Sunday, August 10, 2008

Educate Yourselves Please.


I have never used the word "retard" as a slang. I just always knew it was wrong, not sure how, but I did. Maybe God knew I would feel horrible later and assisted me in knowing that it was not appropriate. I have used the word "retardation" as a medical term, since both of my older daughters do have it. I'm not bothered by the medical term, yet most parents of kids with developmental disabilities are, because of all the hurtful slangs that are used today. You might think it is okay, but it is not. There is a new film out with Ben Stiller called Tropic Thunder which I will be boycotting. The word "retard" is used throughout the movie and to promote the movie, shirts with "Full Retard" are already being marketed. You can read more about it here.

A high school senior Soeren Palumbo explained it best in a speech he gave in 2007.

"I want to tell you a quick story before I start. I was walking through hallways, not minding my own business, listening to the conversations around me. As I passed the front door on my way to my English classroom, I heard the dialogue between two friends nearby. For reasons of privacy, I would rather not give away their race or gender. So the one girl leans to the other, pointing to the back of a young man washing the glass panes of the front door, and says, "Oh my gaw! I think it is so cute that our school brings in the black kids from around the district to wash our windows!" The other girl looked up, widened her slanted Asian eyes and called to the window washer, easily loud enough for him to hear, "Hey, Negro! You missed a spot!" The young man did not turn around. The first girl smiled a bland smile that all white girls – hell, all white people – have and walked on. A group of Mexicans stood by and laughed that high pitch laugh that all of them have.

So now it's your turn. What do you think the black window washer did? What would you do in that situation? Do you think he turned and calmly explained the fallacies of racism and showed the girls the error of their way? That's the one thing that makes racism, or any discrimination, less powerful in my mind. No matter how biased or bigoted a comment or action may be, the guy can turn around and explain why racism is wrong and, if worst comes to worst, punch em in the face.

Discrimination against those who can defend themselves, obviously, cannot survive. What would be far worse is if we discriminated against those who cannot defend themselves. What then, could be worse than racism? Look around you and thank God that we don't live in a world that discriminates and despises those who cannot defend themselves. Thank God that every one of us in this room, in this school hates racism and sexism and by that logic discrimination in general. Thank God that every one in this institution is dedicated to the ideal of mutual respect and love for our fellow human beings. Then pinch yourself for living in a dream. Then pinch the hypocrites sitting next to you. Then pinch the hypocrite that is you. Pinch yourself once for each time you have looked at one of your fellow human beings with a mental handicap and laughed. Pinch yourself for each and every time you denounced discrimination only to turn and hate those around you without the ability to defend themselves, the only ones around you without the ability to defend themselves. Pinch yourself for each time you have called someone else a "retard".

If you have been wondering about my opening story, I'll tell you that it didn't happen, not as I described it. Can you guess what I changed? No, it wasn't the focused hate on one person, and no it wasn't the slanted Asian eyes or cookie cutter features white people have or that shrill Hispanic hyena laugh (yeah, it hurts when people make assumptions about your person and use them against you doesn't it?).

The girl didn't say "hey Negro." There was no black person. It was a mentally handicapped boy washing the windows. It was "Hey retard." I removed the word retard. I removed the word that destroys the dignity of our most innocent. I removed the single most hateful word in the entire English language. I don't understand why we use the word; I don't think I ever will. In such an era of political correctness, why is it that retard is still ok? Why do we allow it? Why don't we stop using the word? Maybe students can't handle stopping– I hope that offends you students, it was meant to – but I don't think the adults, here can either. Students, look at your teacher, look at every member of this faculty. I am willing to bet that every one of them would throw a fit if they heard the word faggot or nigger – hell the word Negro – used in their classroom. But how many of them would raise a finger against the word retard? How many of them have? Teachers, feel free to raise your hand or call attention to yourself through some other means if you have. That's what I thought. Clearly, this obviously isn't a problem contained within our age group.

So why am I doing this? Why do I risk being misunderstood and resented by this school's student body and staff? Because I know how much you can learn from people, all people, even – no, not even, especially – the mentally handicapped. I know this because every morning I wake up and I come downstairs and I sit across from my sister, quietly eating her cheerio's. And as I sit down she sets her spoon down on the table and she looks at me, her strawberry blonde hair hanging over her freckled face almost completely hides the question mark shaped scar above her ear from her brain surgery two Christmases ago.

