You know, when I first heard about Tropic Thunder (the movie) I was, umm, utterly bummed-out. The movie is a comedy, and makes fun of Hollywood actors. The film, I hear (no, I don't plan seeing this flick), contains material that may be insulting to African Americans, Veterans, and people with intellectual disabilities. Apparently the movie makers consulted with African American and Veteran groups to make sure the so called 'comedic' material was not too offensive. Unfortunately, the film makers failed to include representatives for people with intellectual disabilities. (Feeling lost? Learn more about this controversial movie here and here.)
Why the oversight? I believe it is because in America it is still 'ok' to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities. We've come a long way from routine institutionalization of children born with disabilities, but the fact is adults and children with intellectual disabilities are still made fun of, victimized, taunted.
Tropic Thunder, while damaging (and tasteless), is serving as a catalyst to bring the shameful treatment of people with intellectual (and other) disabilities to light. In the wake of this movie there has sprung up efforts and websites to ban the r-word. You know, Retard.
The R-word means a couple of things. In music retard means to slow down the tempo. Mental Retardation is a medical diagnosis that basically means a persons ability to learn is slowed down. Retard when used as a joke between friends, as a taunt to an offender, or in a (really stupid) movie is meant as an insult. Usually when people blurt out something like "You are such a retard!" what they intend to communicate is "You are being stupid." People don't think about how using the word retard dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities. And, people don't think about how a 'funny' scene in a movie makes it that much easier for children, teens, and adults to taunt their differently abled colleagues in the hallways at school or out in the community. After all, they are just retards.
My dear sweet Charlie has mental retardation. It is something that he has, but it is not the sum of who he is. He is not a retard.
So, thank you, Ben Stiller, for bringing this issue to the light so clearly (and tastelessly). I hope this publicity will continue to spur on the movement to ban the r-word. It is not the word that is a problem. Intellectual disability, mental retardation... It is not the label that is the problem. Call it whatever you want, it is what it is. It is the derogatory use of the r-word that has made it hateful to use. You can join the effort to make a positive change for our friends and neighbors with intellectual disabilities by visiting this web site, or by clicking on the "Change the Conversation" button in the side bare.
Oh, and just to keep it real, I used to use the r-word before I had Charlie. I never meant it in a mean way. I never really thought about how it could be hurtful or demeaning, but ignorance does not mean innocence. Let's make a positive change for Charlie's future. Let's change the way we make conversation.