Tuesday, February 9, 2010

50. 24 carat "Retard"

This post is particularly difficult to write. It's not easy to admit when you're wrong. But I owe the world an apology, so it's time for me to swallow my pride.

Since Ozzie's birth, I have become an activist for children who have Down syndrome. Specifically, my goal is to stamp out online hate speech that is directed at the mentally disabled. But the recent national debate about the word "retarded" has shown me that this is a fool's errand. A retard's errand. Because in the past week I have come to understand the true value of retards. They are worth their weight in gold.

For example, they can be used as a classic visual joke. Just check out this clip from the Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert is one of my favorites, and this is Stephen at his finest:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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You might think that a visual joke would be enough. But retards have so very much more to give. See how they offer themselves up for a punishment in this article about football, brought to us by Brian Allen Carr at Dark Sky Magazine:

Those retards are just so cool about it, always stepping up to be the butt of the joke. Who knew retards even cared about sports?

So, surely that's it, right? That's all they're good for? Not even close. Those retards just keep giving. Need a snappy comeback? Turn to the retard. Check out this comment I read on my favorite movie news site last night. I just casually stumbled upon this:

Good one, madCanada. Deft use of the "R" bomb. Totally appropriate as a metaphor when you disagree with someone's taste in film. I mean, ricaleite2 is totally a retard. Am I right?

See? Society needs retards. The words "retard" and "retarded" are fundamental building blocks of the English language. Removing them would be like striking the letter "E" from the alphabet. Parents like me, who have been inexplicably offended by hearing those slurs tossed around, are selfishly trying to steal what we don't even rightfully own when we speak up for our children. And if you don't agree - if you just can't get this through your thick, retarded skulls - here's a brilliant commentary by comedian Lewis Black from last night's Daily Show. He really hammers that point home:

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Hear that laughter in the audience? Those people agree! They love retards! They love all things retarded! That faceless laughter is what finally made me see the error of my ways. I finally understand that I'm just being an asshole.

When Ozzie was born, I was sad. I was sad for awhile. But now I realize what a retard I was for feeling that way. Because the day Ozzie was born, fate handed me a living punchline. A little wriggling, squirming joke. A lifetime of laughter. And slowly but steadily, I'm learning that it's okay to love him a little less than I love my daughter. Society is constantly reminding me that it's okay to laugh AT him, not WITH him. That's his true value, the gift of the retard, and it just warms my heart.

Last night I gave Ozzie his breathing treatment. I placed a little purple breathing mask, which is adorably made to resemble a dinosaur's face, over his nose and mouth and turned on the machine that billows medicated fog into his lungs. I do this because Down syndrome has affected the anatomical structure of his airways and has weakened the muscles of his tongue and throat. He doesn't breath well, especially when he has a cold, and he has a cold right now. I thought about that as I held him. I thought about how unfair it is that he has to fight to breathe. And I'll admit, I started to get a little bit sad. But then I looked down at him, and instead of seeing my loving child, I saw him for what he really was - a wheezing retard in a dinosaur mask. Comedy gold. Can I get a rim shot?

So please, world, accept my apology. I didn't mean to be a buzzkill. I just didn't realize how much you treasured retards.


jonashpdx said...

Dan, you and I had a bit of a back and forth about some of this today in e-mail, and I'm in near total agreement with the anger and disgust I can feel in this post, though as you know, we disagree a bit on The Daily Show piece -- here's part of what I wrote to you earlier:

Yes, some of it made me cringe -- like the fake R-word tv show thing and the "tard" bracelet -- but the point of it to me seemed to be more about Palin's hypocrisy and Limbaugh's obviously horrendous use of the word. And I was actually pretty impressed at the audience's reaction to Limbaugh's use of "retards" -- there was a pretty audible groan rather than a laugh. Hell, if that's what it takes for people to understand that this word shouldn't be tossed around casually anymore, than I hope Limbaugh keeps spewing his bile.

I have to think that even six months ago, The Daily Show's coverage of this would've been more along the lines of "Sarah Palin doesn't like the word 'retarded'? Well, that's retarded." and just gotten a cheap laugh from it and moved on.

Highlighting it in the way they did makes me feel like we're actually gaining some traction with this issue. I mean, look at this piece:


As I wrote to you this morning, keep on fighting the good fight, Dan. I know there are days where it feels like you're just bashing your head against a brick wall, but you're doing good stuff for Oz and other kids, not to mention us parents.

My name is Sarah said...

