May 5, 2011

Just a word.

The world is just bound and determined to make me take a stand on the "R Word", isn't it?

The short story of why this came up this week is this: An old friend from high school had a comment thread going on Facebook, about politics and Osama bin Laden and all that, and another person from high school took the opportunity to insult all of us Liberals with a term cleverly derived from the word "retard". When I called her on this, a few people voiced similar opinions of distaste for the word, at which point another old friend surprised me by suggesting that the use of the term was fine in a political context, particularly by someone who had served in the armed forces in the past. "SOMEBODY here wanted to make this whole thing about him and/or his family," she said about me, "and the rest of you joined in for the stoning by making this an issue about special needs kiddos."

Here's how I responded, in the moment:

I'm sorry, I like you, but you don't get to decide who is offended by a term like "retard". You don't get to decide if that awful word and the associations that accompany it are acceptable in a public discourse, about politics or anything else. You don't get to decide if the families who face that kind of crap EVERY FUCKING DAY need to get over ourselves. You don't get to decide that context makes it okay to use a word that gets thrown around in reference to kids who can't even defend themselves as an insult to anyone. You don't get to decide that my child and tens of thousands like her are acceptable as punchlines. If you don't understand why YOU don't get to make that decision, then I simply don't know what to say. It's not about politics or freedom of speech. It's about being a goddamn decent human being.

Now, the person who made the original comment wasn't someone I'd ever been friends with in high school. Frankly, she was an idiot* back then and she has apparently committed to that state of affairs for the long haul, bless her heart. But the other person was someone for whom I actually have a great deal of respect. It was a harsh reminder that even among the good at heart, there are blind spots where disability is concerned. Or at least the use of that one loaded, terrible and stupid word.

*(Edited to add: Yes, I know. "Idiot" is kind of the same thing, from like a hundred years ago. I would no doubt be considered quite the scandalous cur in 19th century parlors and sanitoriums.)

In the past, I haven't really wanted to make much of the whole "R Word" issue. I know it means a lot to others, and I totally understand, but I thought it would be possible to take a more nuanced position. I'm a special needs parent and advocate, yes, but I'm also a writer, and the idea of "banned" terminology doesn't sit easily with me. And honestly, it's a word that over the years, I have had to work to keep from coming out of my own mouth, and particularly in my past writing. I'll confess to that. I wasn't offended by Tropic Thunder; on the contrary, I felt like it was satirically taking issue with movie actors who cynically use disability roles to boost their careers. And I've always felt that when someone outside the disability community uses that word, much like when white people use the "N Word", the person ultimately damaged in the eyes of the world is the user more than anyone else. Try using the word "retard" in a job interview and see where it gets you. You'd might as well wear a swastika on your head.

I wrote about this once before when it came up in regards to my daughter. Back in the spring of 2009, the school diagnostician wanted to give Schuyler another IQ test, one that would, in her opinion, give her a new and more accurate number. That number would classify Schuyler as mentally retarded.

We chose not to allow that test, and I think I can say with absolute certainty that we never will. But the conversation put something on the table, something undeniable, and once placed on the table, it never really goes away.

"In a range consistent with mental retardation." Retardation. Retarded. The "R Word".


I have a little exercise for those of you who aren't a part of the disability community. I want you to say that word. (I'm not going to call it the "R Word" any more. If you want to use this shitty word, let's own it.) I want you to say it out loud to yourself. "Retard." (If you're at work, you might want to wait until later.) See how it feels, just as an independent word without context.

Now I want you to scroll down and find a photo of Schuyler. Look at it and say it again. "Retard." Because whether or not we ever allow a therapist or a teacher to attach that label, it's one that is already being tossed her way, and has been since she was very young. So try it. Look at her and say "retard". How does the word taste in your mouth now?

Now I'd like you to google terms like "developmental disability" and "Down syndrome", and go look at some of those kids. Look into their eyes and say "retard".

In each of these scenarios, try to assign yourself a number. Imagine how many times you think any of these kids has heard the word "retard". Now line up all the people who ever said it to them and then put yourself at the back of that line. What do you want to say to the person ahead of you? What about the next person who gets in that line behind you? How long do you think that line would be for adults with developmental disabilities?

Now, just for kicks, pull out a photo of YOUR kid, or your nephew or your brother or sister. Doesn't even have to be a kid, just someone that you love fiercely and would defend with everything you are. Look into their eyes and say it. "Retard." Imagine it's not you saying it, but someone else, some other person. Maybe a stranger, maybe someone you know and even like and trust.

Now imagine that other person trying to tell you that you're being overly sensitive, you're being "PC", that they have a right to use that word however they want, that it's okay in a certain context such as politics. Imagine they're calling you or someone else a retard, but instead of hearing that as a random insult, you associate it with someone you love, and that association is, by design, intended to be devastating and intentionally using your loved one as a benchmark for extreme stupidity.

Now, repeat this exercise until you want to break something, until you want to burn down the whole world.

That's how it feels to us when you use the word "retard".

Do I sound like a one-issue guy? I know that I do. I hate that I've become that person, and I hope I won't be forever, but yeah, maybe I have. I was once a fairly active political creature. In college, I once stood outside the death house in Huntsville protesting an execution. I even worked on the Paul Simon campaign, and how many people even remember who that was? I also used to bring the funny, or at least I thought so. And I used to write a great deal about music, which is what I thought the focus of my life would always be.

But this is it. This is who I am now. Every day, I feel the rest of it being put away, being filtered out, and what is left is a father with a broken little girl. And I get that wrong, a lot, but when I get it right, I am momentarily the person I am supposed to be.

There are people in this world, and I'm actually thinking of the parties involved in this particular incident, who have single issues dominating their lives as well. Some of them have served their country in the armed forces; others have children who are doing the same, and for them politics is very personal. Their passions come from those single dominating issues, and I get that.

But that passion, or that service for that matter, it doesn't give you license to use kids like Schuyler as insults or punchlines. You have a right to call me stupid because of my beliefs, absolutely. But you don't have license to say that I am so stupid that I am on the level of a child with a developmental disability, MY child, OUR children, as if that is the worst thing I could ever fear to be. You don't get to portray yourself as a child of God while you throw the most defenseless of us under the bus to score some point in a ridiculous Facebook comment thread.

Not without me calling you on it. Not without me at least giving you the option of looking into your own heart and deciding if you like what you see.


Erica said...

This is so awesome. I love how you've put it like this. Really powerful.

robyncz said...

Well said, Rob. I would like to share this with everyone I know.

Alice Fraggle said...

Thank you! I hate that word, but I don't speak up about it because I never knew how. I didn't want people to dismiss me, or say "I didn't mean it *that* way", and brush it off. Now I know how to explain why it's a bad word choice. You gave the best description of why it shouldn't be used. Do you mind if I "Steal" it and give that as an answer for the next time someone says it around me?

Fizzlemed said...

I'm sending a link of this post to someone who got all pissy when I deleted his Facebook post after he called me retarded. Very, very well-put.

Carol Askew said...

I think this is the best post I've read yet regarding the use of the word, and how it affects parents of kids with developmental disabilities. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Jenny said...

"It's not about politics or freedom of speech. It's about being a goddamn decent human being."

Yes, exactly!

Jenn said...

Brilliantly and beautifully written, Rob. Thank you for sharing this so personally.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Rob. I know all too well the nerve that gets struck when that word is used (or, more accurately, misused). And how people try to "justify" with ridiculous excuses.

diviner said...

I've never had to face the trial of the "R word" being used about anyone close to me. On the other hand, I have had to try to explain to people the difference between calling someone "an epileptic" and just reporting that they are a person who happens to suffer from epilepsy.

