For all the times I have been in a room and heard someone say the word “retard” or “retarded” in regards to something or someone that is unintelligent or unappealing, I am sorry. For every time a friend or peer has used that word while speaking to me, I am sorry. For every time I have heard that word in a movie or seen it on social media, I am sorry. I am sorry for not standing up and defending the special needs community when they are the ones who need a voice most. I am sorry for saying absolutely nothing.
Unfortunately, awareness of the word “retard,” otherwise known as the r-word, is not a common subject among those who stand for political correctness. There has been a ton of declarations against racial or sexual orientation slurs, but not many for insults regarding the special needs. The reason behind this is the category of the population that is affecting, this category being those who do not know how to defend themselves. These are the individuals who are hurting everyday by hearing the r-word being thrown around and joked about, but are too defenseless to speak up. These groups of individuals need people like us to stand up for them, those of us that have a voice and are intellectually able to understand how offensive and unnecessary the word is.
Interestingly enough, most of those who use the offensive word are not even using it in the correct context. The actual definition of “retard” is a verb and is defined as, “to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment”- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. To apply the word “retard” in the correct situation is not offensive, and this is why the word remains in the dictionary. An example of correct usage would be, “The traffic on the highway may retard the process of getting to work.” The other use of the word “retarded” is an adjective, and can be defined as, “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.”- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Undoubtedly, there will be some who read this and think, “If it is a real word then why can’t I say it?” The instant this thought is registered, it is important to take a step back and note the connotation in which this word is used in everyday conversation. Laughter is the action that follows the utterance of the r-word, laugher at a foolish action or a person for acting in an ignorant manner. This is the disrespectful undertone that is given to the r-word that makes it wrong, even if “I didn’t mean it in a hurtful way” or “I wasn’t actually referring to a disabled person”.
The original application of the word retarded had scientific suggestions and stemmed from the middle of the 1800s. During that day and age, the word could be used to describe someone who had intellectual impairments. It was not until this word started being used as an insult that the word was no longer appropriate in medical terms. In fact, “mental retardation” was actually removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and replaced with “intellectual developmental disorder” in 2013. The sad truth behind this change is the offensive implications associated with this word.
In the past the r-word was used to describe a very large, but very vulnerable group of the population. In present day this word is being used as an insult, but it is hurting that same population, including their loved ones. There are intellectually disabled individuals all around us, some of which may even be your friends who have a slight impairment. Please take heed of how outrageous and tasteless the r-word is, and how uneducated and ill-informed one looks when they use it.
It’s time to talk about what everyone is turning a blind eye to; it’s time to stop saying the r-word.