Saturday, March 6, 2010
On alternatives to the r-word
The ever-wise Annie from PhD in Parenting had such a fantastic response to this week's post on Spread The Word To End The Word day that it deserves its own post. Annie was answering a commenter's question about how replacing the r-word with another would help (and if you haven't yet taken the r-word pledge, go to it). Here's what Annie had to say:
The reason we need to get rid of the word retarded is that it is habitually used to make a derogatory remark about a person with an intellectual disability or is used to compare someone without an intellectual disability to someone with an intellectual disability in a derogatory fashion. The entire derogatory connotation behind the way the word is used in almost all contexts is the reason we need to get rid of it.
But what to replace it with? I think that depends on the context:
1) If you are using it as a descriptor for a person with an intellectual disability but in a context where no such descriptor is necessary (e.g. "Johnny, get out of the way, it's the retarded kid's turn to go down the slide") it should be replaced with another descriptor that doesn't reference the child's disability at all (e.g. "Johnny, get out of the way, it's the kid in the blue jacket's turn to go down the slide").
2) If you are using it as a descriptor for a person with an intellectual disability in a context where such a descriptor is necessary (e.g. explaining to a teacher's aide that "Jenny gets an extra 30 minutes to do her exam because she's retarded"), you could replace it with a term that does not have the same derogatory connotation (e.g. "Jenny gets an extra 30 minutes to do her exam because she has [an intellectual disability, a learning disability, or the name of the actual disability if relevant - e.g. dislexia, down's syndrome]"). For this, the Canadian government has a great publication called "A Way With Words and Images" and it includes an annex with the appropriate terminology to use to describe people with disabilities:
3) If you are using the word to insult yourself ("I'm so retarded"), choose words that are more descriptive e.g. "I lost track of time" or "I'm so forgetful" or "It's my fault. I'm sorry."
4) If you are using it to attack someone else's ideas or actions (e.g. "That was a retarded thing to say/do") then be more specific. Say "That doesn't make sense" or "You are going to regret that" or "That was an uninformed statement" or "Your arrogant/ignorant/baseless/feeble arguments are making me ill."
5) If you are using it to insult someone (e.g. "You're such a retard") then don't. Period. What do you have to gain by insulting someone else? If you really feel like someone is deserving of an insult, then at least use a non-ableist, non-bigoted one. There is a list here.
Rather than using "retard/retarded" as a catch-all and dumping people with special needs into a pot with the true ignorant jerks of the world, I think it is worth taking some time to think about what you really want to say and how to best say it.