Knowing how hard I fought at times for that distinction, I still cannot really understand how hard you fight not to allow Schuyler to be labeled with the "R word", but neither can I understand how anyone can be so callous as to do it, intentionally or otherwise.

The world needs more plain-spoken people like you who fight the corner of those not fully able to fight for themselves.

Beatrice said...

"It's not about politics or freedom of speech. It's about being a goddamn decent human being."


So many people make this issue about free speech and their "right" to speak however they want, and I think it's just ridiculous. I'm all about freedom of speech and civil rights, and I don't like the idea of "banned terminology" in general either. So sure, you have the "right" to use that word. (I'm talking adults in their personal conversations with other adults, not about the word's use in schools or as a clinical term.) You have the right to use it, and everyone who hears you has the right to be offended and hurt and decide that you're a cruel, insensitive person and they no longer want to speak to you if that is the type of language they are going to have to hear. So if that's what you want, go ahead, say it. Throw in some racial slurs, too, while you're at it, because if you're talking to decent people the response will be the same. Yes, this is America, and yes, you do have rights. You also have choices, like whether or not you are going to be "a goddamn decent human being."

Jennifer Good said...

You are brilliant and eloquent as always. Very powerful post.

Roo's Mom said...

I tell my "typical" teen that the words people choose to use speaks more about who they are than about who they are talking about or what they're referencing. What does it say about someone when they use that term, and then can't even get it when someone calls them on it? Pathetic. Your post is awesome, and one of the best I've read on the subject. Thank you!

damerval said...

Just to leave my two cents..
I don't like disrespectful people either, but at the end of the day, what you choose to be offended by is your responsibility. Being offended is a choice. You can choose not to be offended. Try it. You will discover a world where people can't do you any harm simply with the words they say, and where you don't come under justifiable judgment yourself by using language that demonstrates you as being bitter and abusive.
I've long and shamlessly been the target of abuse because of a trait I could do nothing about, so I know what I am talking about.
People want to talk about "retards"? their problem. It says something about them, not about you. That's what I teach my kid.

Robert Hudson said...

You know, when I wrote this, I though that I had two choices. I could sanctimoniously sit upon my high horse and pretend that I'm perfect, or I could acknowledge that I'm a human being, just like the people I'm trying to reach, and I could express my anger and my actual opinion of someone, and I could even admit that I myself have had to purge the word "retard" from my own vocabulary.

I chose to represent the flawed person that I transparently am, which apparently now makes me bitter and abusive. Fine, then. I'm not a nice person. But I'm not wrong about the use of this word, either.

As for choosing not to be offended", that's a great idea. Let's see how well it works with the middle school crowd.

krlr said...


...(well, that seems insufficient)...


Anonymous said...

Choosing not to be offended is part of choosing to accept the world the way that it is. While that's certainly a valid choice, it's no more valid than choosing to change the world for the better. Being offended is sometimes the first step toward pushing humanity in a better direction.

Kimberly said...


I just want to say that sometimes I feel like a voyeur reading your blog/FB. I am not a parent and have no one with special needs (neurologically, anyway) in my social sphere. But, I'm so glad that you write because it gives me a chance to consider things that I'm not really required to otherwise. I'd like to think that by being exposed to your experiences, I'm given the opportunity to become a better person.

And, damerval, while I might be able to choose what I take offense to, when we allow sloppy language to pass unnoticed (Fag! Retard! Pussy!) We allow others to continue in their biases toward others. If we want to play a role in making the world a better place (or at least aiming at making the world a better place), we hold people accountable for their actions. When people can go around acting as though those who are different than them are lesser than they, they are emboldened and feel as though their beliefs are held by all. My morals don't allow me to condone that behavior.

Jennifer said...

Rob, even as a person who has to this point not had a relative or friend that is special needs or has a child that is special needs, I can still understand how the R word can be hurtful. As such, I try to keep the word from escaping from my lips. Perhaps that (hopefully) makes me a decent human being.

However in regards to your post and especially to this specific quote: "I'm sorry, I like you, but you don't get to decide who is offended by a term like "retard". You don't get to decide if that awful word and the associations that accompany it are acceptable in a public discourse, about politics or anything else." -- I cannot understand your previous diatribes on this very blog against those who advocate "people first" language. Why do you get to rally against a word that you (and many others) find offensive, but speak out *against* others in your same position who are doing the very same thing? I like you, Rob, but that seems pretty hypocritical to me. Am I missing something?

Robert Hudson said...

My problem with PFL is the way in which its advocates insist on not just their own choice, but universal acceptance by everyone. I think that's a far cry from insisting on one's right to use a term that is patently offensive, and being used in a way that is intended to taken that way.

People like me use terms like "broken" because we feel that it describes a situation in a way that works for us and our families. People use the word "retard" to insult and to degrade. No one uses "retard" innocently. No one.

I don't see it as hypocrisy. You do. I guess that's where we'll leave it.

Unknown said...

Wow. You are good. That was an excellent post.

Unknown said...

Wow. That was good. Really good. Thank you for an excellent post.

Amanda said...

I decided a while back, that remaining silent can make me feel as though my tacit approval is happening, and I'm not having that with something that is basically a mean thing to say. Good post.

And the whole "choosing to be offended thing", for me, sits right next to people who say "I'm sorry you feel that way" when they've just done something mean. Not on, not one fucking bit.

Jennifer said...

Absolutely amazing post!

I was in Austin last Wednesday in a legislators office with a group of people with disabilities. One of the ladies (who has a disability)spoke up and told someone in the office that she does not like the "R word", that we don't use it and that she doesn't want anyone else to use it either. For the record, we were there to advocate against budget cuts to community based services, but she's so passionate about the "R word" that she took a perfect opportunity to let others know how she felt. Self-advocacy in the world of disabilities is a very powerful thing. Who can argue that point with her?

My husband is a restaurant manager, and the young people he works with always throw the word around. He immediately pulls out a picture of our son and shows them who they're referring to when they use the word. Honestly, they really don't know how offensive it is until he points it out, but they certainly change their wording when my husband is around at least!

Elizabeth said...

God, it's an endless battle, no?

Bravo on the writing -- I felt satisfied when I read it -- and I thank you for it!

robyncz said...

I agree in general with the idea that we "choose" to be offended. However, I don't think that applies here. We "choose" to be offended when someone wishes us happy holidays instead of merry Christmas (or the reverse). But this is a different issue.

Using a word like "fag" or "retard" or "nigger" as a casual insult is a different issue altogether. The very fact that the speaker is using the label as an insult degrades an entire group of people--whether or not the speaker admits to that intention. In other words, if I do something clumsy or stupid or ridiculous and you use one of those labels to describe me, you're implying that gay people or people with special neurological needs, or black people are clumsy or stupid or ridiculous. By using the label casually, you perpetuate the idea that there is something wrong with the entire population--something implicitly worthy of casual insult.

Recognizing that and wanting to change it isn't about "choosing to be offended." It is, as Rob said so precisely, about being a "decent human being."

Amanda Jaksha said...

Rock on Rob!

I can see ignorance is still trying to prevail and maybe therein lies the problem. It might be impossible to argue with an idiot and not leave feeling just a bit of you're own intellect has been sucked into their 'idiot vortex' and forever lost ;)

Listen people....if you feel the N word is a no no then you haven't an argument to make for using the R word and degrading the MOST vulnerable people in our world.

Rebecca said...

Dearest Rob and Julie,
I have always suggested that my teacher candidates read your blog for a month or so to get a good parent perspective. However this one will be required reading next fall in my Classroom Management class. The R-word is the most frequently used word when kids bully (up there with the F-word used to describe persons who are GLTB)on the playground, hallways, and even in front of teachers. Every post you make I admire and respect you two more and more. Virtual hugs to you and your beautiful daughter.

Jackie said...

