“Retarded”

C— or R— admonished me via email about my use of “retarded.” The last time a reader objected to my use of “retarded,” I had used it in reference to my imaginary puppy. In “Yoga,” I used “retarded” in reference to me. C— and R— sound like a couple that share an email address, although the unsigned text is written in first-person singular, so I don’t know who actually wrote the message. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever been taken to task more gently than by R— or C—. I hope I’m as nice. Prolly not.

I used “retarded” this time as an afterthought and at first attributed my initial rejection of yoga to “insanity,” which nobody seems to mind. Then I decided or realized that since I eventually came to a better understanding, I could be described as slow in developing whatever faculty was involved in the decision. I was “retarded,” off the pace.

C— or R— suggests that I could have used a less loaded term and still made my point. Obviously, and offense is still a choice, though perhaps an unconscious one, and I think the cause of hurt feelings may be the judgment that intellectual facility is of primary importance to all people everywhere, and so those whose intelligence is deemed deficient are victims of misfortune and it’s bad juju to mention it.

I used to think that intellect was the most important thing in life. As much as anything, I thought that way because I attended public primary and secondary schools, where it was made clear for 12 fucking years that fast, accurate answers were students’ highest duty after obedience to all authority, including the janitor. Children who couldn’t remember enough facts or respond quickly or stay in line were devalued and failed by teachers, and denigrated and ostracized by other children.

Now I don’t think much of conventional intelligence. It’s just conventional and useful for making things, especially out of petroleum. I don’t think of retarded, or intellectually challenged, or developmentally disabled, or downright stupid people as deficient or unable to have a rich life experience or in any way less than I am. I respect tardos as people and thinking of them or hearing someone refer to them or me as retarded doesn’t make me feel bad.

A friend suggested that labels are lies anyway. Yes, they are, and labels for realities are about all language has to offer. If a label is a useful lie, I’m fine with it. R— or C—sounds like a good person, at least that’s my judgment, and I hope she or he can accept that nobody controls language, no matter how kindly their motives. Relax, it’s all good.

5 comments

  1. Interesting that “retarded” came out the same day that i found this startling information: Called on by the serial womanizer Joseph Kennedy to “treat” his gregarious, free-spirited 21 year old beautiful daughter, Rosemary (sister of John Kennedy), Freeman’s lobotomy rendered her so passive and dysfunctional that the family had to pass her off as “mentally retarded,” and she spent the next 63 years in the care of nuns. In an attempt to hide the disgraceful butchery of his daughter, Kennedy and his family donned the mantle of protectors of the mentally ill and mentally retarded.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a disgusting article! I am deeply saddened, disturbed, and appalled by your complete lack of compassion and respect for cats. “ . . . my front yard would be big enough to swing a dead cat . . .”

    From the moment you saw the lifeless, unloved gray cat until you—“ . . . with great joy”—let Waste Management “get rid of it,” you revealed nothing but heartlessness and arrogance. Your insensitive, uncaring attitude and behavior make me sick to my stomach!

  3. My favorite line in a television show comes from the show “Rescue Me,” where an adult with a developmental disability looks to a person of “normal” faculties and says, “And they call me retarded.” Seems to me you lack basic social intelligence. You may say its peoples choice to be offended by your choice of verbiage but I say as a journalist its your choice to be offensive. If you’re going for the Howard Stern thing then more power to you but you’re still an asshole. I work for a non profit with adults who have developmental disabilities and I coach special olympics because being around their population is easier than putting up with jerks like you. I’m offended because you think you deserve the right to throw that word around. Spend a day with the developmentally disabled population, get to know what’s in their hearts and souls, and see if you still want to throw that word around. I’m willing to bet you’d be the first to pipe up if a white female like myself complained of being worked like a cotton picking nigger, so what gives you the right to use retarded? You have a media outlet and though its not The Times you should still use it more wisely than you do.

  4. Ken Devol says:

    When I was seven I played with a kid who was seventeen — old enough to shave. We played with Tonka trucks in his sandbox, and drew pictures together. Mine were more advanced than his. He was retarded (in the nomenclature of the day). Today he would be developmentally disabled. Ho-hum; he was who he was and I was who I was, and that was the thing that mattered. We got along fine.
    Language is a colorful thing, and people who are frightened by it have ample opportunity for offense. Context and intent. Context and intent. Content and intent.

    In a different vein, Anthony, one thing I’ve learned from reading your column is how to be angry without being outrageous. It’s a gift. Thanks!

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