Thursday, August 14, 2008

Language Matters III: Things I Usually Avoid

There are some things I usually don't talk about here on my blog. I sometimes allude to them, but rarely discuss them, such as specific encounters with idiotic people and negative experiences with other people. I would far rather talk about positives. It sets an example. Teaching by positive model is far more effective around here than saying, "Don't do that!"

The issue of Tropic Thunder has caught my attention because I have had negative experiences. After all, what do I care, it isn't a movie I would have gone to see, even without the offensive language; and offensive language never stopped me from seeing South Park. In reading over the remarks made on my iReport and other surrounding reports on CNN and other news sites, I have caught the pulse of something disturbing. People seem to be ignorant of the use of "retard" towards disabled people.

We have all worked hard here to help and support Joey, and Joey has done a ton of work to be able to function in everyday situations that most people take for granted. We can go to a store. We can eat in a restaurant. Most people don't know he's autistic unless something is said, or something goes really wrong. However, there is no missing that he is unusual. Eccentric. He sometimes comes off looking spoiled, because he gets antsy and needs to move, or doesn't return immediately when I call. He sometimes dashes off and has to be called back. He sometimes needs to be contained in a shopping cart, even at six years old (and big enough to look 8 or 9). He sometimes babbles nonsense. For some reason, people think any of this is any of their business.

Which is fine, we're in public, we're not invisible. It is how the questions are sometimes asked.

"Why is he acting so retarded?"
"Why don't you tell him to sit down and stop acting like a 'tard?"
"That is so retarded! Why is he saying that?"

Excuse me? And it isn't even the question itself; it is the tone of voice when it is asked. They are not asking me if my son is intellectually challenged, and if they can help or get more information about his challenges. It is a judgment against him, against me, said with a broiling distaste and hate that results in just one response from me: we walk away. I don't even dignify such questions with a response.

Yes, this word is directed at people with disabilities. Yes, it has been directed towards us. Yes, it hurts.

I'm not out to ban movies like Tropic Thunder, or Something About Mary, or anything like that. People have a right to make movies. People have a right to ask me these questions. This is a country with free speech, and no-one will go to jail for coming up to me in a Wal-mart and asking, "Why is he acting so retarded?" That's wonderful. I like knowing who the bigots are. I also have the right to write this blog. I have the right to tell those people they are bigots, jerks, and even... well, fill in the colorful metaphor of your choice. That is free speech.

I find it disturbing that people don't realize this term is used to disparage disabled people. It is. We have the right to free speech, but with rights comes responsibility.

Just because you can say something, doesn't mean you should.

Just walk away.


r.b. said...

You are a fine writer.

The way I see it, it's better to be the one being mistreated than to be the one mistreating. Karma is a b*tch.

Casdok said...

Very well said.

Sharon said...

Good post!
The things people say, just who the hell do they think they are? Are they so very perfect themselves?

Paperback Writer said...

*sigh* They say it to your face, seriously?

I don't know when that word became acceptable. When I was Joey's age, the Special Class had recess at the same time as the mainstream kids, and we were taught early and sternly that the r-word was just as bad as the n-word or the k-word or ... I think that's all the words we knew. :/ Then sometime around 2000, people started using it again like it was okay. I think someone's wires got crossed and I blame Will Ferrell and his ilk.