You give me no choice but to share this post with everyone I know. So well written, and gets the point accross clearer then any other post like this I've read in the past.

M.A. said...

Bravo! You are absolutely 100% correct and anyone who doesn't get that can go to hell. They either haven't been where we are, are stupid, or are just plain mean. I bow to your passion, your eloquence, your clear thinking and your love for Schuyler.

StaceyEsq said...

What a magnificent post. Schuyler is the luckiest girl in the world to have such a champion in her father (and mother, too, of course.) I feel like this post should be required reading, certainly for children enrolled in middle school, at a minimum.

Kim in Alaska said...

"Frankly, she was an idiot* back then and she has apparently committed to that state of affairs for the long haul, bless her heart."

That was funny, Rob!!

burgiboogie said...

I don't know, maybe you should consider it a complement, because that *idiot* just counted you among some of the finest people I know!

Yombe said...

Kudos for drawing the line and standing up for social injustice. Many well meaning people allow insensitive and crude comments to slide for the sake of social harmony. Ignorance is not a good enough excuse.

adequatemom said...

Rob, thank you for once again using your amazing gift with words to illuminate and inspire.

The exercise you propose is very powerful, and I hope your words reach those who most need to hear them.

Now my own two cents, more as an English major and fan of words than as a parent.

The word "retarded", which you will know from your music background, simply means "slowed" or "delayed". I like to think this term came from a place of hope, optimism, and patience. To say someone is "mentally delayed" does not mean that s/he will never arrive.

Of course, decades have passed and the use of the word has changed and somehow, translating it into a noun - "retard" - makes it so much uglier, with connotations that have nothing to do with hope or patience. It makes me sad to know that language has been twisted in such a hurtful way.

Stephen said...

Very well put. The word "retard" is a verb, and it means, for example, to slow down the rate at which a motor is turning. It is not a noun, and I have severed ties with people for using concoctions like "Retardlican" (the flip side of what you saw). "Retarded" as an adjective for people started out as a misleading euphemism, and we would do well to strike it from the language.

-blessed holy socks, the non-perishable-zealot said...

Reading your the first few lines of your post, I know how difficult it is to have a loser in the family. I am one, too. I carry my literal Cross with me 24/7 on my Cannondale mountain bike, attached to the strap in my backpack. WTF do I care what those people think? They're mortal, too, and they'll have to face our Divine Judgment as I will. So lemme gonna givest unto thee, my just and worthy liege, our plan of salvation. Ready? Doesn't matter what political party you're affilated with. BIG #@!! DEAL. You're a human being. And I love that, for you're in the same boat as me --- Lemme start my preech'n: Dude, don’t follow them. Don’t follow the ten-year-old children in their vanity. Follow your heart. Follow what’s Upstairs forever. They’re mortal, too, no matter if they cut-you-down; they must face our Divine Judgment, for they, too, will perish. Don’t follow them in their dagnasty 'crime' which only leads’m down. Break-out. Have hope. Things will be better. We all gotta croak someday, pal, so strive for the Heavenly Storehouse where you may have anything your heart desires. I’ll see you at my BIG-ol party-hardy Upstairs celebrating our resurrection --- I was a loser, too, in grade school and throughout my HS years… with a purpose. God had called me to serve Him. No other. You also have a purpose same as I: to rise-up, be strong, stick your head ABOVE the clouds, not stick’m up. The choice is only up to one person: you. Understand? --- You may wanna think about reading these seven verses to your beautifull, wonderfull, adorable daughter (the basic gist of the Bible): Acts 2:21, John 3:36, 1 Peter 4:8, Romans 8:18, Ephesians 5:8, 2 Timothy 2:22, and the last is what I’ve always thot: 1 Corinthians 11:1 GOD BLESS YOU. SEE YA SOON.

Julia Roberts said...

Thanks Rob for saying what I want to say but am not nearly as eloquent. As always, people learning for you.

Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you for your powerful post! If anything will get through, this post will...if they read it. Thank you again.

Kris said...

My dad worked with special needs kids my entire life and as children we were not allowed to say the "R" word. Ever. To this day, 38 years later, I still don't use it and neither will my kids. Prohibition of certain words accompanied by the compassionate reasoning behind such rules should be part of parenting in my opinion. Thank you for so eloquently scribing the compassionate reason others should not deem hurtful words harmless when they don't apply to them. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Thank you for helping educate more people and for being real. My son has special needs and in the past I used "retarded" as slang. My reality has since changed.

Megan said...


Anonymous said...

Absolutely phenomenal. On a philosophical level, I absolutely identify with your sense that you are "putting away" the many other facets of who you are. We have a child with Down Syndrome. Oh, and by the way, my husband proudly serves as an officer and a pilot in the United States Navy. I think he would disagree with the notion that his service entitles him... to ANYTHING.

SkylersDad said...

Well done sir! I have lived this life for the 20 years my son has been on this earth, and cannot agree with you more.

Angie Willey said...

Wow. So powerful. I too would like to share this. It is one of the best explinations of why the word should not be used that I have ever read. Thank you for taking the time to write it and defend our kiddos.

angela said...

brought tears to my eyes! Thank you

BJBear69IN said...

Since I was made aware of the use of the word when I started working with Special Olympics I have worked hard to remove it from my vocabulary as well. And I have not stopped pointing it out to others since.

I actually had a co-worker that "un-friended" me on Facebook for mildly suggesting it was uncool for using it. Mind you, I work for a Behavioral Health organization and the person that did so works with children. He then proceeded to post the same word multiple times to show everyone his freedom to do so. Lost a battle but won a war on that one. Because he showed to everyone else how mean and thoughtless he actually was.

I grew up with a group home in my neighborhood and watched the adults there completely lose their minds when they moved in "those people". I never got it then. They were just big kids to hang out with.

And I still don't get it today. Especially now that I have a beautiful niece that sees the world a little different from the rest of us. Different is what makes us special and I embrace all the differences out there. High fives to you and your beautiful daughter!

Sophie said...

Bravo!!! I agree 100%. Thankyou for putting this in writing. I will be sharing this with all that I know. My baby girl was born with a severe brain injury and tragically passed away at nearly six months. When people use the r word around me I see red... and I know they make every excuse under the sun, but that simply doesn't wash with me at all. Thankyou.

Unknown said...

These are the most heartfelt, accurate, awesome words I've read uttered by another human being. I mean it. You are so right on I can't even believe you exist. The power of words can be used to hurt as in the case of the "R" word, or that power can be used to inspire as your words have done!! My son Michael who with the luck of a draw has Down Syndrome and myself, Jennifer thank you from the bottom of our hearts. <3

Unknown said...

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart thank you! I wish I could send this to my sister....who decided that it was better to sever ties with half of her family than to stop using the R word. Her reasoning? We used to say it when we were kids! Well, I grew up, had it shown to me just how hurtful it really was and stopped using it. Even when I pointed out that my son, who has Down syndrome and other neuro issues, would NEVER EVER do or say anything to hurt her, she defended her right to the word. I hope she is happy. And I also hope that she uses the word around someone who has read this so they can show it to her. I'm sharing, in the hope that it does reach her ignorant, selfish and self centered ass.

Michele said...

I came across this on the Spread the Word to End the Word FB site. My daughter is multiply-impaired and we fight this word left and right...even in our own extended family. The part they don't understand is, when I call them on the use of the word, they respond with "MIchele, we don't see her that way!" I try to tell them that it is no less offensive than me calling their out-of-wedlock children Bastards. They just don't udnerstand. But your comments about saying the word out loud to a picture or to a (the) person....maybe that will help them understand how fiercely this hurts. Thank you for more perspective.

Jess said...

Fantastic post, Rob. I hear this word dozens of times a day and it makes me cringe every time.

Unknown said...

