By Spencer Beatty
About the Author: Spencer Beatty is a 2015 graduate of Muscatine High School. Beatty was a First Team All-Conference, and All District football player at Muscatine and is a Wide Receiver at Western Illinois University. Beatty is the son of Stacy and Scott Beatty. Beatty wrote this letter as an open letter for a class and we felt it should be published.
“That’s retarded.” “Quit acting like a retard.” “I’m so retarded. I forgot to turn the oven on.” These are all examples of very commonly used phrases said and heard about the “R” word. Unfortunately, people fail to recognize the disgracefulness and obtuseness characterized when using this word in that fashion. Eddie Barbanell, co-leading actor in, The Ringer, a speaker for the Spread the Word to End the Word movement, someone with an intellectual disability says, “I feel that people should not be using this. It’s demeaning, insulting. It’s a discriminatory and derogatory word in schools, in the work force, on streets, on playgrounds.” He is exactly right. This word offends more people than you think and should not be tolerated in any form.
Retard is defined as, “characterized by a slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress,” and also defined in slang terms as “stupid or foolish,” according to Dictionary.com. The first definition describes how doctors, parents and/or friends may use the word to describe someone with an intellectual disability. Unfortunately, the majority of people use the slang definition as the primary definition of the “R” word. People today use the word “retard” like it doesn’t affect anyone, and that is what disgusts me the most, pure ignorance. Have you ever spent an hour, or let alone a day, having a conversation with someone who has an intellectual disability? Some may have had a bad experience, or whatever their narrow-minded excuse may be, but I bet the majority of the people who regularly use the word would think twice about saying the “R” word after meeting someone who suffers from mental impairments.
People today throw around the terms homo, fag, the n-word, retard, and so on, like they have no meaning. But what do these terms all have in common? They are ALL commonly used in today’s society to demean other people, mainly by adolescents. They are ALL derogatory and offensive words used to describe people, usually when misunderstanding, hate, and rawness of the words are involved. Different words offend a variety of people. People NEED to be more cautious and understanding of the “R” word, along with these other words as well.
In high school, I worked at a local gas station and pizza place. There was a guy named Jared, who was mentally challenged and would come in almost every night. Jared had an intellectual disability, but everyone knew Jared. Every single time he would come to the store, he would get a one-liter bottle of Diet Mountain Dew and talk about the Iowa Hawkeyes, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago Bears. And every single time he would come in with this hefty smile on his face. Talking with him and seeing him light up from a simple conversation could really change my whole mood and perspective about those with intellectual disabilities.
When thinking of the “R” word I ask everyone to reconsider, or refrain from using it, because it truly does affect more people than you think. Much like what Barbanell said, this word is very demeaning and insulting. I’d rather you think of someone like Jared, who may be mentally challenged, and slower than the rest of us, but a kind-hearted, caring, wonderful human being, and not, “stupid or foolish,” as perceived.
I chose to speak out about this particular topic because it really hits home with my family. I have a cousin, Ben, who is 15 years old, that I am very close with who is considered intellectually disabled. Ben has impacted and inspired many people who come into contact with him, and especially everyone in our family and friends. I asked my Aunt, who is the mother of Ben, my grandmother, and mom, what the word “retard” meant to them and how it has impacted them throughout their life.
When I asked my grandma if she could tell me how the word “retard” has affected her she started out by telling me she never thought the “R” word would ever be more than just another word. She also stated that when growing up, “we threw that word (along with others) around like it was nothing … we never meant to insult or hurt anyone, it was just a word.” And this is still the problem to this day with our society. It’s just another word. Later on she told me when she started to realize the true impact of the word. It was a Sunday afternoon about five years ago and she says, “I was in my kitchen preparing for Sunday dinner with the family, when one of the grandkids did something I considered “stupid” and I called them the “R” word. My grandson Ben was the first to tell me that that was not a nice word.”
My mother, an educator, related this to what she sees in-and-outside of the classrooms, and what she sees and hears on a daily basis. One thing that really caught my attention is when she said, “It seems more and more people are practicing I greater than we” which I couldn’t agree more with. She adds on, “When people use their words incorrectly, we need to comment. By not speaking up, we are giving them permission to continue to show intolerance and prejudice.” She is exactly right. This starts with educating people about the words and how much of an impact just another word could actually affect someone.
Angie Draves, my aunt, mother of two, Ben and Jake, had a similar response as my grandma and mother, but much more personal, as one would presume. In most cases, the care and love a mother has for her children is unfathomable. She describes her relationship with Ben as “the one person that can make me laugh and cry all at the same time,” which many of us can relate to the laughing part, but not so much the crying part; it is far beyond our understanding of being the mother to someone with an intellectual disability. Even after all of the therapy, treatments, and doctor visits, when Ben was diagnosed with “mental retardation” at age 8 (something she knew was coming), she described as, “When I heard the word ‘retardation’ it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Not because of his diagnosis, but because he had a label that doesn’t always come with a positive stereotype.” My aunt went on to describe that she has a, ”natural instinct” to protect him from the ignorance of the world because, “when you use the word ‘retard’ you are talking about someone- a person, a human, my son.” My aunt urges everyone to take the next step. Make a change. Grow, learn, and be better. She claims, “It can be uncomfortable to correct others, but I am asking you to be uncomfortable. Don’t stand by and let others use the word. You have heard our stories, now go make a difference, have compassion and be the change.
We as humans and a society have an obligation to treat others with respect, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, disabilities, sex, or whatever it may be. Even though someone may be “different” than you that does not make him or her any less special. My cousin Ben is one of the funniest and friendliest people you will ever meet, and I strongly encourage you to think twice when regarding someone as retarded.