Retarded

(Sept 13, 2011)

I was asked “Do you want to use the word ‘retarded’ when you write because a lot of people have a problem with that word?”

That is exactly why I use that word. That is the word people used on the playground to mock me. And then as people grew their mocking became more sophisticated and the word disappeared, but the attitudes remained the same. The people who used the word as a child are now saying as an adult “Don’t use the word!” because they don’t want to be reminded of their own obvious cruelty. Political correctness is a way for those in power to keep us quiet and protect egos. It sophisticates the abuse, makes it harder to fight against.

When I was growing up I had to deal with several types of people. There was, of course, the loud playground bully who would shout the word at me from across the school grounds, or corner me in the playgrounds and play baiting games while the rest of the school watched for entertainment.

There were the people who felt the word inside themselves, but who pretended the word and I both didn’t exist. These were the people who pretended I couldn’t see them and hid their eyes and walked away when I said “Hello.” I just wonder how these people could lie to themselves, could convince themselves that I had no eyes and could not see them. I wonder how these people could convince themselves that what I felt about them was not important.

Then there were those who could lie so effectively to themselves that they could twist their own prejudice into a badge of their superiority. These are people who can turn their own contempt and fear into pity. Individuals who held so little respect for my common humanity that my existence became only a means to assert their own self righteousness. Their voices became sickly sweet when they spoke to me, as if I was a baby with no mind. As if everything I said had such relevance, but in truth it had no impact at all. It was worse than the school bullies who had outright mocked me.

So there is some sort of maze I had to negotiate as a child with physical deficits. On one side of me were abusive monsters. On the other side of me were self-righteous condescending monsters. And scattered throughout were people trying to pretend I didn’t exist. And I could see them all.

I was ten and in Cubs. One of the leaders was speaking to me. The rest of the troupe had gathered around him and he was illustrating how you should speak to disabled people. I can’t remember what he said but I remember what I said.

“Stop patronizing me. I am a human being and have as much intelligence as anyone else here. Either talk to me as you would anyone else or don’t talk talk to me at all.”

He shrunk visibly. His tool for gaining self righteous superiority was talking back to him. And it wasn’t saying “Thank you.”

He never spoke to me again.

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