Well said Rob - isn't it funny though, that your Daughter, with no words, has a father with all the words. What a perfect pairing. Thanks for speaking out.

Missy said...

I had to share this on facebook! I got into an argument with a 20something relative because he used this word on his facebook page and when I asked him not to not only was I met with a challenge but his friends told me to grow a sense of humor. He ended up defriending me rather than being sensitive to, or understanding that words do hurt. Words can, in fact hurt. I look at my boys and think of how this will affect them as they get older.

emily said...

I'll be blunt--you're not quite coming clean here. I've read you on and off for awhile, and aside from the jokes re looking like you belonged on the cover of "Retards Monthly" back in the day (which I didn't like, though I could see it being funny, and which DOES belong in the category of "thoughtless use of slur"), you also referred to a class of autistic children as "hooting, feral retards." That's more than just being insensitive. That's really actively seeing those kids as Other. You're a great advocate for your kid, and obviously a talented writer, but somewhere in there you've got some real nastiness stored up (and yeah, I'm the parent of an autistic child, hence the long memory).

Robert Hudson said...

Two things:

1) When you refer to "back in the day", you bring up a valid point, but one that I actually made in the post. I HAVE changed, I think I alluded to as much in my post when I mentioned my own personal work required to expunge that word from my own vocabulary. I have changed, and I have explained why, and it is because I have grown as a person that I hope other people. So how am I not coming clean when I said exactly that?

2) I've address the whole "hooting, feral retards" comment before, but as long as you willfully and intentionally take it wildly out of context, let's take a look.

For everyone else, here's the context. (Yes, I have archives.) I was discussing the fact that at Schuyler's first school in New Haven, they wanted neurotypical kids to come in and model for the special ed classes, and most parents chose not put their kids in a situation like that. And as an example of the thought processes of some of these parents, I said sarcastically: "Surround my impressionable child with hooting, feral retarded kids? Go for it!"

I wasn't referring to "a class of autistic kids". I was referring to the classroom population that included my own child. So I either hate my own daughter, or you have intentionally misrepresented me. Your choice, friend.

Was it eloquent? Not particularly. Was it an expression of my own beliefs and frustration with society and with parents who were afraid of putting their own children in contact with my own? Absolutely.

Emily, when you try to take it out of context and make it into something else, particularly as it was said after Schuyler was identified as a special needs student (thus making me not ignorant, but the Bad Person you are suggesting), that's not "blunt". It's just wrong, and it's an asshole move, and you absolutely know it.

shannonpizzuta said...

Well said. Thank you--I will be passing this on.

Unknown said...

I am not a parent, my cousin who I am very close to has a special needs son. I will admit that i haven't always understood why the word is so hurtful, but here is the bottom line, I dont have to, I have heard the hurt in her voice when she tells me what it does to her when she hears someone use that word, or try to defend their use of that word. Out of respect for someone I care for telling me it hurts, I just don't do it. I agree with free speach, I agree we all have the right to say whatever words we want to say. But I believe in my heart that if someone tells you a word hurts them, then the decent thing to do is respect that and don't say it. I believe that people who defend the word, are either too ignorant to expand their vocabulary, or so completely insecure that they have to argue, rather than to just say ok, you dont like it, I won't say it. It doesn't take a lot of effort. I have to admit, I initially took the word out of my vocabulary only when speaking to my cousin, because I like to think that I am a decent human being, so why say something she tells me hurts her, but the funny thing is, over time it just disappeared from my vocabulary all together. So just have a little respect for others, and when someone says, ouch that hurts, stop doing it to them, you never know, you might wind up a better person for it! What sort of person wants to defend hurtful actions?? An insecure bully, that's who.

Angela said...

Fantastic. Fantastic.

Robert Hudson said...

There's one point I now wish I'd made in my post. I'm not asking anyone not to use the word "retard" or "retarded" or whatever variant they choose. If you truly feel like that's the word you want to use, then I would rather you use it than not use it.

But if you choose to use it, I'm pretty determined that you should at least understand exactly what it is that you are saying, and how it feels to those of us in the disability world (both as family members and persons with disabilities).

Use it, sure, but do so with full knowledge of what it is that you are doing and the self-portrait you are painting when you do so.

caitsmom said...

Thank you. Well said. I feel encouraged to continue to speak up. Below is my story, if you are so inclined. Again, thank you.

Brian Brown said...

The "it's your choice whether or not to be offended" argument has always been a troublesome one to, as it's usually used by a person trying to diminish or invalidate another person's position. Of course we have a choice to be offended, and when it comes to language or behavior that marginalizes or belittles another person or group of people, I believe being offended is the valid, correct choice of a sensitive human being. It's a choice that makes us better people. It's a choice that, when acted upon correctly, enacts positive change in society. So, yes, I'm going to choose to be offended by insensitive, hurtful language, and I hope others continue to do so as well.

Nikki said...

Truly awesome.

If you haven't heard of it already you (and everyone reading this!) should check out & the campaign Spread the Word to End the Word.

hans q. bungle said...

This was a beautiful post, it hit me right in the heart.

Robert Hudson said...

Someone linked this post on the Facebook page for Spread the Word to End the Word, and the subsequent comments reminded me of exactly why I have avoided getting involved with that movement for so long. Because for far too many of them, it is not just about raising awareness of what this word means to people. It's about policing language, and it doesn't stop with one word. It becomes about ANY word that might offend ANY person. That whole thread has devolved into a grumble session about my scandalous use of words like "fuck" and "goddamn". One person said: "The blog needs to be removed or edited." I give up.

Heather said...

This was awesome.

Never have like the word.Ever.And then,4 years ago I gave birth to a magical little girl,who came packaged with an extra chromosome,who has proven to be my greatest teacher in this life,and now I dislike that world on a whole new level.And, with her birth and the beauty of blogging,I have come to love so many other children that represent why that word and the ease with which it is tossed around,is so beyond not okay.

I speak up everytime.Not easy in every instance but I owe it to her and to all that do not have the voice to speak for themselves.

Thanks for this.May I share it?

Heather said...

Oh and have you,you must have,read or seen Soeren Palumbo's speech on this word?I swear,I want to take that to every middle school and highschool in my area.In fact,I thin I might

selkie55 said...

Rob, your comments brought tears to my eyes. You are awesome. I do not have a differently abled child. Yet plenty of people make judgements about him. And throw a lot of words around. Hate speech is hate speech. We'll all keep fighting with you.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Y'all,

Retard, Idiot, Moron; they're all perfectly good words to describe individuals with developmental disabilities.

The problem arises when we remove these words from their specific meaning and debase them as pejoratives.

I'm reminded of the passage in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time where the protagonist -- an autistic young man -- notes that he is taunted with the phrase "special needs! special needs!"

It would be better to correct those who misuse the words than to try and play whack-a-mole with the word of the moment.


Jeff Hess
Have Coffee Will Write

Sherry said...

This is everything I've wanted to say but didn't know how to say it. I've called my friends on it and a few have argued with me. It hurts me that they can't see hoe this word matters. Thank you for giving me the reason behind my passionate opposition for using the humiliating, disgusting word. My brother and I thank you!

Unknown said...

you take yourself far too seriously. I'd like to add kids with the kind of developmental issues you describe are not termed "retards" in the UK, however, someone who is a fuckwit I would not hesitate to call a retard, idot, twat-whatever term popped into my head. Might be different in the US but I think the people you are castegating probably mean no malice towards children but are just repeating an oft use term to express their thpughts on whats been said.

Robert Hudson said...


Interesting point. It's almost as if you are saying that many of the people who use that word don't mean it to be offensive, and could simply benefit from someone giving them an alternative perspective on that word. Then perhaps they might find another way to express themselves, a way that doesn't make them look like a total asshole.

If only someone would do that.

