I never thought I would see the day when the word “retard” would be used in a political discussion.
But oh, that day has come and gone. Ann Coulter, a controversial conservative political commentator, referred to President Obama as a “retard” in a tweet after the Oct. 22 presidential debate. Favorited over 1,000 times and retweeted over 3,000 times, it appears that quite a few people agree with her usage of the often-debated “r-word,” and ostensibly think that the president has a mental disability. However, Coulter’s use of the controversial word has also resulted in a veritable shitstorm of criticism towards her. A 30-year-old man with Down syndrome, who is a Special Olympics participant, wrote an open letter to Coulter reprimanding her for using the word as an insult; dozens of parents with children with disabilities have blogged, tweeted and otherwise spoken out about what is wrong with the “r-word.”
Coulter’s casual use of the word “retard”—to describe the president, no less—was reprehensible, and not just because it was unprofessional. In my family, we never use the “r-word,” as my uncle has Down syndrome and has endured his fair share of ignoramuses insulting him because of his condition. Throwing around the word “retard” in casual conversation was never tolerated in my house. While “retard” was once an accepted term used to describe those with cognitive or developmental disabilities, now it has come to mean “stupid,” “idiot,” “loser,” etc., and using this word only perpetuates the idea that people with cognitive or intellectual disabilities are stupid, idiots, losers or whatever you mean when you say, “Ugh, you’re so retarded!”
My uncle Andrew is not stupid, an idiot or a loser. He works at Kroger’s, dotes on my grandmother and loves Elvis, James Bond and family parties. He’s a person deserving of respect and dignity, just like the rest of us. Using the word “retard” as an insult only demeans and belittles Andrew and millions of other people with special needs. That is not okay, and that isn’t fair. Next time you’re tempted to use the r-word, try to remember Andrew and the millions of people like him who are just as deserving of respect as you.