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“Retarded” Is the New “N-Word”

April 7th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

It’s easy to forget that life is a gift. And it’s easy to overlook the essential humanity of so many people out there on the Internet. It’s easy to get mad at people’s gripes and whines and forget that the Web can be a tool to expand your empathy and connect with people outside your regular routine.

But this video yanked me out of my regular routine and deep into the wild currents of the human experience. I don’t know whether to cheer or weep, to hug somebody or go be alone. My eyes swelled and leaked a little, and I could actually feel my heart expand in my chest.

It’s by a disabled woman who carefully, methodically explains why it’s so upsetting to be called “retarded.”

These are her words:

I made this video after seeing a number of things: Other disabled people rushing to prove that they were not some thing called “retarded,” being referred to here as a “mong” and other such words myself (on and off YouTube) as well as seeing lots of pointless ridicule directed at people with developmental disabilities, and being asked questions about what it’s like to be considered “retarded” in casual contacts with people, or to “look retarded”, whatever that means. I explore these questions, and the prejudice and dehumanization that surrounds cognitive disability of all sorts, in my video.


My grandfather used to say the words “nigger” and “colored” very comfortably. He wasn’t a mean, racist guy. He even fought to integrate public schools in Virginia. He was just a guy a high-school education with an outdated understanding of how the world worked. He was a welder until he retired, and I don’t think he really noticed the world changing around him because he was so busy working. And so he used these incredibly hateful words really casually, and was genuinely taken aback when the rest of the family got upset about it.

The thing is, we’re all doing something right now that is going to disgust and appall our grandkids. In the end of this century someone will be able to make some new kind of Mad Men about our normal workplace behavior and it’s going to show us using some 21st-century version of the N-word in a way that we don’t really get right now.

I think it’s going to be the way we use the word “retarded.” I didn’t really think about it until I saw this video, but now I hear myself using it, and other people using it, and it makes me kind of sick. I’m going to try really hard to never, ever, use that word again.

See if you can’t do the same.

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