She looks at me and she smiles. She has a beautiful smile; it lights up her face. Her two front teeth are faintly stained from the years of intense epilepsy medication but I don't notice that anymore. I lean over to her and say, "Good morning, Olivia." She stares at me for a moment and says quickly, "Good morning, Soeren," and goes back to her cheerio's. I sit there for a minute, thinking about what to say. "What are you going to do at school today, Olivia?" She looks up again. "Gonna see Mista Bee!" she replies loudly, hugging herself slightly and looking up. Mr. B. is her gym teacher and perhaps her favorite man outside of our family on the entire planet and Olivia is thoroughly convinced that she will be having gym class every day of the week. I like to view it as wishful thinking.

She finishes her cheerio's and grabs her favorite blue backpack and waits for her bus driver, Miss Debbie, who, like clockwork, arrives at our house at exactly 7'o'clock each morning. She gives me a quick hug goodbye and runs excitedly to the bus, ecstatic for another day of school. I watch the bus disappear around the turn and I can't help but remember the jokes. The short bus. The retard rocket. No matter what she does, no matter how much she loves those around her, she will always be the butt of some immature kid's joke. She will always be the butt of some mature kid's joke. She will always be the butt of some "adult"'s joke.

By no fault of her own, she will spend her entire life being stared at and judged. Despite the fact that she will never hate, never judge, never make fun of, never hurt, she will never be accepted. That's why I'm doing this. I'm doing this because I don't think you understand how much you hurt others when you hate. And maybe you don't realize that you hate. But that's what is; your pre-emptive dismissal of them, your dehumanization of them, your mockery of them, it's nothing but another form of hate. It's more hateful than racism, more hateful than sexism, more hateful than anything. I'm doing this so that each and every one of you, student or teacher, thinks before the next time you use the word "retard", before the next time you shrug off someone else's use of the word "retard". Think of the people you hurt, both the mentally handicapped and those who love them. If you have to, think of my sister. Think about how she can find more happiness in the blowing of a bubble and watching it float away than most of will in our entire lives. Think about how she will always love everyone unconditionally. Think about how she will never hate. Then think about which one of you is "retarded".

Maybe this has become more of an issue today because society is changing, slowly, to be sure, but changing nonetheless. The mentally handicapped aren't being locked in their family's basement anymore. The mentally handicapped aren't rotting like criminals in institutions. Our fellow human beings are walking among us, attending school with us, entering the work force with us, asking for nothing but acceptance, giving nothing but love. As we become more accepting and less hateful, more and more handicapped individuals will finally be able to participate in the society that has shunned them for so long. You will see more of them working in places you go, at Dominicks, at Jewel, at Wal-Mart. Someday, I hope more than anything, one of these people that you see will be my sister.

I want to leave you with one last thought. I didn't ask to have a mentally handicapped sister. She didn't choose to be mentally handicapped. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have learned infinitely more from her simple words and love than I have from any classroom of "higher education". I only hope that, one-day, each of you will open your hearts enough to experience true unconditional love, because that is all any of them want to give. I hope that, someday, someone will love you as much as Olivia loves me. I hope that, someday, you will love somebody as much as I love her. I love you, Olivia."

87 comments:

christie said...

Beautiful. I cried all the way through this post.

Mindy said...

I am definately going to boycott that movie. I personally find any kind of movie like that inconsiderate and demeaning.. I hate that they feel they need to make jokes about other people and it does encourage the behavior. My little nephew has started using the R word and I can tell you he has gotten more than his fair share of talks from me about how it hurts others.

The last time he used the R word we were in a retail store. A young man with a disability was with his family but being a teenager he had wondered off and was looking at the shoes. My nephew saw him and started talking in his "R" voice as he calls it. I pulled him aside and calmly asked him why he felt that was funny. It couldn't give me an answer. His only response was that the man in question couldn't hear him (he was across the store) so what harm was in it. I explained that people may make comments out of ear shot of the person in question but it still effects others around you who can hear the conversation. All it takes is one comment to plant the seed in the minds of all those around you. After our conversation he seemed to understand and even went out of his way to wave and say hello to the young man as we were leaving the store.

stefanie said...

