By: Khamiya Nisbett-Parris
“Don’t be such a retard.”
“You look retarded eh”
“That was so retarded”
“What a retard”
But as the saying goes, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can do no harm.” However, this saying, by all means necessary, is an inherent and blatant LIE. Words do hurt, and it is due time that we as a society end the use of the R-Word.
“But I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I’m just joking.”
Let’s see how funny the R-Word is to the struggling mother, who arrives late and has to leave work early each day, simply because she is faced with the unique challenges that arise from having a child with special needs.
Let’s see how funny the R-Word is to the parents who had to quit their job in order to stay home and have the peace of mind of knowing that their child, who cannot talk, walk or feed his/her self, is being taken care of and is not being abused or abandoned each day.
The R-Word, in whatever form in which it is used is offensive, insulting, derogatory, disrespectful, belittling, deprecating, disparaging… (Catch my drift), and furthermore, it is a term of exclusion.
The terminology of Retardation/Mental Retardation/Mentally Retarded was first used around 1895, stemming from the Latin word retardare, which means slow, or delayed. This word was chosen to replace the other previous clinic terms of moron, simpleton and feeble-minded, which were used to describe persons with an intellectual disability. Though clinical in its origin and intent, these labels have carried with them great stigmatization and have lost their intended significance.
At what point did it become okay to insult someone, whether in anger or jest, through offensive comparative action that is pejorative to those affected by circumstance?
Commendably, on October 5th 2010, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, signed Bill S. 2781, into federal law. Rosa’s Law, as it is referred to, removes the terminology of Mental Retardation from all federal health, education and labor policy. In replacement of it is Intellectual Disability or Individual with an Intellectual Disability, which is more inclusive and people-first in its language.
When retard or retarded is used as a replacement for slow or stupid, it underpins hurtful and uncomfortable labels that people with intellectual disabilities are lesser in value. This is dehumanization in its most concealed and unrealized form. To be dehumanized is to be reduced in consideration of others.
A little extreme in my rationalization you say?
Nothing was meant by the use of The R-Word?
It was just a joke.
However, I beg to differ. For as history has shown, Nazi propaganda represented Jews as rats; Arabs and Muslims were perceived as being less evolved; African Americans were compared to apes; let alone, let us not forget that our ancestors were brought to these islands as slaves-property-Things.
The irony of it all is the fact that we as humans -as social beings -negate the essence of who we are through this dehumanization of other human beings, as we continue to see and treat individuals with intellectual disabilities as less than humans.
Everyday, children and adults with Intellectual Disabilities are unfairly and incorrectly seen and treated as things without feelings. They are abused, victimized and ridiculed.
It speaks poorly of us, as one of the most “intelligent” and “rational” species, that we take physical, verbal and emotional advantage of individuals with intellectual disabilities and special needs simply because they may not be able to speak, walk, read, eat, and smile.
It speaks poorly of us, as one of the most “intelligent” and “rational” species, that we hurt individuals with intellectual disabilities and special needs simply because they may drool, are deaf, talk differently or are unable to care for themselves.
Shame on us as a society for our lack of humanity and compassion towards individuals with special needs, simply because they are deemed as different.
We are ALL different! And to me, different is beautiful.
We, as a society, need to take a stance against ignorance. We need to learn how to establish dignity and respect for those with any form of Intellectual Disabilities. We need to stop hiding behind the shame of stigmatization and ridicule and come forward in celebration of the gifts that God has bestowed into our lives.
I have had the honor of meeting and working with some of the most intelligent, talented, creative and loving individuals in New York, Nevis and St. Kitts, who happen to also have an Intellectual Disability.
As the Chair of the Nevis Committee of Special Olympics, I am consumed with pride at the talent and accomplishments that our athletes in Nevis and St. Kitts have attained. They have travelled to places across the globe that you and I can only imagine of ever going in this lifetime, and they have continually returned to our little Federation with Medals of Gold, Silver, Bronze and Valor.
Seeing the potential and accomplishments of my students at the Cecele Browne Integrated School, inspire me to wake each day and come to work. Let us learn to look past the “Dis” and only see “Ability” that resonates within the lives of all whom we meet and know.
Our Special Olympian Athletes…our students…consistently demarcate that they refuse to be limited in their altitude by the hatred in others’ ignorance and attitudes.
Sticks and stones may break bones, and the R-Word will also do harm. I implore you all to Spread the Word to End the Word. Put an end to the use of the R-Word and begin to create attitudes and communities of tolerance for everyone.