Re-word the future

December 16, 2011
By Michele Rosati BRONZE, Brooklyn, New York
Michele Rosati BRONZE, Brooklyn, New York
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Faking a smile to mask my ambivalence, I approached a boy sitting alone in the over-crowded cafeteria. I never interacted with a handicapped person before and I didn’t know what to expect. Before my lips could form a greeting Mikey interjected, “Hi! I can’t wait to have fun with my new buddy.” Stunned by his articulate welcome, he eradicated my stereotypical expectation of the mentally-challenged. Eager to converse, Mikey’s untainted curiosity exposed an engaging dialogue; however, as we entered the hallway our conversation diminished.
With each step, his apprehension intensified. The gregarious boy I met twenty minutes ago vanished. Sheepishly reaching for my hand, I subtly ignored his gesture in fear of committing social suicide. Before I could question his change in character I recognized the cause of his recoil. Insensitive cliques of gossipers shouted ominous comments that echoed through the halls, “Who’s the retarded kid? Did you lose a bet?” I can’t say this was an epiphany, but it was a transformative moment. I reflected on its tactless utilization and disparaging effects. Firmly gripping Mikey’s hand we navigated through a swarm of students ignorant to the power of their own words.
Retard, a corruption of the word retarded, is a painful stereotype forced upon the mentally-challenged. These six letters plague those battling intellectual disabilities. Said with the intention to insult, retard mocks a handicapped individual’s desire to be accepted in society. They are teased because they can’t comprehend at a pace society deems fit, yet ridiculers ignore the diligence the mentally-handicapped exert to accomplish simple actions that most take for granted.
Society distorts the innocuous definition into a pejorative comment that implies insignificance. This way of mocking a friend’s stupidity is hate speech. In an attempt to justify their ignorance, many feel the mentally-handicapped are incapable of deciphering odious comments against them. This populace fails to realize that the handicapped are more alike than different. They laugh just as loud, dream just as big and smile just as bright as the rest of us; consequently, their pain is just as real. Racial slurs and biased insults have emotional impacts; “retarded” is no different. Mikey’s reclusive retreat demonstrates that even charismatic individuals can be intimidated by disparaging comments.
Millions worldwide guiltily utilize this terminology everyday. Television host, Chelsea Handler, broadens this malignant speech weekly when an estimated 900,000 viewers tune in to her program. Former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, contributed to this dehumanization by calling opponents of “Obama-care” “retards”.
Dehumanizing language has the power to stigmatize those with cognitive and developmental disabilities. It is of paramount importance that the label retard is eradicated from the dictionary as well as our minds. The mentally-challenged are more than just a word; they are a part of our community. Society has made great strides in eliminating many forms of hate speech; for Mikey’s sake it is time to spread a new “r-word”: respect. We may not be able to re-write the past, but we can re-word the future.

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