Amazing! I love how you tied your 'heads up' to the real people who are hurt by thoughtless or hateful words.

Heather said...

wow. definitely got me thinking this morning. thanks for that.

Does Anybody Hear Me said...

I hate that word as well and I cringe when anyone makes fun of someone who has mental disabilities. I have taught my kids that you don't make fun of anyone and hopefully they don't do it when I am not around.

A neighborhood child who I am acquainted with calls the man down the street 'retard' all the time. He has Alzheimer's. I nail that kid each and every time I hear her say it. I just hate it.

Mrs4444 said...

I just think that kids don't "get it." They use "gay" in the same way. "This is retarded. That's gay." I'm sure no one means it the way it's taken, but that's no excuse. People need to develop articulation (and sensitivity) skills, but they have to be aware of the problem, first.

Crazy Momma said...

I have to be honest....when I first came to this post I skimmed and left.

I am so glad I came back and took the time to read through it.

What a beautiful post! I am so glad you shared that!

angie said...

Thank you for this. You presented it beautifully.

Lane Boyz Mom said...

I think I should make my kids, and their friends read this, you know??

And mrs4444 is right...they use gay all the time too:( I remember growing up NOT being allowed to say those words, and while I do my best to correct my punks...I don't know what they say when I'm not around...Good Lord, I now know how my parents felt when I was growing up!

Lori said...

I am one of 'those' people. I have used the word 'retard' in the manner spoken of in the boys speech. I have made jokes about my son riding 'the short bus' and qualify it by saying that since he does I can make jokes about it. Once before a friend said that she hated the word 'retard' and she uses the word 'retart' instead. (I honestly don't see the difference) Anyway, when she said that I just thought of her as 'uptight'. I am thinking differently at this point.
Thanks for the education. ;)

Heather said...

What a beautiful post! I've always been sensitive about labels, and particularly 'that' word. This was an amazing reminder to stay aware, though, of the things we say.

Kori said...

Beautiful post.

Angie said...

I cry every time I read that.

Heather said...

Thanks for the tears ;)

Liz Ditz said...

It is time to take the "r" word out of circulation.

I've written a blog post, Words Hurt: The "r" Word, on Wanda and Rick Felty's campaign to "Ban the R Word", and Jenna Glatzer's pledge campaign, as well as the "Tropic Thunder" controversy. I've included a link to your blog.

Nicole said...

Beautifully written. Thats one movie we will not be watching.

Tiffany said...

Wow. I am just in awe. He did a perfect job of articulating his message. How powerful.

I have been waiting for you to post something like this.

Thank you for having the courage to do it.

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

I have had the honor in my life of knowing very well 3 amazing young people with Downs Syndrome. I got to babysit all of them, and got to experience just a small bite of what their world is like. They all three were so loyal, and so funny. Sometimes they were a HANDFUL - J put the remote in the fish tank more times than I care to remember... They were such beautiful children. I HATE the R word. HATE IT... my girls know I had BETTER NOT EVER hear it.

Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

Jill said...

What a touching post. I too cried while reading it.

My best friend's oldest has DS - and I've known her since she was a year old. She's like my 3rd daughter... only slightly busier! :)

Anna Lefler said...

What a moving, amazing post. I read every word of it and it touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing it.

:^) Anna

Givinya De Elba said...

Wow, that's amazing. Here in Australia, the word "retard" is most definitely NOT okay, and it hasn't been okay for many years now.

But then, neither is "mentally handicapped." That went out a few years ago too, and instead we would say "person with a disability" if any mention of their disability was required, which is usually isn't.

If a person's specific disability needed to be described, we'd say "intellectual impairment", but again, usually that wouldn't be necessary.

I guess that each country has its own culture and the slight shock I got to read the writer saying "mentally handicapped" wouldn't happen in the USA?

But wow, the biggest shock I got was to read that he even needs to tell people that 'retard' is not okay. Here, it's only EVER used as a terrible intentional put-down.

Kimmie0270 said...

How touching. That is a FABULOUS post. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

wendy said...

Beautiful post and it made me cry!

Happy SITS day and thank you for sharing!

Mandy said...

Great post, very touching. Thanks for putting it out there!

