to realize I actually might. When I saw the story on the Marcellino family, and when I saw that they were from Edgewater, where I came THIS close to buying a house back when I lived in Maryland, I was like...OK now that's just too weird. So I looked into the story a little more and started paying a lot more attention.

Not just out there, but in here. But that I mean My Noggin. I tried to imagine Bennett, as an older boy, being called a 'retard'. How would he feel? How would I feel if I saw it? How would I feel if I saw ANOTHER child being called that by my 'typical' son Carter? How mortified would I be? How ashamed?

Then I just sort of had the last piece I needed to finish the puzzle, and the desire to never really use the word in a hurtful or thoughtless way just vanished. I might still use it descriptively, referencing the past, using it in a sentence like 'Hey now...they used to call people Mentally Retarded who they now call Intellectually Disabled.'*

But that's about as far as it goes.

I guess Dylan was right, the times really are a-Changin'.

And so am I.


*Extra special bonus points to anyone who can tell me why this is actually the funniest part of the entire blog.


  1. This entry hit home for me Ken. Now, granted, I've thrown the word around from time to time, but each time it slips out I am totally embarrassed... especially since I have a brother with special needs.

    The word "retarded" definitely is overused in today's society and people should use a better choice of words, but unfortunately I don't think it's going to get better any time soon. That's just me being a pessimist.

    Loving the new types of blogs man... keep em' coming.

  2. Change isn't bad.All of it comes with blessings if you know where to look.

    Didn't like the word before Zoey and certainly don't like it now.Did you see my post a few back?If not,go check it out.I think you'll like it.A speech from a high school senior,who a few years back,put an incredible light on the whole topic.His name is Soeren Palumbo and I think he says it best for all of us.

    I am thinking of bring the topic to the middle schools.Seeing if I can get a few to change up their vernacular.Some will listen.Some will not.If a few do,then great.And it's not just the kids...adults.Even ones I know and that know us.They use it and I'm like "Hello??"Here an our house we always say something,even if it's a "Hello or dad or sibling of a child with Down syndrome standing here.Maybe another word would be awesome."Nothing in your face.Just a reminder.Can't change everyone but certainly can try.

    Thanks for the comment on Zoey's video ... we think she is amazing.and that others do to,means the world to us.

  3. I've really come to hate that word. I have heard my son being called that before in our own front yard, and it was difficult to keep my rage in check as I ran outside and lectured the kids who'd said it. Made me wonder how many times it had been said to him that I didn't know about, before and since.

  4. Loved this post...Your honesty always amazes me...

    If you have seen any of my Facebook posts, you know where I stand with this...

    I don't know why, but I have ALWAYS hated the word....Just like I have ALWAYS hated the "N" word, even though I grew up here down south where people used it daily...I always had a strange feeling when hearing the "R" word as a young girl...My parents never used it, nor would they have allowed it...Maybe I was being prepared? Who knows?

    Thanks for this...And thanks for posting it on Facebook for others to see...You speak for many....


  5. It was almost difficult to give it up (and I laughed as hard as I ever have during the movie "Hangover" when they used it with the wrong pronunciation) -- the whole "it's just a word" hung for a while on me, but I jumped on the bandwagon pretty quickly once I really researched and read people's stories. When my two sons told me about their discomfort when they heard it, I stepped in and vowed never to use it again. It feels awkward to use "intellectually disabled" at first, but it slips off the tongue fairly easily now...

    I'm loving the depth of your posts and always, the humor. You're terrific -- you know that?

  6. I'm in such vehement disagreement with the law to change the phrase "mentally retarded". That was our medical phrase for an intellectual disability. Why did we have to change the name of the diagnosis? Why couldn't people change instead. I hate the casual and insensitive use of the word. That is what I want to change. The new classification does nothing to change the senseless use of hurtful words. People will find a way to twist "intellectually disabled" and use it for hurt. There is a bigger battle in the hearts and minds of people that we still need to win.

  7. I like your paragraph about "signs along the way." Particularly the conscious/subconscious idea. You found a way to put it so clearly and susinctly. I think I'll use it one of these days.

    I agree with Sinead...words are not usually the problem...the connotation which "grows on" the words over time becomes the issue.

