Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spread the Word to End the Word

Today is the day we spread the word to end the word.

I have a friend named Katie. She's seventeen. Her brother Daniel has Austism and Tourette's Syndrome. For over a year now Katie has campaigned on behalf of the spread the word to end the word project, which is determined to take the word "retard" out of the vernacular.

It's an easy thing to say. "This is retarded." or even, "I'm such a retard" wherein the defense is "Well, I'm talking about myself." I've been guilty of saying it, too, and my excuse used to be I was a teenager and didn't think.

But Katie is a teenager. She thought.

And what she thinks is this: more than any other word "retard" is offensive because the people to whom it refers often cannot defend themselves.

I'm lame, often. If I refer to something as "lame", yes I know I'm referring (technically) to the physically disabled. But I'm one of them. I limp along with my cane and I can say that--for instance-- having class on a sunny day has about equivalent suckage. It is lame. And if I WERE offended by it, I could speak up.

But people who were once classified as "mentally retarded" often cannot. And the word has a ton of insulting connotations. It's often used far in far more derogatory ways than lame, and also it implies the same second-class citizen status as the n-word.

I also believe in the taking back of words, such as the c-word, but this is a decision the population TO WHICH THE WORD REFERS must do. The word, I think, belongs to them now. And since it's the Special Olympics who heads the campaign to see it gone, I want it gone.

Not everyone agrees. I encountered an author once whose books were about accepting LBGTQ teenagers who had her teens use the word for "realism" and the double-standard was never addressed. She got very defensive when I pointed it out to her.

Don't have a double standard. Don't fight against "that's so gay" and "faggot" and accept a word that hurts a group of people who are--generally generally generally speaking--too innocent or otherwise less able to fight back.

And if you read all of this and don't second guess your use of the r-word, I offer a quote from a man born today who had a lasting impact on the world using very few words:

"A person's a person no matter how small".-- Dr. Seuss

And I ask you to add to it: "A person's a person no matter of their abilities" and a person does not deserve to be insulted just because you're too lazy to think of another word to describe the friend who accidentally cracked an egg on his head.

Take the pledge to end the word


  1. One my closest friends used to work at a center for people with both physical and mental disabilities, and she was the first one to make me aware of how using "that's retarded!" could actually be hurtful and derogatory, even when said jokingly. It actually feels like a swear word to me now and I wince when people use the term. I will make a better effort to speak up (respectfully) when I hear others use this word and let them know it's a derogatory word.

  2. Thanks Chelsey for your thoughts that were posted on March 2, 2011.

    Katie has continued to fight the fight while away on a school trip in Washington D. C. this past week.

    She reported that many of her fellow students were making rude remarks about the many homeless that they saw in D.C. Katie informed them that according to USA Today, 1 in every 4 homeless are veterans that have served our country.

    It is amazing that in this day and age the people can be so unkind with the words they use.

    Continue to do the great work you are doing in Boston.

    Ann Smith