On Being Politically Correct....or Not
I am the mother of a fifteen year old daughter with very severe disabilities, including uncontrolled seizures, cognitive disabilities and physical impairment. I am also the mother of two very typical and very rambunctious boys, aged eight and eleven years old. I would describe myself as quite liberal politically, and while I have voted Democrat since I was of age, I like to think that I'm independent in some ways and perhaps an iconoclast in most. During the last couple of weeks a real brouhaha erupted over Rahm Emmanuel's usual profanity that this time included a slur about specific politicians being "@#@$@@# retarded!!!" It has only been in the last couple of years or so that my boys have become acquainted with this derogatory term, and I've been quick to discourage its use as I have with all profanity and name-calling. And it's only during the last few months or so that they have even realized that it might have to do with their sister. Evidently, they've heard it on the playground and wondered why it was bad to call someone retarded.
I started by explaining that the word retard means late in French, and that the words mental retardation mean slow, mentally. I told them, though, that many people make fun of those who have disabilities and even if you don't have a disability, others might use the term in a mean way to compare you with those who do. I told them that it carries much the same weight that gay does when used negatively and that I expected both of them to tell their friends that use the word how hurtful it really is. That made them very uncomfortable. We had a short talk about language and its power, and I think they left the conversation satisfied that calling someone retarded was not nice and disrespectful to both the able and the disabled.
But here's the thing: while I might wince at Emmanuel's faux pas, wishing that as a public figure he might be a teeny tiny bit more careful with his language, and I dread the times my boys might have to defend their sister from name-calling, I actually don't really care that Emmanuel used the word retarded to describe some politicians. I won't even go into the response of the opposition, the female politician whose name I won't even type, the one who uses her own child's disability for political gain.
Frankly, I'm bored with the debate about the words. Just like I was bored when one of my sons' teachers told him that the wildly creative drawings he makes right now are violent and violence is not allowed at school. I am so NOT into violence in general and have done my best to shield my boys from it (no movies, no books, no video games, no Wii, etc.), but let's face it: drawing tanks and soldiers and guns and torpedoes and magical beasts chained to dungeons with dynamite set to go off under them when you're eight years old is not really violence, is it? I'm sure many of you parents of boys know the utter futility of denying toy guns or weapons and might agree that most boys, in general, keen toward such things like they do to candy. The teacher is young, unmarried, no children — enough said.Continued on the next page