I did it!
Today I actually put into action my previous plan. It wasn’t long* or eloquent, but it was polite. A student made a remark about doing something “retarded”, and I asked in a sympathetic tone,
“Please don’t use that word. You can say you’re doing something foolish, or that you’re tired, or even just being human. We all have moments like this.”
This post is a part of the annual BADD, Blogging Against Discrimination Day, which is being hosted at Diary of a Goldfish. I spend a lot of blogging time discussing various disability issues, but for BADD I wanted to do something outside of the usual analyses. Like in my example above, I thought it would be useful to offer some alternatives to disability- or difference-related words that are frequently used not just as insults but also as disaparaging terms e.g. retard, retarded, tard, moron, cretin, lame-brain, spaz, mong, lame, having two left feet, cack-handed, blonde, gay, queer, psycho, schizo, short-bus, gyp, et cetera ad nauseam.
Note that I said as disparaging terms; saying someone is gay to mean homosexual, or that your cat is lame because it has a leg in a cast is one thing, but dismissing something as “That’s so gay,” or “That’s a really lame excuse,” is quite another. (I will confess that I have used “lame” in this way because I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I’m not going to any more.)
In any regard, the acid-test is simple: when you are using a word that describes a group of people, or a characteristic of [a group of] people, and are using it as an insult, that is rude. The reverse is also true: if you are using an insulting term and ascribing to everyone in a group, that is stereotyping and rude. These negative words perpetuate social stigmas and stereotypes against people with disabilities. Using them continues to dehumanise people. If the characteristic or attribute is something that a person cannot [easily] change, then insulting it or using it as an insult is wrong. (Meaning, it’s always open-season on ugly neckties, barring describing it with these sorts of words.)
It is not enough to sit around and kvetch about what’s wrong in the world; we must also offer things to do instead. So, here’s a starter-list of other words to use. Not only do they not reference the negative stereotypes, but they are also less hurtful words — they take the event and keep it within the realm of ordinary human fallibility: things we all do. In this way, we don’t distance ourselves from other people as being other people — we just comment upon their actions.
I would also like to direct your attention to The “R” Word Campaign.
* Not long? Shocking, I know. I’m not always as loquacious in real life as I am in print.