Writing this might well be a mistake. Making it a public entry might be a mistake. But bear with me, as this has been brewing for a while, and every time I see people ranting about it (some more coherently than others), it does piss me off...and there really IS no safe place to say anything about it. On the offchance that this attracts any attention at all: I'm presenting my view and being civil. I'd ask that anyone responding do the same.
There's no nice way to say it: I find it HORRIBLY insulting...ableist, even...that a bunch of apparently neuro-typical people have taken it upon themselves to be "crusaders" for those who are "unfortunate" enough to not have the same privileged, able status as they do. Included in this is telling people that using the word "retarded" is hurtful to actual retarded people when you yourself have never experienced the effects of ableism (being called retarded and treated like you are - which, by the way, are two entirely different things) in all its glory.
Since sometime in college, I've made secret of the fact that I've got mild to moderate Asperger's. That's a high functioning autism spectrum disorder, folks. It means I'm not neuro-typical. The diagnosis was fairly life-shattering; I was 14 or 15 and had been struggling in school for a year and a half. At first my parents chalked it up to uprooting the family and dragging us off to Arlington, VA (where the public schools are flat out awful) for a year. Then we came home to a good school system and I still failed to succeed the same way I had in a somewhat alternative middle school. They took me for testing, most of which I don't remember.
I do, however, remember how I found out: my mom was the first to know, since I was, of course, still a minor. Her first move was to call a neighbor who had experience in child psychology, saying that she didn't know how to deal. She thought I was at the computer with my headphones in and couldn't hear. Her solution was to have me pretend that I had not, in fact, heard something life-changing and to pretend to be happy. I think I got dragged off to watch Man of La Mancha later that night, but I was completely unable to enjoy it.
Of course, at this point, since it was KNOWN what was "wrong" with me, steps were taken to "fix" it. In this case, that was an IEP. For more than 3 years, my peers KNEW there was something different. I sometimes took my tests separately because I couldn't concentrate in the same room as everyone else. I received notes in packets, and didn't actually learn how to take my own until I took a class where note-taking wasn't a required skill.
Because the school had never dealt with a HIGH FUNCTIONING autistic student, I got put in the special academic lab with the rest of the kids the school had...uh...PROBLEMS with: lower functioning, severely hyperactive or ADD. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and these kids did what kids do when one person in their midst is unlike them. I think they were thrilled to have someone to gang up on and call retarded for once. This academic lab was topped off by a teacher who was clearly unqualified for the job, and insisted on giving us photocopies of Sesame Street coloring books and crayons to occupy us if we didn't have homework.
Then there was the debate about whether or not I should be ALLOWED to take honors courses. I wasn't ABLE to take honors English. Hell, I barely functioned in regular English. This is the Asperger's at work: to me, a story is a story. I don't look for deeper meaning unless I'm hit over the head with it. Looking for deeper meanings is all honors English (and, to a lesser extent, regular English) fucking is. I was, however, completely able to finish an honors social studies course and an honors science course, both of which were courses the school was reluctant to allow me to take, because I'd failed so spectacularly in English.
That isn't saying anything about when I go to the doctor's office and say "I have [x] problem" and they immediately ask "is it because of your Asperger's?" Or when they ask me if I'm on a certain medication because of the Asperger's.
Here's the deal, though. I see a bunch of neuro-typical people who haven't slogged through half as much shit trying to be "crusaders" all over the place. I find this insulting. Why?
1: If I want your help, I'll request it. Note that I didn't have a diagnosis until I was in my mid teens. My parents had suspected something was off, but they sure as hell didn't raise me to be utterly dependent on them, my teachers, my professors, the disabilities services at the university I attend, or anyone else who is classified as neuro-typical. In fact, I find this whole crusade by the neuro-typical for the neurologically atypical (or otherwise disabled) to be insulting, demeaning, and ableist in and of itself. ARE WE IN NEED OF THAT MUCH HELP THAT WE'RE UNABLE TO STAND UP FOR OURSELVES AND SPEAK THE FUCK UP IF WE FIND SOMETHING WRONG? DOES SOCIETY DISREGARD US THIS MUCH THAT WE NEED NEURO-TYPICAL OR OTHERWISE NOT-DISABLED KEEPERS TO MAKE A POINT FOR US? To be perfectly blunt (possibly insulting, and completely not politically correct), are the retarded too retarded to make their own point?
2: If I ask for your help, I don't ask you to speak for me. I have my own voice, and I can use it. I might, however, ask for some support and maybe some guidance. This hearkens back to point 1.
3: Regarding the use of the word retarded...yeah, I've been called retarded. You know what? I DON'T REALLY CARE ANYMORE. You know what stuck with me more than the word? The treatment I received. The bullying at the hands of my classmates in that academic lab. The dumbass, unqualified teacher who talked down to me and handed me stuff to color. The school wondering if I'm CAPABLE of taking the courses I know I was capable of taking. Words don't mean anything; the only people who called me retarded were my classmates. The people who actually managed to treat me as such were TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATION.
Further, while "retarded" might not be the best word choice and I tend to not use it in public forums (I've slipped a few times, so sue me), I still regard it as a massive gray area. If a forum's rules (and good common sense) don't explicitly prohibit the use of the word, then how about you just let it be? One person's common sense is different from yours and might not include this; oh well. If you work to censor out everything that MIGHT NOT BE POLITICALLY CORRECT, the only people who win are the hardline Conservatives who...want everything censored anyway. Good plan there, those who classify yourselves as liberal proponents of equality for all. You deserve a round of applause.
Incidentally, if people weren't calling low-functioning folk "retarded," they'd be calling them something else, and it would be equally hurtful. Why? Because of the attitude behind it.
4: For the love of god, don't contain your "activism," if you insist on being an "activist," to the internet. And please do something more useful than "crusade" by "attempting to defeat ignorance wherever you find it." Yelling at people who use retarded to describe particularly low functioning people or stupid situations encountered online that "WORDS MEAN THINGS, DIPSHIT" is about as effective as my cat trying to catch the laser dot he so loves chasing. It doesn't convince anyone of anything and it makes you look ridiculous at best, and like an idiot at worst.
Instead, how about you get out there in real life and volunteer with those who are actually disabled/neurologically atypical/low functioning (because, you know, there's a lot of ignorance to defeat in real life, too)? I'm fairly sure that no one in their right mind would turn you away if you went to volunteer at a group home or something. These people often are craving companionship, and who knows, maybe you could help teach them some healthy skills to cope with the people who attack them for being "retarded."
Yeah, I know that's easier said than done, but if I can eventually learn that I'm worth something despite years of crippling bullying (that isn't related at all to the word "retard" or my diagnosis)...with the whole god damn system against me...then it's entirely possible for people to find a place within them where they realize that there's something INHERENTLY WRONG WITH THE BULLIES AND THEIR ATTITUDES.
I've heard the argument that people who are disabled and need caregivers are provided with them and these caregivers can be companions. While this argument, when it was directed towards me, was RETRACTED (upon mentioning that my brother was in such a situation, and that I'm the only person who visits him who doesn't change his god damn diapers), it's still a fairly dominant view. Do something to change that.
So, yeah. Until you've experienced what you're on a crusade against, you really don't have a clue what you're talking about. You can, perhaps, experience it second hand and SEE the hurt it causes people, but you don't KNOW what it feels like until you yourself have experienced it. Until you've experienced it, kindly don't go on a crusade (or rampage) like you have. Thanks.