Susan said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing

Imperfect said...

Here from SITS. My brother and my college roommate both have a passion for working with children with autism. And both of them have educated me on the R word. Now I cringe when I hear it. Thanks for posting this!

Natalie said...

This post brought tears to my eyes & definitely made me think.
Thank you for writing this & sharing this moving speech.

Melissa Lester said...

I cried through this post. It's beautiful that one family had a daughter with a mental handicap and a son chosen to speak at graduation. And it sounds like he learns more from her than she from him. Beautiful! I was in tears thinking what a hero he is.

We never use the "R" word in our house, either. In high school I volunteered some in our school's special education department, and I am certain I learned more about goodness and purity of heart there than anywhere else.

Melodie said...

Wonderful post! I wrote a post about the word "retard" on my blog a few months ago when that guy on Big Brother used to word.

Creative Junkie said...

This post really touched me. I don't have any experience in this arena, but I have NEVER called someone that word. I view it as I do the "N" word ... I just can't make myself say it. And I pity the people who can.

lmerie said...

Great Post . . . glad you picked it for your SITs feature. Thank you for sharing.

Diamond said...

I think "retard" is an awful word and have taught my kids never to use it, either playfully or intentionally. Education is the key. Having a cousin with Down's Syndrome (who has since passed on), gave them that education first hand.
Btw, you have a wonderful blog:-).

togetherforgood said...

This is so powerful; thank you for sharing it.

When I was growing up my Dad worked in a home with mentally handicapped adults, and the R-word was NEVER allowed in our house.

There is so much we can learn from those with disabilities-- their enthusiasm, acceptance of others, and the joy the find in the simplest of things.

You are an amazing mom, and your lovely girls are so blessed to have you.

mine, by magpie said...

this is a fantastic post and i'm so happy for you and for all of us readers, that this is one of the three you chose for the sits feature. i don't know how you couldn't have effected some kind of change with this- congrats!

Jen said...

What an amazing post. I wish that all people could read this and take it to heart. Sometimes people don't understand that words can be more hurtful and cause more damage than a gun shot.

Ronnica said...

This essay has made me rethink some things. Thanks.

Renée aka Mekhismom said...

What a great post. Although that word has not been part of my vocabulary I can clearly remember the day when one of my teachers in middle school stopped our class to address student's use of the word. In near tears from anger she explained that she had a child with Down's Syndrome and that the use of the word was hateful and disrespectful. If I had ever used the word before that speech I am not sure but I can tell you that it has never been used in my vocabulary since.

Eudea-Mamia said...

I cried through the whole post. My blog is for "me." I don't discuss my children that much, but if I would, this would be topic number one. There is not a word strong enough to convey my disgust of this word.

Thank you for making this the featured post. Please, if just one person would follow this advice, and tell a friend, we can make a difference.

God bless you for taking the time to address this.

Em

koopermom said...

Although I can not say I have never used the R word, I can say exactly when I stopped. Growing up I had never been around anyone with mental disabilities, so it really meant nothing to me to say the word.
My freshman year in college, a girl in my dorm who later became a roommate, and still is my best friend got a job at Region IV, working with children with mental disabilities. Her job was more or less that of a babysitter, and a lot of times I would tag along and really got to know and love the kids right along with her. I didn't see these amazing children as anything more than that - amazing children.
Thanks for your blog and sharing your stories.

Christine said...

One of the saddest parts of this commentary is that more and more of these precious people are not being allowed to be born so fewer and fewer people have the opportunity to meet and love them. Pressure to selectively abort children who are diagnosed in utero with Down's syndrome or other "disorders" is slowing reducing the number of children who are born with what are termed "defects." Any person created by God is perfect and precious. Thank you for the reminder.

Rachel Ann said...

Great post!

Bebe said...

What a moving and emotional post! There is really no sense in demeaning another person by using a derogatory slang term. People who are born a certain color or with a medical condition can't help it, so it is just plain cruel. I think more people need to follow Soeren's speech! Thanks for sharing this today!
Hugs, Bebe :)
P.S. Happy SITS day to you!

Wolf said...

this is such an important post. so many people don't realize...

happy SITS day!

Michelle said...

I have noticed that using retard as slang is becoming more common. I have a girl scout meeting today and I will bring this topic up with the girls!

