Lifestyle Feature

​Stop Being "Retarded"

Chad W. Lutz
​Scroll through major headlines over the last two or three years and you'll find a smorgasbord of race- and gender-related issues. Former Olympic decathlete Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner infamously announced her transgender identity in early 2015. The same year, and around the same time, Baltimore was overrun with race riots that effectively closed most of the city in response to the police-related death of Freddie Gray. And over the past couple of years, our country's perceived levels of political correctness and the social responsibility of law enforcement have been heavily under fire.

Calls for reform have been made in every facet of daily life starting with the words we use to describe the world around us to the processes and systems set in place to serve and protect us. Conversations about the ways our police should be held more accountable for their actions and we ourselves should act toward one another have finally made it to the nation's table. Social change is imminent. But despite the movements toward gender equality and ebbing at least some of the racial tensions our country currently faces, there is still one area of progress I feel we've either forgotten or are leaving behind.

And it's just one word.

I hear this word used among my peers and constituents. It's used as casually and as freely as, "Please," and "Thank you." There was a while when I was a kid where I thought it was just as natural to use this word. I've heard it at the dinner table, used in the office, and shouted at sporting events. It's used to mean something stupid, something upsetting, something frustrating. Something dumb. That word is "retarded" and I honestly can't believe there are grown adults still using this slur in 2016.

When I was younger, there were the Big Three: "Gay," "Retarded," and "Fag." Thanks to social change and the wider acceptance of persons of homosexual persuasions, I rarely hear "Gay" and "Fag" used to describe things that are "dumb" or "stupid" or "frustrating." The power of those words has been taken back, and "Gay" no longer works its way into conversations about how much homework the teacher assigned for the next day or why the older kids get to sit at the back of the bus. And the same goes for "Fag." You still have the occasional bigot who shoots this word off at the hip, but purely out of personal insecurities, and as a society I think we recognize that more these days than we ever have before.

But, "Retarded?" That one still gets me.

At face value, the word "Retarded" means something slow, or slower. It doesn't mean something is stupid or frustrating. This insensitive and damaging repurposing of language to describe, in a very derogatory manner, persons of developmental or physical disabilities, and further to describe things as being "frustrating" or "stupid" in clear reference to individuals afflicted with certain mental and physical challenges should receive as much tact, attention, and consideration as the issues surrounding race and gender.

The issues surrounding "Retarded" are that the word implies something that isn't true by fallacy of association. Just because something is "Retarded" doesn't mean it's stupid, but we, as a society, are making that connection and purveying that notion. What happens, unconsciously, consciously, whatever, is that people associate things that are dumb or pointless or frustrating beyond capacity to reason with actual human beings that face challenges just like the rest of us. It's the same principle that's led to the widespread washing out of "Gay" and "Fag" from our culture's daily vernacular.  What bothers me is that people understand why it isn't good to use "Gay" and "Fag" to say things are dumb instead of just saying they're dumb, but they'll almost automatically say things like, "This retard in the lane next to me won't use his blinker," or "that girl's just being retarded."

No, they're just being difficult people, and we should stop labeling them with a word that draws a false and unjust comparison at the expense of others.