The words we choose to use define who we are. Our vocabulary, our speech, even our slang can lead others to judge our very being.
The overuse and abuse of certain words in our society has started many conversations across the country. Words can carry more meaning and significance in other people’s lives than the people who say them can understand. Our words are our most powerful force in the world today. The context, historical relevance, and true meaning of certain words can stir emotions in some while they slide right past the consciousness of others. One such word is a word that was once used to diagnose people with a disease but has been recently changed into a slang word that haunts the loved ones and those affected by intellectual disability; this is the word “retard.”
In the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder the term “mental retardation” has been replaced with “intellectual disability.” Although doctors, schools, and health organizations have discontinued use of the words retard and retarded, they remain popular words in the United States today. These words have now become a part of the slang vocabulary. Instead of a mentally disabled man or woman or child being ignorantly labeled as a “retard,” people are now calling their friends retarded and retards in a joking form. Retard is now a synonym for stupid. If someone is called a retard, they are considered slow or dumb. “She is such a retard” and “That guy is retarded” are two phrases that are so present in our daily conversations that we have become numb to the ways in which they can impact others.
By calling someone a retard we are infecting the world with ignorance. Yes, this word was once used to describe people with mental disabilities. However, now those with mental disabilities have to hear this word thrown around with smiles on people’s faces. Imagine your son or daughter is intellectually disabled. If you heard another adult describe someone as a retard in a casual conversation how would you feel? The person being described as a retard must have done something stupid or dumb to deserve this label. So, does this mean that your child is seen as stupid because he or she is mentally disabled? You know how incredible your son or daughter is. You know that his or her diagnosis has done nothing but put a label on him or her. To hear the words retard and retarded as ways to describe someone who failed a test or tripped over a crack in the sidewalk, how would you react?
On the Bryant campus I hear the words retard and retarded several times a day. In high school, we had an assembly once every year about the R word. The use of the R word in any way was punishable by detention at my high school. It was administered by both the faculty and the seniors on campus. In order to stop using the R word I would pinch myself every time it slid past my subconscious, slithered up my vocal cords, and sprayed out of my mouth. I soon found the word repulsive. I have many close friends who have family members with mental disabilities. Hearing the hurt and pain in their stories about the ways that the R words have filtered through their lives broke my heart.
There is no other way to eradicate the use of these words than to spread the word. I fear that the words retard and retarded have become too deeply imbedded in our society to ever see the ignorance disappear. However, I write this in order to start the conversation going within our community. Words will forever determine who we are, how we are seen, and how we are respected. Out of respect for the people around the campus who either have intellectual disabilities or have family members who are impacted by the condition, do the simple thing and use respectable language. Spread the word to end the R word.