EmmaP said...

i have been trying to educate my kids on this very topic. when i overheard my oldest call another kid from his school that (not in front of him - while we were driving - he was venting to me), i practically pulled over and told him to never ever call anyone that again. his response - "Why? it's not a swear word...it just means 'dumb'" i used that opportunity to educate him on the use of the word, and the medical term itself. It was an eye opener to me that he didn't evenknow it was a REAL WORD - he just thought it was truly a word to call people when you're irritated with them. I told him the word "pleb" was much better at describing the morons of the world. Thanks for helping us all wake up a little with this beautiful post!

Katy Lin :) said...

wow. what a moving speech. it's so passionate and gripping just reading it, i can't imagine being in the room when it was being spoken. - thanks for sharing this

enjoy your SITS love today! :)

Leiann said...

That kid is definitely wise beyond his years. Thanks so much for sharing that.

Crazy Momma said...

Already commented on this one too...but again, so worth a second comment!

Having a son on the autism spectrum it is so important for people around us to remember that using words like the "R" word can be so hurtful....whether or not you intend for it to be a joke, it is still hurtful!

greedygrace said...

Beautiful. I was guilty of using this word more than once throughout my childhood. Then, when I was 18, my father met my stepmother, who has a mentally disabled son. Now I know how hurtful that word can be. Thank you for reminding us all!

Have fun on your SITS day!

dddiva said...

What a beautiful, moving story, thanks for sharing.

april kennedy said...

A very heartfelt THANK YOU for sharing, from a mother with a child who has Spina Bifida and is way too familiar with the fears that her child will not be able to defend himself because he will not know how even though capable.

Avery Tales said...

Thank you for sharing this moving letter. My aunt has spina bifada. When she was born the doctors said she wouldn't live to see her 2nd birthday. She's now 52 years old and is a retired dietician. I have been offended by the "R" word since I was a small child. I despised those who laughed at the way my Aunt walked, little did they know that is was a miracle she could even walk. Thank you again for sharing this beautiful story.

Rhea said...

Wonderful post. There's nothing worst than hearing other kids make fun of a handicapped child. It just kills me.

Lavender n Lattés said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lavender n Lattés said...

Wonderful story and what a great speech. I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye in the house at that graduation ceremony!

Mrs. S said...

I can't fully understand that in a society that is so advanced that we are so primitive in our hate.
For me, I plan to teach my child not only tolerance of people who are different, but love. It's so incredibly important for parents to teach their children that.

The Boss Lady said...

Amazingly well-put and sincere. Thank you.

Happy SITS day!

Cheryl said...

Amen!

mrsbear said...

You're right. There is no use for that word. Thank you for posting that eloquent speech. It brought me to tears. Congrats on the SITS day.

Michele said...

Wonderful post. I love it. I was over 35 with my last pregnancy and was shocked when the doctor pulled out a chart telling me what my chances are to have a child with Downs. He wanted to tell me "early on " so I would have a choice. Like it would have been a curse or something. It made me so sad. The world needs more education

Tabitha Blue said...

What a great post and story, it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing and for helping us all understand better what we know to be true... words are so important. :)

Teryn said...

Very Well said!

I haven't heard of this movie but I've been disgusted by similar ones in the past.

I used to teach a down syndrom boy in my church and his mother told me not to worry about helping him. He was just her "punishment"- how sad!

Doesn't she know? Don't people realize? I believe these children were the MOST perfect, the Most beautiful spirits in heaven.

And while the rest of us had to come to earth to learn something, the only reason they put up with such a tough world was to try to teach the rest of us.

We should really pay more attention don't you think?

Hairline Fracture said...

Thank you for a beautiful post. We should never belittle those with mental disabilities. I won't be letting my kids use the r-word (when they are old enough to hear it, I mean.)

Holly at Tropic of Mom said...

Very beautiful thoughts.

Amy said...

coming over from SITS... before I comment on the post- I just have to laugh about what you wrote above where I'm typing this comment to you- funny!

I will not be seeing that movie either. I think it's awful that people think it's ok to use that word...

thanks for posting this.

mrsmouthy said...

Thank you so much. I'd actually be okay with my kid saying the sh-word or the f-word at some point in his life, but NEVER the r-word. I mean it.

