This is an open letter to the people in my life who, despite being asked not to, continue to use the word “retard.” I’m sad and disappointed – no, I’m shocked and dismayed at your oblivion. All of you I love dearly. All of you have greatly enriched my life and now the life of my little boy. All of you are smart and well educated. You all keep up with current events and hold carefully-thought-out viewpoints on controversial subjects. All of you are caring, loving, thoughtful people.
You don’t think saying “retard” is bad. What’s a slip of the tongue? After all, no one can be politically correct all the time. And so, you say things like: “I completely forgot to change and wore my fuzzy slippers to my job interview? I looked like such a retard!” or “She’s wearing red skinny jeans with an orange top – that’s just retarded” or “Everyone in his family hates him. He’s such a retard.” Sometimes you even say “He is such an stupid person. I don’t even want to waste my breath telling you how retarded he is.”
When you say that, you just hear a word like any other. But let me tell you what I hear. I hear that people with mental disabilities look ridiculous and have no fashion sense. They have no clue how to appear beautiful. They are creeps who people hate. They aren’t even worth the time it takes to insult them.
That’s what you’re saying. You’re saying that my beautiful, funny, clinically retarded son is stupid and ugly; a creep and not worth the breath it takes to dismiss him.
Don’t tell me “Well, I never meant Hunter! I never think of him as retarded!” Does that mean my kid’s in the cool group because he doesn’t act that different, and the little girl down the block with cerebral palsy who drools and tics with shriveled, atrophied hands is free game for ridicule??
And don’t tell me that it’s just a slip of the tongue. Has your tongue slipped and called anyone a nigger lately?
Using the word “retard” is just as hurtful and cowardly as using the word “nigger.” I think in a way it’s more cowardly, actually, because it targets a group of people who aren’t able to defend themselves. Most people with cognitive disabilities can’t board a bus and lead a revolution like Rosa Parks, or stir millions to action like Martin Luther King Jr. (Though some can and they are making a difference!)
That’s why I’m writing this. Not just for Hunter. For every cognitively disabled person out there who has to hear themselves called names in the grocery store, on the street, even in church. I’m writing this for those who can understand what they’re being called, and even more for those who can’t.
And I’m writing this for you too, all you smart, loving, amazing people. Wake up, okay? Please open your ears to hear what your mouth is saying, and your heart to understand the hurt it’s causing. Open your eyes to see that the people you’re calling “retards” are just as amazing, smart, and loving as you.