You could be walking past a bus stop full of schools kids and hear a young boy call another ‘a retard’ for accidentally stepping on his foot. Whilst the intentions of the r word are central to being an insult that describes someone as inadequate, being an idiot/silly or crazy, to make fun of people, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities would very much disagree and argue that the r word has incredibly negative connotations and can be harmful regardless of the context it is used in.
Joseph Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics Virginia athlete and Global Messenger, would agree that the casual use of the r word should be banned as it is exclusionary, labelling a ‘them’ as unwelcome outsiders vs. an ‘us’ who are ‘normal’. The term “mental retardation” was initially coined as a clinical term, however as time has passed, the r-word is heavily used as an insult reinforcing negative stereotypes of being ‘unintelligent’ or ‘stupid’.
Particularly for individuals with mental disability or those that are handicapped, the r word is considered as hate speech with a central focus on dehumanising and mocking such individuals.
Despite this, some argue that the word is inoffensive if it is used in ‘jokingly’ manner, and it’s the intention/intended meaning in which a person uses the word that makes it offensive.
Similarly to other words like ‘dumb’ which is defined as:
1. ‘Temporarily unable or unwilling to speak
2. ‘Lacking the power off speech’ (Dictionary.com stated that this definition is offensive if used to refer to a human).
Nevertheless, these words are used every day, without the repercussions being thoroughly thought through. Similarly with the word ‘stupid’, it is defined as:
1. Lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind
2. Characterised by or proceeding from mental dullness; being foolish and senseless
3. Annoying or irritating
…and the list goes on.
A word of advice for us all. Let’s just all be a bit nicer to each other and chill with the insults, because you never know what the synonym of a ‘harmless’ insult is.
As the video above investigates, there’s never a ‘right’ time to use the r word.