I have a big fat mushy soft spot for anyone who didn’t get a fair shake in life. I’m especially protective of the mentally disabled. I grew up with a family who had a kid with Down’s syndrome, and I learned that having Down’s doesn’t make you stupid, unproductive, nor does it mean that you can’t be “one of the guys.” This guy was the middle child. For most of our youth, his two “normal” brothers were unemployed, lived with their mom, and didn’t have jobs. The one with Down’s had a girlfriend, an apartment of his own, and was gainfully employed. Some people with Downs are downright smart, witty, and a hell of a lot of fun to be around (not to mention, this particular guy could drink me under the table).
I’m down with the Down’s.
I absolutely adore the Special Olympics. That organization is one of the most well-meaning, make-the-world-a-better-place collections of souls that the world has ever seen. They even have a sense of humor, as they not only endorsed, but helped in a technical advisory way to make the movie, The Ringer, with Johnny Knoxville.
But, today, I must give the finger to the Special Olympics and their campaign to try and stop people from using “the r-word.” (retarded) To their credit, nobody is talking about legislation. They are throwing their view out into the marketplace of ideas and hoping that someone buys it. I’m throwing mine out there too. The Special Olympics’ attempt to get us to purge this word from the vernacular is, in the words of my people, wicked fahkin’ retaahded. (subtitle: Wicked. Fucking. Retarded.)
Don’t get me wrong. I accept any group’s wishes when they say “don’t call me that.” African Americans seem to change their name every 20 years. Once “negro,” was the term of choice… then it changed to “colored.” (Hence the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP). When I was in high school, it turned to “black,.” When I was a freshman in college, I was informed that the proper terminology was Afro-American. By the time I graduated, it was “African American.” It seems to be back to “black” again. That doesn’t bother me. If I wake up tomorrow and there is an announcement from the NAACP that they prefer to be called “The Knights Who Say Nee,” I’ll respect the decision and call them that until they change their mind again.
The same goes for the “developmentally disabled.” As long as it doesn’t get Orwellian (I’m never using “handi-capable”), they can be whatever they want. In fact, I think it is sort of uncool to lump all “handicapped” people under one label. I think it is far more respectful to refer to the actual individual condition that affects the person (if it is relevant at all to the conversation), and that’s why I agree that referring to someone who is “developmentally disabled” as “retarded” is disrespectful and uncool.
So we agree, don’t call anyone with Down’s a “retard.”
But, that doesn’t mean that we need to cleanse the language of all uses of the word. I love the word “retard.” “Retard” is a completely accurate way to describe Marion Barry, Rhonda Storms, George W. Bush, Gail Dines, Larry Craig, Andrea Dworkin, and Kevin Federline. It is not the right thing to call Corky. Allow me to demonstrate where the line is drawn:
Sarah Palin’s son, Trig, is retarded: Formerly correct, now incorrect
Sarah Palin’s son, Trig, is a retard: Incorrect
Trig Palin has Down’s sydrome: Correct
Sarah Palin is a fucking retard: Correct
I’m sick of P.C. police trying to strip the language of words that are, well, colorful — even if they can be nasty and mean if used that way. On one hand, it makes the language just a little more grey. On the other hand, it counter-productively adds power to the negativity. As Lenny Bruce said:
it’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. Dig: if President Kennedy would just go on television, and say, “I would like to introduce you to all the niggers in my cabinet,” and if he’d just say “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” to every nigger he saw, “boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie,” “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” ’til nigger didn’t mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school.
These efforts to create a politically and socially correct “Newspeak,” have always pissed me off. In the Appendix to 1984, Orwell wrote:
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. (source)
I understand that the developmentally disabled have a problem gaining the respect they deserve. I feel for them and I wouldn’t stand by as anyone abused or mocked the developmentally disabled. However, if the Special Olympics thinks that I’m prepared to let them start taking words out of common usage, because those words facilitate what they consider to be “bad thoughts,” then they really are a bunch of ‘tards.
This kind of thing gives critical crybaby theorists and every other kind of “victim studies” blowhard a raging boner. But, for those of us who actually contribute anything to society, all it does is get us to a place where the message gets lost in endless quibbling over words. The Newspeak police are so damned hypersensitive that innocent use of the word “niggardly,” a word derived from Old Norse (which means “cheap” or “miserly” can create a national freak out, and even “Water Buffalo” (a Hebrew translation) can be perceived as racist, thus labeling the user as a thinker of racist thoughts, ergo someone who needs
re-education sensitivity training.
“Retarded” no longer means “developmentally disabled.” Therefore, the developmentally disabled don’t get to own the word anymore.
And if they do, then I want the guinea pig and the nation of New Guinea to be renamed. Italian pride demands it.