  8. The word doesn't bother me. I still say "OMG, that is soooo retarded"...but I wouldn't say it in front of any parent whose child has a disability. There are some things I have come to understand, however...first, kids like mine who are severely challenged don't usually get teased as much as kids who look "normal" and aren't. It is more difficult, in other words, for a kid like yours Ken, in the schoolyard. That issue has made me think twice about my sometimes cavalier attitude about it. Second, it is possible that my lack of sensitivity about the word comes from the fact that it has been dropped from medical/government paperwork for years here. We hear intellectually disabled or cognitively one has ever said Sophie is mentally retarded...ever. Third...sometimes I get pissed about people saying "I was called a retard all through school and I have emotional scars"...okay..I wasn't retarted and got called all kinds of shit and have the emotional scars from it. Kids tease..they bully, it's awful and not the exclusive domain of children with challenges. Everyone who is "different" in some way gets nailed. Schools and parents need to foster genuine acceptance of all things and teach that "normal" actually, doesn't really exist in the human population.

  9. This is one of the reasons I always enjoy your writings, Ken. I think of you as an artist but I feel the need to clarify that. To me, an artist is someone who has a method of exploring their personal growth and change - be it backwards, forwards, whatever. But their thought processes are moving and an artist is someone who reflects that movement in some manner.

    This post reflects that well. You aren't pretending to know the answers or that you know what the end game is - no one knows the final score before the whistle blows. But you are endlessly fascinated with the process of the game and so am I. You just know how to verbalize it so well.

  10. Though I should have spent this time writing an actual BLOG today, I got sucked into Comment Response World today. In fact it is so long I have to split it into multiple comments.

    I've always wondered, and even asked, about how it's been from time to time with you and your brother. Expect to get a lot more questions from me in the future I'm sure. I never expected this, huh?

    And a question for you now, un-related to that. What do you think has changed about this blog? What exactly do you mean by your last paragraph?

    I've seen the speech before, and it was interesting to see the video. It always is. I don't know if you or anyone else has noticed a lack of photo and video with Bennett in it lately. I am not sure how I feel about it. Mainly a lot of that is because of late he is in 'Mirror Universe' Mode and who wants to see that? But also, I sometimes have second thoughts about how I feel about how I portray him. That probably doesn't make a lot of sense.

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by. I went ahead and subscribed to your boy's channel on YouTube, I was that impressed. Not sure how I would react if I saw that going down in my front yard. I am sometimes scared I might have a future altercation, and I have to tread VERY carefully...Bennett needs me here, not in a cell somewhere.

    You also come from an entirely different generation and perspective, which is very interesting, because Colby comes from a time where it was almost expected that the term was used on all types of paperwork and in medical analysis, with a boy whose conditions could never actually be diagnosed with any kind of certainty.
    I can't imagine how much shit you both had to wade through.

    I'm terrific? That's funny, because you know what my blog topic was going to be on Wednesday? Blogs That Intimidate Me, featuring A Moon, Worn as If It Had Been a Shell. You, Single Dad, Claire's Blog and Many others...I feel like such a nugget when it comes to you guys. On the flip side when it comes to non-special needs I see guys like Luke Milton who writes circles around me or Phil with his man skills that make me feel like a girl and I just go CRAP.
    Yeah...self-esteem issue much? But thanks, I'm still gonna write that one day though.

  11. Sinead:
    I understand the disagreement, I really do. But why vehemently? After all, it is only a word. Is it because you feel we should be focused on more important things? I probably agree with you. But we gotta start somewhere. Take the word 'nigger' for example. Wasn't really all that long ago that And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie was still called Ten Little Niggers, might have been the 80's when the title was finally legally and officially changed. The 80's.

    'Colored', 'Negro' and other words, still on many pieces of legislation, bothers a lot of people. Rightfully so. I still don't know why the NAACP is called the NAACP.

    But just words. And yeah...banning words, the whole concept of that, makes me laugh sometimes.

    I do agree, actions are the real PROBLEM. And word elimination does not solve the problem, which is that human beings can be assholes. I had a discussion yesterday with our Home Health Aide. The real problem I have with the human race is that we treat each other like shit. Can you imagine how amazing this planet would be if we went all New Testament on each other and actually cared about one another and really tried to live a life like Christ? Huh? This...coming from someone who walked away from Christianity years ago?

