Is she going to be retarded? I asked the neurologist. Boo was 11 months old. She had two EEG’s and an MRI of her brain. They told us she had a “slow” brain pattern. That her development was delayed. That Boo would possibly need care for the rest of her life. That they don’t use the word retarded any more. They use intellectually delayed.
I had moved from wondering if Boo would live past her first week of life to would she be retarded in 11 short months. It took another year for me to evolve from retarded to delayed. To understand and feel that a word is not just a word. That it matters what you call people. Here is why that revolution matters.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines retarded as “sometimes offensive : slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development”
Why is this “sometimes offensive”? After all the definition simply states that Boo is limited in intellectual or emotional development. That is true. That is not offensive. She is limited. What is also true is she is gaining. Limited does not mean stopped.
Here is why the caveat of “sometimes offensive” the dictionary also defines retarded as: stupid, obtuse or ineffective.
My daughter is not any of these. She is not slow, anyone who has had to chase her down a hallway in her attempt to escape knows that fact. She is not stupid. The moment you meet her you see the spark in her eyes. Boo is not obtuse. She is sensitive and caring. Boo is not ineffective. The change she has made in my life, her classmates lives and some of yours disproves that definition.
Words have power. Would you say nigger or faggot? No. Because you know in uttering those words you are hurting someone. So why is retard exempt? Because it is part of your vernacular, because you have always said it, insert an excuse here.
Last year during this campaign people told me that the word isn’t used often anymore. That this is an older terms those of us from the 80’s use. But that is untrue. It was used last Thursday in Abby’s school. The administration used a video depicting dyslexia. Overheard in the assembly of middle schoolers: they are just retarded and dumb. Whispered, of course. They knew the word was wrong. They knew the word was insulting.
They used it anyway.
When I asked the neurologist 5 years ago if my daughter would be retarded, I wasn’t being insensitive. I was not being derogatory or insulting Boo. I was uninformed. I was ignorant of the harm and tears this word can cause.
Maybe you can use that excuse too. You were uninformed. You didn’t know that a word could hurt. Then you met Boo. Now you are not uniformed. Now you know that a word can cause pain. I ask you, the next time you utter the word retarded picture this face:
And ask, would you say that word in front of her? In front of me? In front of her family? If the answer is no, then you have your answer to the question is the word retard is just a word.
When I first put this picture in this post I had the word RETARD stamped over her face. But the image made me gag. I cannot imagine my daughter as a retard (stupid, obtuse, ineffective). I hope the thought of RETARD over her face makes you shudder as well. I took the pledge, will you?