Where is the outrage?

27 Feb 2012 by Cheryl Chan, 3 Comments »

This is one of those times when I’m going to make reference to my Facebook friends and risk annoying people, but they know me well enough to know that I am passionate and they love me anyway.

I posted this on my wall recently, with 2 words: SHARE THIS.  2 people did, out of over 500 (between 2 accounts).  Slightly disappointing, to say the least.

This is an excellent PSA, but you and I both know it won’t be shown during the Super Bowl (next year), the Grammys, Oscars, or during The Wizard of Oz.  It probably won’t get any airtime outside of 3am-6am on cable, in fact.  I haven’t seen it yet – have you?  Other than on YouTube, where you have to search for it if you know it’s there because somebody put it on their Facebook wall.

I want people to be as angry over this as I am.  Hollywood movies are getting away with using the R-word, so I guess that makes it ok?  You hear it dropped all the time in public, by people of all ages and socio-economic levels, and nobody even blinks.  I bet many of you cringed when you heard the opening lines of this PSA – those words have become painful to hear, offensive even in this context.  But not “retard.”

It seems we are early in the evolution of this word as an insult akin to the others.  From a sociological point of view, it’s interesting.  If you look up the history of the word, it’s derived from a Latin word used to describe someone who meets the clinical criteria for mental retardation, and was actually a later word (earliest usage is found in the late 1800′s) after its predecessors like idiot, moron and imbecile became derogatory.  It has only been considered deragatory since the 1960′s; seem recent, but that’s an entire generation that has continued to accept the word as a term used for anything that is unintelligent, less than worthy, inadequate – to say it nicely.  An entire generation, and it’s still going strong.

It parallels our society’s still-evolving acceptance of people with diverse intellectual abilities, in my opinion.  Although I dare say, when it comes to acceptance, we’re not quite evolving – we’re in the stone age.  We’re still trying to move people out of institutions and give them dignity of life.  The recognition that people with disabilities have the same rights to education as anyone else is a concept legalized only in the 1970′s.  The founders of HMEA were pioneers in fighting for the rights of people who were tossed away and left to lead subhuman lives in state homes for ‘imbeciles’ and ‘morons’ – just 50 years ago!  The people they helped are still alive!

I was talking to a fellow parent last summer and she described something someone said as being ‘retarded.’  I told her that’s not a word that should be used to describe anything, any more than I would point out a person and refer to them as “that nigger or that fag over there.”  Her mouth dropped open and she gasped.  ”It’s really as bad as THAT?!”  Yes, my friend, it is.  And we all have a responsibility to let others know that it’s in the same class as the other words we would never use.  I actually had someone un-friend me on Facebook and say that I’m over-dramatic and he doesn’t want to deal with me because I’m joining the effort to end the R-word.  Two examples of how much more work needs to be done.

I’m angry, yes, but I’m keeping the faith that with baby steps like this PSA and the Campaign to End the R-Word.  I’m inspired by people like this Dad who shared the lines below with Children’s Hospital of Boston.  I guess the only thing I can do is continue to reject the word and ask others to do the same.  Please share this with someone today, and be a part of something really, really big!
Being Retarded – by a father at the Down Syndrome Program at Children’s Hospital of Boston.

All around me, people use the word retarded without a second thought. Sometimes, I’ll say “Um, dude, really?” and they’ll say “Oops, my bad! But really! I was being so retarded!”

Sometimes, I let it slide. I realize that it’s a word that’s ingrained in our society’s vocabulary and people use it without a second thought to its meaning.

But what does it mean to be retarded? Well, I know what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite 100 choices in front of you.

It doesn’t mean not being able to find your car keys.

It doesn’t mean saying the wrong thing to a person.

It doesn’t mean forgetting your best friend’s birthday.

It’s not something to describe yourself as when you’ve spilled your coffee, or tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s not something to describe your computer, car or phone.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word “retarded” means -

: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress

For me, it’s not just any old word – it’s my daughter. My beautiful, bright, happy, loving, amazing daughter who is slow or limited in intellectual development and academic progress.

In our household, being retarded means something different.

It means not being able to fully care for yourself.

It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do to you.

It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts.

It means not being able to ride a two wheeler. Or read. Or ever be able to live on your own.

But ever the optimist, I also know that retarded means…

…never realizing the negativity behind the word retarded.

…never knowing the insensitivity surrounded the word’s usage.

…never realizing the ignorance of people.

…never knowing how other people view you.

Being retarded also means…

…loving unconditionally.

…finding joy in the smallest of things.

…being self-confident.

…not realizing that there are limitations.


About Cheryl Chan

Cheryl Chan has written 17 articles on this blog.

Cheryl Chan is the Community Manager for HMEA, Inc and the Autism Resource Center of Central MA. More importantly, Mom to Nick, age 17 who has low-functioning Autism; and Isabelle, age 11, who is a budding fashionista. Social Media evangelist, advocate, motorcycle rider who speaks Japanese.


  1. dawn says:

    Finally getting to catch up on the blog this morning… thank you so much for your insight on this, Cheryl. This is such a raw topic for so many families, while others simply do take it for granted. I’m sorry I haven’t shared before now (I don’t often get to do more than “Like” on FB for a long time now), but today I will. I promise. Please keep being your passionate self… baby steps…

  2. community says:

    Thank you very much for posting this excellent information! I am looking forward to checking out more of your stuff.

  3. I figured that the more I read a good book, the smarter I get. You might wish to include that to your site

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