(Also, I think it's great that people in the UK have a different terminology. I hear that lots of other countries have different words for things, too. That's swell, but of limited relevance here.)

Look, if you are emotionally invested in using that word, to the point of telling me how I'm taking myself too seriously, or that your freedom of expression is being trampled and your own sense of entitlement is being threatened, then use the damn word. Go outside and shout it as loudly as you can. (Your neighbors will no doubt be impressed, although perhaps not for the reasons you might think.)

All I wanted to do was make you aware of how it makes a whole lot of people feel when you do. If that's not important to you, then fuck 'em. Go fly your flag of verbal freedom!

Tom P. said...

Wow Rob! Just wow! Thank you. I wish I could shake your hand and take you out for a beer. I wish you could meet my son. Wow!

Tom P. said...

Until last summer, my son's services here in NY were provided by OMRDD. I will let you figure out what the "MR" stood for. But because of our campaign we convinced the state to change the name. Now we get services from New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. Because that is what my son is... a person.

mm said...

This is Mary Jo H. I am sorry I was too irate in my earlier comment that you did not post. But you use the words idiot and stupid in your post. I am a special ed. teacher. I would not want my students with special needs to be called idiot, stupid, or retarded.

Robert Hudson said...

I think there should be a whole new word for that special kind of apology, the one that looks like this:

apology + "but..." + statement of exactly why I'm still right and not really all that sorry at all

Can we make up a whole new word for that?

Robert Hudson said...

(I posted the question on Facebook, and my favorite suggestion so far is "asspology".)

Robert Hudson said...

(Or even better, "fauxpology".)

Liz said...


This is the first time I have ever been to your blog and I have to say that was a great post. But, I have a different perspective.

I was born, the eldest child in my family, in 1967. In 1969 my sister was born and after about 6 months my parents realized her development was "off" and they talked to the doctors. They were told that she was was mentally retarded and would never progress like other kids. They were right.

My parents were both frustrated and angry at my sister and much of her care fell to me until I was about 13 and she was sent to live in a State home because my parents had 3 more kids after her and it was too much work to keep her at home. My parents didn't have access to support groups or the internet so they didn't know they were part of a much larger community of people around the world who had children with similar problems. I can't imagine how hard it was for them to deal my sister's problems and take care of 4 other kids. My sister didn't have Down's Syndrome or anything that has ever been diagnosed but she, to this day, can only walk, feed herself, and sit and wave her arms all day. She can't speak or communicate verbally and she would rather wave a sock around than have the most expensive toy in the world. Today, she lives in a home that my brother, father, and I own with 24 hour care from 3 rotating caregivers.

When I was a kid and I had to take my sister on the bus to "special school" the kids were mean but it wasn't the words that they used that hurt. It was just an overall attitude of disdain for my sister and for me for having to care for her. It didn't help that my parents didn't know what to do about her or how to handle her; she was treated, as I am sure many kids were at the time, like a burden. My mother used to beat her to get her to learn to walk...those memories are awful for me.

I think as a society we have come a long way in terms of understanding and having compassion for those who are mentally challenged in any way. When I was young the kids who were "mentally retarded" weren't treated well, sometimes by their own families.

So, for my part, I don't care about the word "retarded". It doesn't offend me when I hear it used in virtually any context...and mostly the word is used as a synonym for "dumb" these days. When I hear the word retarded I don't assume that people are referring to a kid with Downs Syndrome, Autism, or some other disorder...I assume they are using it as to insult someone else's intelligence. I think the word has evolved as our overall understanding for the mentally disabled has evolved. We now have a more robust vocabulary to describe virtually any mental disability whereas, many years ago, the only word we knew was "retarded".

Words don't hurt. Actions do. That is just my humble opinion.


PS: Some of the same kids who were so cruel to my sister on the school bus now have Downs Syndrome or Autistic kids of their own. Some of those same kids are now their own children's biggest champions, give a lot of money to the Special Olympics, and probably have no recollection of their own cruelty as kids. I am just glad that they learned kindness and compassion with their own special needs children even though they clearly weren't taught that as kids.

Robert Hudson said...

"I am just glad that they learned kindness and compassion with their own special needs children even though they clearly weren't taught that as kids."

Oh, I won't even pretend that I have been very good about that myself. I think I've had a certain amount of compassion, but until about four years ago, I was pretty awful about using that word. There's an embarrassing amount of evidence online. Some of it has been thrown back in my face this week, as if to prove my own hypocrisy.

What I hope it demonstrates instead is that I was kind of an asshole in the past, and through the experience of living with and learning from Schuyler and her friends, I have perhaps become a little less of an asshole now.

More importantly, if I can learn a little sensitivity, then pretty much anyone should be able to, so long as they aren't married to their own sense of entitlement, etc.

Liz said...


It sounds like you treat your daughter very well and love her very much so, therefore, you aren't an asshole. Even if you used the term mentally retarded to refer to your daughter (which you don't) but you treated her like an angel and provided all the love, support, and help for her that you could I don't think that the use of that word alone would make you a jerk. If you show love and associate any word with that love and affection the word, no matter how offensive some might find it, loses its negativity.

Unless someone uses the word "retarded" as a pejorative directed at a mentally disabled person I guess I just don't find it that offensive. Part of the reason for that is just that I grew up at a time when kids who had mental disabilities were treated with such a lack of compassion that the words didn't matter at all. That was the least of the problems.

I don't know if that makes sense to you or not.

Thanks for including me in your conversation.


yellowfattybeans said...

I remember who Paul Simon was. He wore bow ties, correct? I remember him. My addled 35-year-old mind can pull up that image, unassisted by Google. Whyyyy, I could never tell you. Now what state he was from, I cannot say unassisted. I also don't care enough to go look it up.

I have no opinion I care to state most of the rest of the post, except to thank you for the giggle @ that guttersnipe's decision to be an idiot "for the long haul." Snort!

The Angry Jackalope said...

Thank you. You are funny, outspoken, truthful and honest and I appreciate it.

Ellen Seidman said...

This is so powerful, and convincing. Bravo. I also hate that word, though I too used it before I had a kid with disabilities.

I wrote a post about a little Twitter experiment I did in which I tweeted at people who used the word "retard" or "retarded" (it's all over Twitter, and not just a teen thing). That post got picked up, and some of the responses were mind-boggling. I expected freedom of speech flack, etc. I didn't expect responses like "I call my niece retard all the time! It's a term of affection!"'

Oh, and pay no attention to The Word Police. Your brilliant words are EXACTLY what people need to hear.

Robert Hudson said...

I saw that, Ellen, I watched the whole thing unfold and read a lot of the responses.

Between that and some of the responses I've seen on a MetaFilter thread on this post that someone started a few days ago (not many; most of the responses were pretty intelligent, even the ones that disagreed with me), it became pretty clear that some people feel a sense of free speech entitlement, divorced from the concepts of compassion or egalitarianism.

And again, I'm not asking anyone to "ban" the word. I'm simply asking them to use it if they must, but to do so with a clear understanding of what exactly they are doing and how it feels to people who are invested in this world. If they really know how poisonous that word can be and they still want to use it, I hope they will. It makes identifying them and their deficits that much easier.

Leiley1975 said...

Thank you! I agree 100% and I'm so tired of having to defend myself and my son against people who think it's more important to act like entitled jerks than it is to be a decent person!

All said...

You asked people to look at a picture of a child and use the term "retard" and see how it feels. So I would ask you to do the same with other "acceptable" alternatives: idiot, half-wit, fool, moron. Do those strike you as any better? I would hope not. The point is that context IS important. The feeling that comes from saying any of those to a child's picture is quite different than saying them to a politician's picture.

