Recently, a parent of a child with Down syndrome wrote a column demanding that politico Ann Coulter apologize for tweeting:
Been busy, but is Obama STILL talking about that video? I had no idea how crucial the retarded vote is in this election.
I hadn't heard about Coulter's tweet, and as I read Dan Niblock 's article, I lost it, thinking about my sweet Charlie who also has Ds. I sat at my laptop sobbing, trying to see the screen clearly enough to write.
My editors at SheKnows let me report on the topic, but y'all know a news article isn't enough for this mommy. (Hello, adopted Southern accent in print!)
Rather than merely revisit why I am so passionate about asking people to stop using the word "retard," I'd like to address some arguments people make for why they believe it's OK to say "retard."
'It's free speech!'
Ding, ding, ding! That is, indeed, a popular argument.
It's also not my point. I'm not saying you cannot use "retard." I'm begging you to please choose to stop using the word "retard."
Dismissing a hurtful slur is about human responsibility and having the integrity to stand up for those who, as Dan writes, "have a hard enough time getting on with the business of life without having to deal with the constant reminder that a great swath of society thinks their existence is the world's best punch line."
'I didn't mean it that way.'
Got it. But now let's talk about why it still hurts.
Imagine you choose to run near me with a sharp object, then accidentally slice me. A tangible injury results, right? You will see me bleed, you will know I am hurt and (hopefully) you will apologize and change your behavior.
Sure, you didn't mean to cut me with your sharp object as you hurtled through space focused on your own life, but as it turns out, you hurt me with your recklessness.
Next time, perhaps you will choose alternative behavior:
- Maybe you'll choose not to run at all with something that might hurt someone else (if you're hanging with my analogy here, you will choose not to use the word "retard").
- Or perhaps you will indeed run with a sharp object, but when you see me, you'll think, "Whoa, I don't want to ding up that one again." And you'll choose to run with your sharp object in another direction (i.e., you will continue to use the word "retard" but you'll decide not to use it around me).
I like the first choice. The second choice is nonconfrontational and cowardly. From experience, you know not to wield a sharp, hurtful object (the word "retard") near me, but you're still willing to risk hurting others.
And maybe those others are unable to tell you that your sharp object hurts them, too. Maybe their bleeding is invisible.
'But it's comedy... it's acting.'
New scenario. Let's say you're Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing a character on a hit new show. You've won all kinds of awards and, despite your former colleagues' gaffes using unacceptable terms like the "N" word, you feel pretty confident about how you've navigated Hollywood as a comedienne and, please, you would never use that word.
So, when you grab a script and discover a subplot to the next episode is finding creative ways to add "tard" (creatively pulled from the insult, "retard") after nouns and verbs, you chuckle to yourself.
Because, it's acting, people. It's just acting.
Um, again... thanks for playing, but that's a cop out.
You are a successful, strong woman with the resume to allow you to say, "Stop. Rewrite. This may be funny to someone, but it's not funny to me. I'm a mom. My son's name, coincidentally, is Charlie, and I just happened to read a blog by another Mom with a son named Charlie, and I would hate to make her write one called, 'Dear Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I'm ashamed of you.'"
(Yes, I realize my little ol' blog is unlikely to change Ms. JLD's behavior, but if you happen to be friends with any celebrities, please feel free to mention how awesome it would be for them to never use the "R" word, in real life or on-screen.)
Whether the "R" word is used by fake people or real people, they still hurt.
They hurt as punch lines, and they hurt as insults. Why not push Hollywood to write real comedy that doesn't target people who can't always speak up for themselves?
'Oh, please. You're being sensitive.'
To respond to this one, I must revisit a scenario that makes me lose sleep. It's in the future, and Charlie is old enough to play with other children somewhere without me.
He returns home with confusion and tears in his eyes. As he curls into my lap and lets me kiss his eyelids dry, he asks, "Mommy, why did that boy call me a retard?"
I beg you to close your eyes for a moment and envision this happening in your home.
Certainly, I will have plenty of responses. We'll talk about why name-calling is unacceptable. We'll talk about how some people can be mean and hurtful. We'll talk about how smart and funny and awesome he is, and how words do not define him. We'll talk about whatever favorite thing of his will distract him from that playground memory.
And later, when I am alone and Charlie cannot see or hear me, I will collapse in a heap of heartbroken exhaustion and wonder if I could have done one more thing to prevent that from happening.
Still think it's OK for people to use the "R" word? Please comment below, and tell me why.