“People always ask me if I know I’m buying two of everything. Yes, I know! I have twins. What do they think I am, retarded?” The woman in front of me at the checkout said to the cashier. She looked kind and intelligent. I know she was talking without thinking. I know she didn’t intend to be hurtful. But retarded does not mean stupid.
The next day, I was listening to the Diane Rhem show on NPR and one of her guests, a seasoned reporter, said that one of the Republican presidential candidates was “acting as if he had Tourettes.” Diane gently pointed out that this might be offensive to those who live with Tourettes.
When I entered “Tourettes” into the search bar on Twitter, these tweets came up:
- “About to play like I have tourettes if these folks keep staring at me”
- “Work is causing me to have a severe case of tourettes. Floored at the workload. FLOORED! Calgon, take me away.”
- “i keep RT’n u its jus cos u feel how i do & surprisingly ur puttin it into words, i seem to have tourettes right now”
When I entered “retarded” into the search bar on Twitter, these tweets came up:
- “I feel retarded when I’m trying to txt with cold hands.”
- “A cheerleader is a dancer gone retarded”
- “Still having trouble using the correct “you’re/your”? Use “ur” because you’re retarded.”
Before I had children, before I realized one of my children has autism, I did not think about the misuse of words like retard or spaz. I did not think that saying, “I’m a little OCD,” to refer to my preference for order might be painful to someone listening.
Becoming aware makes us kinder people.
I am a first-generation Ukrainian-American. I grew up in an all-things-Ukrainian community. We Ukrainians stomped our feet and wailed because most people, if they’d heard of Ukraine at all, thought it was the same as Russia. I thought I was so smart because I knew where Ukraine was and knew some Ukrainian history. I knew not to say “The” Ukraine.
Then, in college, I started discovering what I did not know. I had never heard of Cambodia and was uncertain of Pakistan and Indonesia’s locations. I did not know that people my age had, as small children, hidden in self-dug basements while bombs fell or terrorists searched for them.
Oops. Not as smart as I had thought.
We know what we know. And we don’t know much more. None of us knows everything.
We are ourselves, with our own experiences, gifts, and challenges.
But we can learn — by listening to and reading stories of fellow humans.
I have found that it is impossible to hate someone once you know their story.
If you still think it’s okay to casually use the R-word as an insult, please read this post about a beautiful cognitively impaired girl. Then, read more stories about people (you think are) not like you. Listen. Tell your story.
Knowing and understanding are bliss. Ignorance is not.
“Jumby is many things, but he is not, RETARDED.
He is not the butt of your jokes, he is not what you mean when you accidentally or casually toss the ‘retarded’ word around.”
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