There are some words that you are not supposed to say. Some are mildly frowned upon, while others are clearly restricted to just their first initial. These culturally unsanctioned words are found offensive for several reasons, the most powerful being that they can be used as a slur directed to intentionally hurt another human being.
I’ve used the word Retarded regularly. As a youngster it just flew from my mouth without thought, as an emotional indicator. Those were days when it seemed permissible to put down minorities, although recent events in the United States under President Trump suggest a return to these norms. Anyway, I remember getting a comedy book for Christmas as a nine year old that included in its title, ‘100 Newfie Jokes’. On a recent trip to Newfoundland I was surprised to see books like this in tourist shops. One was straightforwardly titled, ‘Newfie Joke Book’ and is available online with the subject matter promoted as being part of “our Canadian culture” and that Newfoundlanders have a “good hearted ability to laugh at themselves.” Really?
Back in 2011 two cast members Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter, of the television show ‘Glee’, ended a public service announcement titled ‘It’s Not Acceptable’ with a powerful appeal to end the use of the word Retarded and others that demean or degrade. (Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T549VoLca_Q )
In March 2018, Special Olympics Canada produced a dynamite ad about the abuse of this word to support a campaign on Twitter called #nogoodway.
(Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcPv2Ruiuu4 )
And Netflix recently aired a special by comedian Hannah Gadsby called ‘Nanette’ that beautifully addresses the practice of put-downs in stand-up routines. She speaks with much grace about how she will no longer play along with this ethos. I can’t imagine her telling a Newfie joke or saying the word Retarded.
Why have I been reluctant to shed the word Retarded from my vocabulary? Maybe it’s because I feel strongly about censorship, but that’s no excuse. As a teacher of special needs children I often had the opportunity to be a cheerleader for those of differing abilities. A close colleague of mine bore a Down’s Syndrome child, whom I enjoyed watching grow into healthy adolescence. I used the television program, ‘Life Goes On’ as a parenting tool with my sons and Corky (actor Chris Burke) would come up in conversations around our dinner table.
My resistance to ending my relationship with this word has taken years of erosion. A cousin of mine once chastised me for using the word Retarded. At the time I didn’t want to follow her reasoning because I didn’t trust her opinion. I told her that she lacked a sense of humour and was being overly sensitive. I feel differently now.
I’ve been gradually persuaded that there is no good purpose to say the word Retarded. Thinking differently starts with changing one’s perspective. I am making a conscious effort to filter my thoughts more effectively to use a more appropriate word. I’m sorry it took me so long.