    But I was really pissed about this piece of human shit in Detroit tormenting some 7-year old terminally ill girl and putting on Facebook and junk that she was glad she was going to die. It escalated, and I was invited by a friend, and I was shocked to see who sent the invite frankly, the last person I would have expected to have gotten this from, to join a Facebook page that was supposed to publicly humiliate this turd of a woman. I declined. Why? Because what the fuck does that do? Nothing. And it is NOT the right thing to do. It solves nothing, and promotes hate. I don't hold it against this friend. They got caught up in it. I get it.

    But one last thing about the word thing in least it brings some awareness to the problem. I one knows WTF Infantile Spasms is. Hell, it's IS Awareness week and nobody is saying jack shit about it. Our charge is to make people know what it is...that's step one of 1,0000. Just to know the word and the words true power. We want THAT pair of words to have power, don't we?

    As long as I get a per usage fee every time you use it, I'm totally cool. And I agree with you AND Sinead, that is the bigger problem than the word itself, I think that the point you both make is absolutely valid, but I also think that changing the word in legislation cannot be considered a 'bad' thing or a wasted effort. Yes, the problem is in the actions and in the streets, and they need to be fixed, but that doesn't mean that what has happened doesn't have some relevance to the overall grand scheme of things.

  12. Claire:
    It's funny, because again I find myself thinking...did I say that I think the word 'retarded' should not be used at all, ever? Did I have the answer to the question? Not really, but you'd think I did, because it certainly does prompt people to react with very strong opinions one way or another. The truth is I was really commenting on the fact that I was pleased that 2 things had occurred. That the Marcellino family got their victory on the legislation angle when it comes to the word and the fact that I felt that an evolution was taking hold within me, that I was seeing some growth in my own head. A good thing. And of course some pondering of my fear of how I might react if Bennett ever gets called that. Just my own wonderings about what rattles around in my pea brain.

    One thing you said really struck a chord with me. The thing about emotional scars and that special needs kids don't have exclusive rights in that regard when it comes to school bullying. That is the REAL truth, isn't it? Again, goes back to what I was saying up above. We treat each other like SHIT, don't we? If we just didn't do that, holy CRAP the world would be like a Chocolate Factory 24-7 wouldn't it?

    Phil: you have any idea what a chubby you just gave me for saying that? Thanks man! That means a lot. I appreciate it, usually I feel like I just have diarrhea of the mouth.

  13. very interesting post and it's certainly given me pause. I'm not really sure how I feel. On one hand I don't want anyone to be offended or hurt (although inevitably everyone will be). On the other hand, I hate the "softening" of the english language. If you look at the actual meaning of the word ( )there's nothing wrong with it. It's just the slang that causes problems. If it's banned, someone will just come up with a different derogatory term. At the end of the day I am going to have to side with George Carlin I think:

  14. ok I thought of a little more I have to add. First off, When I use the word "retarded" it is due to my work, as in "I managed to stop the train in time, but if it wasn't retarded I would have shot right through the station" or "when road conditions merit, I like to turn the retarder off on my bus". Now I am paranoid that if I'm conversing with a fellow employee about this that a customer or passerby might overhear it out of context and be offended.

    Also, you know your kid is gonna get made fun of. It happens. Hey, I consistently got the highest marks in the class throughout my school career and was horribly put down and frequently beaten because of it. In hindsight, I am glad of it. I think it made me a better person. First, because I know that insults hurt and thus am more sensitive to what I personally say, and secondly because it forced me to be strong. Grow a thick skin. In my current job if I didn't have this ability to not give a shit what people say, I'd be booking off for stress every day. So being teased as a child is not necessarily a bad thing. One of my best friends is fat. He got teased mercilessly as a child and he started using humour as a defense. Now he's one of the funniest and most liked people I know. You know for a fact that your son is going to be picked on. As much as you want to shield him from that, you cannot. Thus, I think your position should be to help him use that in a positive way.

    Anyway, just my two cents and coming from someone with no kids and little experience with "intellectually disabled" people, I guess it doesn't mean much.


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