Natalie said...

Wow. So beautifully put. I didn't realize that I'd come across a blog that would touch my heart today...but I'm so glad I did.

Amy said...

YOu go! Always stand up for what you believe in. Wonderful post :D

TattooedMinivanMom said...

Consider me and my family now educated. I'm really glad you and especially this post have been featured.

Thank you.

Live.Love.Eat said...

Thank you for sharing this!!! It serves as a good reminder.

Crazy Sister said...

A few decades ago, babies with down syndrome were removed from their parents who were told to try for another baby, and placed in institutions where they were sterilised so they couldn't have kids.

Thank goodness we've moved beyond those days. But obviously, we have a long way to go yet...

Your story will stay with me. I'm sorry for all the idiots out there.

Serahs said...

Thanks for this very informative, touching post.

Adrian said...

That is a powerful essay. You should send it to a newspaper. I think people who use words like that need to be made aware of how hurtful this is.

I have taught my children not to use words like this or say things about people who are different in any way - whether they are disabled, or overweight, or a different race, or gay, or whatever. I explain to them how hurtful this is.

I will be honest enough to admit that I am a little uncomfortable when I am around people with disabilities, but I am working hard to overcome these feelings and I make sure that I am always as pleasant and courteous to them as I would be to anyone else.

Shanda said...

I work with individuals at an MHMR facility,and this post touched my heart. Thank you so much for sharing...I'll definitely be back to visit again.

Michelle said...

I've heard about this speech for a long time but never seen the full text. Thank you for sharing.

Heather said...

Sorry, the day got away from me so I'm dropping in on your big Featured Blogger day quite late!

As a fellow parent of a child with special needs, I hear you. Also, having worked in the field of vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities for several years prior to becoming a SAH mom, I hear you.

Too many people out there really need to hear you - including some of my former coworkers. Yes, even at a nonprofit agency dedicated to helping people with disabilities (developmental, intellectual, physical - you name it), people would use the R word. I'll never forget the time a coworker walked into the lunch room late and said "Gee, I'm such a R-----, I totally turned the wrong way down a one-way street just now." What shocked me most was that not everyone's jaw dropped as mine did to hear her say that.

It's about respect for fellow human beings, plain and simple.

I really appreciate you choosing this to be one of your featured posts today. I hope it helps spread the word even further.

angela | the painted house said...

Excellent post.

jenn3 said...

Very beautiful. And I had already decided not to watch that movie for this very reason.

Dee said...

Very thought provoking post. I can't believe they are doing a tshirt to go with that movie. My aunt had downs syndrome and I grew up watching my dad treat her like she was the Queen of Sheba when we went to visit, making her laugh and mucking around with her - I know now it was the best type of education for a young child to see. My best friend has a daughter with CP, and its the same, she's a beautiful child.

Shannon said...

Thanks for sharing... this is really a wonderful post.

Jenni @ nest to keep said...

That was a very touching post. It definitely gets me thinking. Thank you for writing about this.

Stephanie said...

Wow. I really enjoyed reading your post. It makes me so grateful to live in a time when the spectrum is getting more wide each day. With all of the hate there is love to counteract it. The same is so with war and peace, exposure and innocence, pain and joy... you are an inspiration. Your girls are blessed to have you as their mother.

Pinktulip said...

What a mature outlook on life! I am so glad that my kids are in a school that welcomes handicapped children and teaches our kids to be tolerant, understanding and helpful. My kids do not even notice or comment on handicapped children because it is part of their daily lives since grade 1. I wish all schools would do this. Sadly there will always be the ugly side of life.

Aubrey said...

I've always known it's bad to call handicapped children retards. Thanks for putting it in a new light. They deserve a special kind of respect. :)

Jade, Will and Illy said...

I have to agree with all that has been said here- this was thought provoking, heartfelt, and it made me choke up a little. Thanks for such a great post :)

Lilly's Life said...

Truly wonderful post, everybody in the world should have to read this. It should make people cry. Well done and love to you and your beautiful girls.

Alicia said...

You are so blessed to have such beautiful children! It hurts me so much when people make fun of anyone with a disability, no matter what it was AND words can hurt. I have known several people with down syndrome and what wonderful people/children they are.