And while people here are condemning others for using the word "retarded" in contexts completely unrelated to mentally challenged (am I even allowed to use that term anymore?) people, they're neglecting to notice that they themselves are spewing their own intentional messages of animosity. So it seems to me that they encourage the spread of hateful thoughts but only from a pre-approved list of words. I find that line of thinking, well, retarded.

I'm not going to remove every word from my vocabulary that another person doesn't like, just as I'd never ask anybody else to do that for me. I think people waste a lot of energy being offended in situations when no offense was intended or, at least, the offense wasn't even directed at the offended person. If that's how people want to live their lives, so be it but I think it would be depressing.

Robert Hudson said...

So in essence, your position is 1) the problem is the animosity and the ugly thoughts, not the vocabulary that I wish to ban (and I'd love to read where I ever claimed I wanted any word banned), and 2) you're entitled to use the tern "retarded" and whatever other hateful and hurtful words you choose, because no one is going to tell YOU who has a right to be offended.

Let me know how it works out for you.

I never asked anyone not to use any words. I asked you to think about the power and poison loaded in that word as you make the choice. You've done so, and you choose to use it anyway. Good for you.

Z said...

As a linguistic anthropologist of sorts, the use of the "r" word is... frustrating to me. Not in the sense that you discuss, but rather that, it, like its predecessors, will eventually become as commonplace as words like stupid, lame, or idiot. In a hundred years, the new slang will be "mentally handicapped" and the same argument will take place. Our language is geared towards demeaning females, minorities, and the handicapped.
You have every right to fight this battle, and I'm certainly not disparaging it, but you're fighting a thousand years of linguistic conditioning. As soon as you wipe this word from our vocabularies, a new one will replace it, and perhaps demean a different group of people - just look at the word "gay".

Robert Hudson said...

"As a linguistic anthropologist of sorts..."

How is one a linguistic anthropologist of sorts?

Anonymous said...

'All'-- you've missed the point completely. When people use that word -- retard -- to insult others, what they are doing is to imply that being mentally retarded (which is an actual term used for actual people) is something bad, something the other person should be ashamed to be associated with.

It's comparable to people calling others 'autistic' when they mean antisocial. It makes me freeze inside for a bit when someone uses my neurological disability as an insult. You know why? Because that implies that being autistic makes someone bad, antisocial, someone nobody would want to associate with. And when they use that term to insult someone, they are referring to me, because apparently, to be like me would be shameful.

Lynda Hardy said...

Interesting comments - on the whole 'choosing to be offended' thing... I think that is sometimes the exactly right choice to make. You CHOOSE to be offended, and then you CHOOSE to share why...and minds and hearts begin to change. There are a litany of abusive terms that 'decent people' no longer say because the number of people choosing to stop accepting them tipped the scales. DODT is being overturned, because people CHOOSE to be offended at the dehumanization it represents.

Turning the facts of someone's life into an insult (retard, gay, insert-your-favorite-racial-slur here) is dehumanizing. Why are people CHOOSING not to be offended by that?

To the anthropologist of sorts.. yes, it IS a lot like the word 'gay', isn't it?

"I think people waste a lot of energy being offended in situations when no offense was intended or, at least, the offense wasn't even directed at the offended person."

It isn't a waste of energy - when someone I care about (or me) uses a word as an insult to Person A and the one who get hurts by it is Person B, pointing that out is a positive thing. Assuming they are not trying to be a jerk to B, this lets folks get back to the important business at hand of actually hitting their target and not wounding others. Is it a waste of energy to try to minimize friendly fire? I think not.

Tom P. said...

If we can get people to think of the r-word in the way we think of the n-word that used to be commonly used then we will have won. How? Because if we hear someone use the n-word then we know that we want nothing to do with them because they are a racist hater. Get them to think of the r-word in the sense that the person using it is a hater of the disabled and we have won.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Tom,

Usages by members of the Black community as a means to remove the power from the word notwithstanding, nigger has always been and always will be a vile pejorative.

Retard/retarded, on the other hand are perfectly good, pedagogically appropriate words to describe a person whose mental development has been slowed for a variety of biological reasons.


Jeff Hess
Have Coffee Will Write

Robert Hudson said...

"Pedagogically appropriate"? Are you serious?

Lynda Hardy said...

I had to go look that one up. "Pedagogical = of, related to, or befitting a teacher or education"

I do not want any child I know to attend a school where the use of the word 'retard' as a noun is appropriate to call ANY child, developmentally challenged or not. Retard (emphasis second syllable) is only appropriate as a verb, as in "Your use of the word pedagogically acts to retard the progress of this discussion."

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Rob,

As a heart attack. The word means slow or slowed as in developmentally behind what educators consider to be a normal range for a specific age.



Robert Hudson said...

Right. Okay, then.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Lynda,

Because an insensitive (if we wish to be kind) or willfully ignorant (if we do not) individual misuses a word as a pejorative is no reason to reject or ban the word from its original and appropriate use.

The word is not the issue, the insensitivity or willful ignorance of the individual is.



Lynda Hardy said...

You'll need to show me where 'retard' (REE-tard) is ever used nonperjoratively as a noun to describe a PERSON. You're wrong. Like the 'n' word referenced earlier, this has only ever been applied with negative connotation. By the way, I'm not trying to ban the word - I'm just standing on my right to judge the use of it - and challenging your assertion that it is 'educationally appropriate.' That said, I'd be pushing for the firing of any teacher I ever heard refer to someone as 'retard'.

Tom P. said...

Sorry, Jeff, but you are wrong. The n-word was not always a pejorative. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that the word was considered offensive and was replaced by the word, "colored". In other words, an acceptable word became unacceptable because of the way it was used. This is very similar to our problem with the r-word. But if you feel you need to use it because your limited vocabulary prevents you from finding other terms to use, then I will know what kind of horse's ass you are and can avoid having anything to do with you other than referring to you as a horse's ass.

Foxxy One said...

I've seen hundreds of posts on this topic - yours is the best by far. Very well said!

Rachel said...

Thanks for this post. A couple of years ago I noticed that it had suddenly become fashionable to append "-tard" onto a variety of words: libtard, Paultard, Eurotard, etc. I didn't particularly note it as anything but a linguistic fashion, in part because I assumed that the word "retarded" was never used any more to refer to people with developmental disabilities. But this made me think about the fact that even if it's not in current use, the hurtful reference remains.

I know some people who use "ghey" so they can perjoratively use "gay", supposedly without offending gay people. It always bothered me (I'm gay) and now I think I know why: the reference remains, even if the end product has changed.

Jennie said...

Exactly! I agree with everything you said. From one special need parent to another, thanks! I hope it is okay to link back to your blog. Others need to read your message. I often hear this word in casual conversation and it never ceases to amaze me how the conversation stops for me after that word is uttered. I just simply look at them and think, "Did you realize what you just said?" Best wishes to you and your family in your journey!

Maureen said...

So well thought out, the image of the line of people just killed me.

P said...

For me the most powerful statement is when you describe how you feel when you are doing the things you know you must do, and admitting that you don't always do them.

Whether it's getting this term to move on 'linguistically' and the rest of the terms that no longer fit our needs as a society of DECENT HUMANS or being mindful of how others FEEL and react LIVE and really see their hurt (which online interaction currently does not offer) or whatever soapbox you jump on politically or personally, that feeling is special. It's connectedness and passion that moves mountains and changes the world.

If we could all tap into our own passion and purpose and strengths there would be more peace, less banter and more love and happiness and action.

Be mindful of that super power feeling, Martha Beck in her Finding Your North Star and Danny the Mitzvah man Siegal's 123 Mitzvah books and so so many others have found this phenomenon and written about seeking it. Keep blogging your own path and spreading your own magic!

