My Problem With the R-Word

I was recently watching the Netflix series, Luke Cage. Throughout the series, I was bothered by the generous use of the N-word, even by the residents of Harlem. I have learned to have an uncomfortable reaction when hearing that word. What about when we use the R-word?

What is the R-word? It is “retarded” or “retard.” You may or may not know that there is a movement to make the R-word as unacceptable as the N-word.

I recently posted something about this on Facebook and was surprised to receive some pushback on it. Numerous people stood up for the continued use of retarded in every day speech. I don’t believe that any of these people took this stand out of hostility toward people who are diagnosed as mentally retarded.

Before going any further, I need to put my cards on the table. I have two children with autism, who are also diagnosed as having a global delay (another word for mental retardation). I’m not an impartial participant in this discussion.

One of the criticisms I receive is that opposing the R-word is another example of political correctness. I need to say that I have no interest in being political correct. I am a pro-life evangelical Christian (who happens also to be a white male). That makes me extremely politically incorrect. I know some people who would see those labels and instantly understand me to be a bad person.

Others point out that at times in the past and in some places today, retardation is still used as a medical description of a developmental delay. Such criticisms are completely missing the point I’m trying to make.

I’m not arguing for a nicer medical term for a specific diagnosis.

I am speaking specifically of how people use retarded as pejorative label to describe a person without an intellectual disability. My problem is when a person looks at another (neuro-typical) person who has done something really stupid and calls them retarded.

What I hear, as a parent of two special needs children, is that the person is so terrible that they are approaching where my children are at.

It is not just about the word retarded. I think it would be just as inappropriate to try and insult a person by accusing them of having autism or Down Syndrome.

I’m not trying to control what people do or say. I believe in freedom of speech, even when it is offensive. But consider the impact of your words. You may see “retarded” as a harmless insult, but how does a parent whose hope’s and dreams were dashed by a diagnosis of mental retardation hear that?

You might respond by say that is just words. Well I could respond that if someone steals your possessions that it is just stuff and you shouldn’t be bothered. Should that make stealing permissible, since it is just stuff? The truth is that people with disabilities and their families face challenges you cannot imagine. What is to you “just words” could be devastating to someone who is struggling with a disability.

It is not about being politically correct. It is about treating people with respect even if you don’t understand what they are going through.

Stephen Bedard
My “retarded” children
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One thought on “My Problem With the R-Word”

  1. Hi! 

    My name is Jennifer Norman, author of The Adventures of SuperCaptainBraveMan children’s books. I wanted to let you know I’m about to launch my 2nd SuperCaptainBraveMan book, ‘A Spectrum of Love.’ It’s a picture book about a young disabled boy who dreams of turning into a superhero. He helps a boy with autism discover his own unique way to express love to his family. 

    I wrote this book to help educate all kids about autism and pay tribute to the wondrous gifts possessed by kids living on the spectrum. I’d love to send you a copy to read, share & promote as you see fit. If you’re interested, please send me the best contact name, address and email for shipping.

    Thank you for your consideration!

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