Take a stand for Daisy

Retard - that word hits me like a knife through the heart.  9 years ago it would not have.  I did not even know what the politically correct term to refer to what we now call learning disability was.  I grew up using the word Mongol for a child with downs syndrome, spastic for someone with cerebral palsy - these were the accepted terms used by all.  In the playground we used the word spaz, thlid, mong... I referred to my best friend Angela, born to a Barbadian Mother and English Father as half caste.....this was the world we lived in.  The world where decades later through greater awareness, through political activism, through the constant perseverance of a few we started to think as a society about what we were actually saying.

Well that's my somewhat naive hope.  Because while as someone in their mid forties I understand and know what these words mean, it seems that one word in particular has crept in to become common parlance not just among teenagers, but adults too - that word is retard.  It's used as an insult, and it's used increasingly.  And I hate it.  Because when I see that word, I see a society that still does not understand that people with learning disabilities are different not less.  If that word is used as an insult then the intention is to compare the person being insulted to a person with a learning disability.  So, would they come up to my child and call her a retard to her face?  Maybe they would.  But maybe they are not even thinking about what they are saying.  There are over 1,000 people who follow Daisy's facebook page, can I say hand on heart that not one person on that follow list has never used the word retard.  Will they like a page about a child with a learning disability one minute and then call their mate a retard on a night out for doing something stupid?

I want people to think about what they are saying. When they use that word.  Their intention may be to insult but do they really understand what they are saying.  So when I hear it or read it I make it my mission to tell people what it means, regardless of the consequences to me.

A few months ago I stood in the queue in Sainsbury's while a very loud, well spoken, clearly well educated young woman was having a conversation on the phone, we all heard every detail especially when she commented that her friend "looked like such a retard in those photos".  So I calmly waited until she had finished speaking, and after she had paid for her shopping I went up to her and told her that I had a little girl with a learning disability and that the word retard was highly insulting to people with learning disabilities and maybe she would like to think before she used that word again"

She apologised to me and was obviously very taken aback, but maybe I made her think, maybe not, but I'd like to hope that she thinks twice next time.

I pulled someone up the other day, this time it was online, in a facebook group I am a member of, there was a funny post and I called up the comments to see what people had said and in a flash the funny post had been forgotten, because the first comment was something along the lines of "their parents must have been retarded to choose that name".  Now the internet is a different place to the queue in Sainsbury's - in the supermarket it was just me, woman on the phone and a handful of onlookers.  On the internet you are exposing yourself to thousands of opinions, you need to have a thick skin.  But I don't care because I know that the internet is a powerful thing to change minds.  My twitter friend, Mrs Nicky Clarke, extracted an apology and a change of heart from Ricky Gervais when she pulled him up on the use of the word "Mong".

If I am to be an advocate for my daughter who cannot make her views made, I need to take a stand for her.  So next to this man's comments I typed " Please don't use the word retarded, I have a 9 year old daughter with a learning disability and when I hear that word it is like a knife through my heart, you may think it's just a word but you wouldn't use the N word in the same way"

All day long my phone pinged with notifications as people either "liked" my comment or commented on it.  On the whole the comments were encouraging but some were really worrying and reminded me that we have so far to go still.  

Many of the negative ones basically said that it was just a word and I should not get so offended.  Someone said that they have a child with autism and they don't find the word offensive, someone said that she called her black friend nigger and in return was called whitey (I kid you not) and someone posted this quote from Stephen Fry (made in 2006 while interviewing Christopher Hitchens

To be honest, I love Stephen Fry, he's a national treasure for God's sake - but this quote is completely taken out of context and bandied around to excuse any sort of name calling.  He said this in relation to religious beliefs, and as far as I am aware he has never said anything similar since this 

Yes it is just a word, am I offended? No,  because I do not have a learning disability.  But my daughter who does, who can't answer you back but has the right to an opinion as much as you, she is mightily offended because when you are dismissing someone as being retarded, you are saying that people like Daisy are not worthy of an equal billing with the rest of humanity.  Because her brain does not work as quickly as yours is she less of a human being?  Because of a completely sporadic mutation in a gene is she no longer entitled to a voice or an opinion.  Because as Daisy's mum I know she has a voice and an opinion,maybe not in a way you recognise but it's my role to make sure you hear it.  And it's also my role to make sure that if I hear someone use a word that refers to Daisy and other people with learning disabilities in a negative and derogatory way then I need to pick them up on it.

So I'm asking you, the people who read this blog, the people who follow my twitter feed and Daisy's Facebook page - will you stand up for Daisy too?  And the thousands of children and adults like her in the UK? When you hear a friend, a colleague a stranger describe someone or something retarded, are you prepared to put your neck on the line and pull them up on it?  You may find yourself on the receiving end of some abuse but maybe, you may also remind someone to really think about what they are saying, because it does matter.  It's not about being offended, or about being politically correct or using the latest term, it's about doing what's right and respecting other human beings. 

Be brave, take a stand, say no to the R-word.

PS - I just checked that facebook group and the original poster removed his post, maybe the fact that 137 liked the fact that I picked him up on his use of the word retard hit home, I like to think that anyway.....


Stephs Two Girls said...

Oh gosh, this is something I feel so strongly about too, and you're right it's not about being offended or not, it's about educating/informing people. Most people, well at least the decent ones, wouldn't want to go around hurting others intentionally, so I definitely would inform them, politely of course. If they then still choose to use those words, there is nothing you can do except walk away, hoping they would never come into contact with your daughter. I can't believe this word is still used - am glad I haven't ever heard it in life myself. But the internet is a scary place sometimes, and this word could easily become widespread again, hurting thousands. I have half a post written on a similar topic, must get around to finishing it! xxx

Looking for Blue Sky said...

Well said x

Muddling Along said...

Well said - you are right to be offended, you are right to pull people up on this and we should all be doing the same. Shame on those who have tried to make this about your reaction rather than the initial offensive comments

Todd said...

Found your blog threw "living with bob" (I have dysautonomia). I am in
my thirties, and have learning disabilities... but probably not what you
are thinking! You see, in the US "learning disability" is used to mean
specific learning problems, like dyslexia or dyscalculia. In the US the
term "intellectual disability" is used to mean the dx that your blog
post is about.
Other parts of the world use vastly different terms to
mean the same thing. Always changing the words threw pejoration or the
"euphemism treadmill". Your use of "learning disability" will someday
become extremely offensive, and you may be going threw this blog
changing words and deleting posts. Heck, the "L" word could be very
offensive to me and many in the US the way it is used in the UK (it is

Not trying to make you feel bad, the "R" word hurts, I know
first hand. My abusive father called me a "retard" routinely because he
knew it hurt me so much. Kids called me "retard" in school. I didn't
handle it very well because of what we now call asperger (that dx didnt
exist back then). It led me to a few suicide attempts.

obvious problem was that I was so strongly offended by the word... I let
it destroy my self esteem, I let it get to me so much. If the R word
was wiped out of existence, then people would have found a new word to
replace it. It hurts because we let it hurt us.
While I am against
the use of the word, it is impossible to erase its existence. I would
rather spend my time trying to teach others how to not let these words
hurt them. Then maybe people will stop using it?