We CAN change the world
with our own two hands
We can make peace on Earth
Jack Johnson with our own two hands

Jewel has some amazing sentiments and pleading for decency throughout her album Spirit

Martha Beck and Jewel were guideposts of mine BEFORE my journey with my son Benji but my fight for respect and fitting in began long before three years ago with my own social ineptness and empathy for uniqueness. Not empathy, I adore unique and individual spirits!

P said...

I also know that music can help cement these ideas. Combine your new single-minded-ness with your passion for music and get a public service announcement done to go viral with this post. Using people and music to convey the message.

My idea since my sons birth was tackling the preconceived look issue by showing faces of people with disabilities and those without side by side to highlight that EVERYONE shares features and looks and moments with what commonly comes to mind with these words.

But you and I and everyone who gets it knows that we all look silly and tired and out of our calm cool collected state all throughout our day! We look angry and silly and fun and sad. Showing how we are more similar to each other even through showing twins of typical and twins with challenges and twins with one child struggling extra or people who look alike in general (or very different--big next to small!?).

I am not making sense but it's an idea still forming but run with it--use the momentum you've gained to go VISUAL and AUDIO if you can. It will reach the folks who prefer that media over reading blogs then too and expand your audience. We all learn differently!

Jason said...

Indeed, those who have the "disability" are those who fail to delve as deeply into their humanity this lifetime has to offer...
So often we fail to bear the deepest notion of empathy, fall short when we instead resort to sympathy and pity, and often fail to grow when we seek to only see how things apply to us, our feelings and through our ignorance plod on shamelessly championing our flawed egos.
Indeed, it is the person who used the "r" word, and the person that supported her, that bear the flaw.

Nora said...

Rob, I have read and reread this post more time than I can count. You just nail the truth of the matter. And I have shared your little exercise (and given you credit) with many friends, because it is so true. They didn't "get" why the word bothered me so much...rationalized their use of it. Fewer of them do now, and that's all the better for kids like ours.

Anonymous said...

I used to use this word, too. I never realized how it sounded until one of my nieces used it. It just makes them sound uncaring and inconsiderate. I have not been graced with a child with a disability in my life, but I can only imagine how frustrating that word is to you. I plan to show this to my nieces. I will probably be using a black maker for a few expletives. Heh. I hope you don't mind but I don't what my 12 year old niece learning the word 'asshat' just yet.

love.boxes said...

I have a brother who is severely mentally disabled. He is kind. He is incredibly patient. He gets up every morning to face a world he doesn't understand and a lot of people that are less patient with him than he is with them. He is the bravest man I know. Whenever I hear that awful word, I always think about the person who said it.. try being my brother .. you are too big a wimp... you wouldn't make it one day. I wouldn't make it one day either.
I am so grateful to my brother. He has taught me so much and he is one of the people I most admire.

amanda said...

I was referred to this post through my email group for children with a condition called septo-optic dysplasia because someone inadvertently used the "r" word without thinking.
My 2 year old son who has this condition weighs only 20 pounds and has been diagnosed as severely multiply impaired, cognitively impaired and functionally blind.
He can't walk or talk yet at 2, is fed at least 50% through a gastrostomy tube surgically installed in his abdomen, and interacts extremely minimally with myself, my husband, and his siblings. So although it is not official I am pretty sure a qualification of "mentally retarded" is in our near future. Every day is a struggle and a test as I am sure you can understand.
However, as offensive as the word "retarded" obviously is to you and to us as well, the use of "goddamn" is also offensive and so incredibly hypocritical that I am unsure what to say besides what I am saying now. I guess YOU get to decide who is offended by that? Well I am and I am in the same boat as you!
Trust me, we get it. We have been (and still are) where you are.
Yes we are devout Catholics but still the parents of a "retarded" child.
We believe in God and pray to Him every day for our struggling son and our family who struggles to help him. Maybe you don't agree. We are fine with that. So please practice what you preach. Don't be a hypocrite. Lots of people raise special babies and they are not all EXACTLY like you. No problem. Like most special needs parents we will take advice/conversation/fellowship where we can get it. And you should too.
We will add your disabled child to our prayers along with our own. Whether you wish that for her or not. Please take care of yourselves and your precious little girl, Amanda

amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Hudson said...

BUT how you can be a parent of a special needs child and make a comment like that?

I don't see the connection. At all.

amanda said...

I guess I should have said: how can you write an entire post on an offensive word yet find it fine to use "goddamn"?
That is highly offensive to many people as well. Including me.

Tom P. said...

How about because the two words are not offensive in the same way. Using the r-word is an attack on a particular person who can't even defend themselves. Goddamn may be offensive to you but it does not attack anyone. Even people I know who are deeply catholic aren't offended by the word, even use the word.

Tom P. said...

"We will add your disabled child to our prayers along with our own. Whether you wish that for her or not."

Talk about being offensive.

Robert Hudson said...

Amanda: I guess I should have said: how can you write an entire post on an offensive word yet find it fine to use "goddamn"?

That is highly offensive to many people as well. Including me.

Okay, I'll bite. Explain to me why this is offensive.

amanda said...

well ok.
Its offensive because we are Catholic. Like lots of people. And we believe in the ten commandments. One of which is not to use the Lord's name in vain.
I think to most Christians/Catholics this is quite offensive. So is adultery, murder, etc etc. Sorry but we don't know the same people Tom. I have a large Catholic family that I spend a lot of time with and I can't recall that I have ever heard any of them say that.
Not as sorry as I am though that you would find it offensive for ANY child to be prayed for.
You can say g*ddamn and thats not offensive but if I offered to pray for your child that would be? We pray for our brothers and sisters on earth whether they are believers or not because WE believe that we should pray for those in need. If you would decide that you were offended, especially on behalf of your own disabled child I am not sure I want to try to argue with you about it. Sorry.
Anyway the Catholic church teaches us not to judge and I am not judging nor do I want to be judged. I just happen to dislike both those words. Nope it doesn't attack me as a person. You are right. So an "offensive" term that attacks not me but my beliefs and convictions upon which I live my life and teach my children doesn't count? I just don't think you can qualify "offensive" by whether or not the word in question can be replaced by a pronoun. Just ask the millions of Americans and others who are deeply offended by the very use of God's name in any secular context. Offensive is offensive. So that is why it is offensive.
My own child has taught me not to judge and to be careful. I'm not glad that he has the problems he does but he has changed the way I look at people and I'm glad for that.

Robert Hudson said...

First of all, I didn't say that your offer of prayer regardless of my wishes was offensive. As an agnostic, I am frankly indifferent to your prayers, although I also appreciate the gesture.

Secondly, what you appear to be saying is that my use of the word "goddamn" is an offense to your rules. It's not offensive to Catholics in the sense that it insults or demeans them. It's not derogatory. And as Tom very correctly points out, it doesn't attack anyone, much less anyone in a largely defenseless position. It's not the same thing. It doesn't even come close to being the same thing.

It breaks your rules. And that means that it would be inappropriate for you to use it if you wish to keep those rules. But your rules don't apply here. If they did, why not everyone else's? I post pictures of Schuyler without her head covered. Should I stop that because it breaks the rules of some Islamic sects?

You're comparing apples and oranges. It would be hypocrisy if I were asking people to complete purge their language of words that might possibly make anyone in the world uncomfortable. That's not me.

Tom P. said...

What is offensive with your prayers is that you would say them whether they are wanted or not. "I will sacrifice a goat to your child whether you want me to or not." Would you find that offensive? "I will pray to my golden idol whether you want me to or not." Wouldn't that violate your belief in praying to false idols. All I'm saying is that you should not pray for people if your prayers are not wanted. If your statement, ""We will add your disabled child to our prayers along with our own. Whether you wish that for her or not," had left out that second sentence it would not have been the least bit offensive. But your statement is saying that your beliefs are better than my beliefs (without even knowing what my beliefs are) and that is offensive.

amanda said...