This is Joyce, Oh how murky this is all getting. After 20 years I had hoped it would not be like this but we must press on. Thanks for taking the time to upload all the media. Would you mind if I linked to this?

Anonymous said...

oh phew... for a moment I thought you were serious.

JRS said...

Sounds like you and I are equally pissed right off about this. I wrote my own screaming post this morning using some of the same clips. While I agree that the Daily Show has come a little way on this issue and that Black was pointing out Palin's hypocricy, he did WAY more than that. I quite nearly threw my shoe through my own tv last night. What I really want to know, who I really want to hear from are Sarah Palin supporters and parents of children with a developmental disability. I've had friends renounce Limbaugh but say nothing about Palin backing his r-word rant. I'll say it again, my kid will not be used as a pawn for political gain, be you Dem or Repub.

Chrystal said...

Oh, Dan. This post. It broke my heart. I feel your pain. Seriously.

I also wrote about this issue. Not as poignantly as you did here, but I felt that my disgust needed to be publicized.

Yes, where are the supporters? Why is there not more outrage? This is not about politics; this is about our children.

TUC said...

I get that this is a purely facetious post that showcases your anger and deep frustration, but still it was hard for me to read.

I hate hate hate that so many apathetic, selfish people exist and can so easily hurt us through our beloved children.

Laurie said...

I keep coming back to this post, but I still don't know what to say. Like the others, this was SO difficult to read. As a matter of fact, I couldn't even bear to watch the clips...
Hugs, My Friend. You are doing such wonderful things for our kiddos. You are!

Lisa said...

One word: Bravo.

one_plustwins said...

Satire is okay?????? Really? Surely she is as (fill in the blank here) as the rest of them.

Dan, great post.

To Love Endlessly said...

this was very sad to read indeed. even sadder still that we look like the bad guys for advocating for our children to ask people to stop making fun of them.

Anne said...

Love this, Dan. Thanks for writing it.

L.L. Barkat said...

Just listening. Quietly.

(and linking)

Cole said...

Not really sure what I want to say- just that I'm reading- and gosh- I wish it could be this clear to everyone why it isn't ok. Some day, friend; until then, we'll keep going in...

Lisa said...

I can't even think of anything to say. You have bought to light a dirty little secret in our society. It hurts. Really, really bad.

I'm with you, Dan - and Ozzie! - and I'm glad you're in our corner.

Beth said...

Dan, thanks for this. I feel your pain.

Ann said...

This is a painful fight. And tiring.

If an author, performer, politician reads any feedback from parents on the offending nature of the slur...it is worthwhile. Sometimes I feel world weary for commenting on such hateful business. But I do, one article at a time.

This past Sunday in the New York Post, an article discussing political correctness noted that the word "retard" was initially meant as as euphemism for an "unpleasant fact". Really, the author penned that. An unpleasant fact. Sigh. There is so much work to be done.

Anonymous said...

I agree - some days this fight is so tiring and frustrating. The world is not a friendly place for our kids, is it?

Stacy said...

great post. i'm with you.

Linda said...

Dan- should the Oz Squad try to contact Sarah Palin? I've been doing battle regarding this whole issue on my FB account- and people's comments have really made me think about this. Maybe you don't agree, but I feel as if she's doing so much damage to our cause. Some people feel that any press is good press, but I disagree.

Fragrant Liar said...

This is the kind of post that educates people, makes them stop and think. This is the advocacy post for banishing the word. I wish you overwhelming readership for it.

Tricia said...

Wow. Thank you. Finally. Really. Linking.

Amy said...

I wish I still lived in Chapel Hill. Our kids could be meet! Great post.

Stephanie said...

Thank you Dan! Like Jen, I am pissed off about this....unfortunately, I can't let myself post about this yet....I would probably get banned from blogspot....:( I have already come close of FB. Thanks again!

Steph and Christopher

kara said...

Thank you for this.
-- Kara

Chaos Diaries said...


As the mother of a child with Down syndrome, when someone says "That's so retarded," what I hear is, "That's so Mason." I am no fan of political correctness, but this isn't an issue of political correctness; it's a matter of heart.
Thanks for the post!

Green Indulgence said...

This post is what did it for me. The r-word isn't my fight, and candidly I don't (didn't, prior to reading this, I should say) care much about the use of that word either way. But I do care about not making people hurt the way you were clearly hurting when you wrote this. I've just never seen the impact quite like this. Consider me converted to advocacy.

I know I'm not some big prize and my small epiphany isn't going to change the world - I wanted you to know, for yourself, in your heart, that you are reaching people.