The statement you refer to was clearly (I thought) directed not at you but at Tom who said:

" 'We will add your disabled child to our prayers along with our own. Whether you wish that for her or not.'
Talk about being offensive."

Then I said:

"Sorry but we don't know the same people Tom. I have a large Catholic family that I spend a lot of time with and I can't recall that I have ever heard any of them say that.
Not as sorry as I am though that you would find it offensive for ANY child to be prayed for."

Etc etc.

I guess my point is that as a parent of a special needs child I have become painfully aware not only of any sideways glance in my son's direction but lots of offensive language and actions big and small in this world. On my son's behalf I try very hard to never offend anyone and I don't stop to determine what "rules" apply at that moment.
If that's not "you" well its your blog and your right. It seems like a fine line to decide what is an "attack" and what isn't or what is offensive and what isn't. Wasn't the point of your original post that random people shouldn't get to decide what is and isn't offensive when they don't have firsthand experience to contribute? Where am I going wrong here?
I am thinking that some groups who faced religious persecution "EVERY FUCKING DAY" throughout history might agree with me. And black citizens of the world who were subject to use of the "n" word "EVERY FUCKING DAY" don't count either because they are in most cases able to defend themselves.
If you really want to read something interesting look up the etymology of the French word "cretin" which tends to be the most commmon equivalent of the "r" word in France.
On that note I guess I would amicably agree to disagree.

amanda said...

no I wouldnt be offended if someone wanted to pray to whoever or whatever on my behalf or that of my children. I would be appreciative of the gesture same as author of the original post. Who wouldn't?
Demanding that someone NOT pray to God or any other deity for you or your family because it is offensive is weird. Especially if you don't share that belief anyway. What does it hurt? Like I said lets all agree to disagree. Don't you think?

Tom P. said...

It's not a question of offending someone. It's a question of saying something that is offensive about someone.

Tom P. said...

The issue of the praying was that you said that you were going to pray whether they wanted you to or not. Why add that last part? It sounds like you are being deliberately nasty. "My beliefs are so important that I don't care what you want so go screw yourself if you don't like it." That is what I read from your two sentences.

amanda said...

I am sorry that it came across that way to you. That it not exactly what I said anyway. What I said was: "Whether you wish that for her or not.' That means whether you want to or not yes but I think I put it pretty politely and what I meant was 'whether we share any religious beliefs or not.' I don't find that offensive and maybe you do but in all actuality I wasn't referring to you or your child anyway.
Why nitpick though? I get where you are coming from. But I also think that as advocates for our children who cannot always speak for themselves we owe it to them to be judicious in all we say and do. I know my son would want me to do that if he could tell me.
I don't tell you or anyone what to believe but I think that most organized religions teach lessons of acceptance, willingness to respect others, and harmony on earth and that is something worth listening to. Most agnostics and atheists I know still think the Bible is a pretty great story. No matter who you pray to before you go to bed or if you don't at all. Please take care and I do wish you and your family the best as you continue down the long hard road of being a special needs parent. I'm pretty sure that if nothing else we would at least agree that its worth it.
take care, Amanda

Dani said...

very well written & thank you :)

trabasack said...

I'm glad I found yhis, I am going to send it to a UK comedian who has decided he can use the word 'mong'.

trabasack said...

I'm glad I found yhis, I am going to send it to a UK comedian who has decided he can use the word 'mong'

Psychojenic said...

Yes. I have such a special needs-writer-advocate crush on you right now.

-Jen, mom of Wyatt and author of Down Wit Dat
( )

Sean said...

Do you have the other half of my amulet? Very very well said!

DayLeeFix said...

Funny thing about all's children who are accepting of most any differences between themselves and another being up until the grownups in their lives teach them to react otherwise. Amanda says it's organized religion that teaches tolerance, but I whole-heartedly disagree. The most truly 'tolerant' folks I've encountered may have a religious upbringing, but have at some point fallen away from the 'church' and are now agnostic/atheist. I need only look to my young children, whose outlook is untarnished toward others to see that so far, I think I've done a pretty good job at keeping "r" words and "f" words, and "n" words out of their vocabulary. They love people equally even if they DO notice differences. HOWEVER, this is your grownup forum, and so long as you're comfortable with it, you drop those OTHER F BOMBS as much as you want.

Ellen Seidman said...

Rob, this is really powerful and convincing. Naysayers like to claim that there's no reason to focus on a word, that instead we should be helping people to generally accept our kids (and those are the NICE comments). OK THEN, I'll just load up my Come On People, Love One Another app, click and make it happen! Speaking out about a hurtful word doesn't mean we think it's actually going to disappear. It's raising conscientiousness, and it's starting a conversation. Like you've done here. Bravo. Now, if we could just reach the teens... They are among the worst offenders of using the word.

BCC said...

Wow. That was so well said. Obviously I'm not adding anything new or special to the conversation here, but I just couldn't help myself.

Thank you.

Jennifer said...

I often search for the right words to express my thoughts on the word RETARD but never have I been able to fully make my point. Thank you for your thoughts. I truly agreen with you 100%.

Jennifer Andrick
Mom to Allie who has Down syndrome

Unknown said...

When I was 9 or 10, I was walking home from a birthday party with a friend. We had been given extra cupcakes to take with us, the "seconds": the ones that weren't perky and fluffy and perfect. We started laughing about them and decided that they were appropriately named "retarded." I walked into the house we were sharing with my grandparents at the time and I yelled, "Hey, Mom! Look at this cupcake! It's RETARDED! HAHAHAHA!" Well, my mother's youngest brother has severe Fragile-X Syndrome, but we didn't know that, then. Back then, he was "mentally retarded," with no subtitles or further explanation of his real condition. Well, let me tell you, I got as harsh a talking-to as I ever received in my life and rightly so. I've NEVER used it since, certainly not as an insult and rarely as a description of someone's cognitive abilities. We don't have to use it much anymore in clinical use either, thank goodness. So many conditions now have genuine, specific and descriptive names that really mean something. In fact, had our own daughter and her friends been born just 15 - 20 years earlier, they would all have been labeled as being mentally retarded of varying degrees. Nowadays, with all kinds of cool and nifty special education programs, these kids are all graduating from high school, something that would never have even been a consideration just a few years ago.

-- karhill54

Anonymous said...

I like to think of myself as a smart and well educated and open person. You humbled me. Thank you

Kurc Buzdegan said...

Well written, heartfelt post. It seems it can't be that many years, but as my son is now 26, it has been some time, and yet still hard to write the following. My wonderful son was born with Down syndrome, and although that is a part of him, it is truly so minor and never, ever defines him as a person. At the moment of his birth, when my wife and I had just endured 12 hours of labor [well, men don't 'endure' at least in the physical sense], when we were just wanting to hold our new born son, the doctor [will always use the lower case spelling in this particular instance] told us, as we asked if everything was alright, that our son was "mongoloid". That was the first instance that I knew simply because someone was educated, didn't indicate any possession of compassion or sense of respect for how words can be perceived as hurtful weapons. Since then I started correcting those around me, to use a "person first" approach to language, to the concept that labels are not only unnecessary, but limiting and how the use of the r-word says far more about the lack of character of the user of that word than anything they might be hoping to communicate with the offhand dispensing of that word. Now, I am still highly sensitive to any use of that word, but less concerned about speaking up to strangers, drawing attention to how inappropriate and hurtful it is to use it and how they can show some real character by altering their mindset. Knowing many people with intellectual challenges through coaching with Special Olympics, where I had the opportunity to lobby Canadian members of parliament on their behalf, learning more about myself, my son's community and the kind of world I want to live in, this kind of societal change is more than worthy of our efforts and the willingness of those I ask to pledge to change their thought processes around the r-word. Thank you again for this posting - count me as a fan.