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The S Word

posted Thursday June 25th, 2015


I didn’t like the movie Inside Out, but not for the reason you’ve already guessed.

I will admit that I think about things too much — and also that I fell asleep during a critical time during the plot development of Pixar’s latest — but really, I thought the whole thing was a convoluted, over wrought mishmash of how to not try to explain emotions to your kid. Not in a meaningful way, at least.

In a word, I thought the movie was stupid. Which is kind of funny, since a lot of people have been criticizing it for belittling people who are not “intelligent” — a discussion that has now expanded to include other Pixar movies.

And, for me, life.

Because let’s face it, almost all of us (me included) use, see and hear the word stupid (and moron, idiot, dumb, the list goes on) all the time. It’s not just in Pixar movies. It’s everywhere.

The question: Is that okay? The answer: Please don’t make me decide.

At this point most of us can agree that the word retarded is not cool — not the way it’s come to be used, as a playground/Internet/water cooler slur. The rest of language gets a little fuzzy. Last night someone posted the above sentiment and I realized that this kind of thing is like pornography — you know it when you see it.

This one really cut me. “EXACTLY!” I practically yelled at the phone when I read the words, stark white on black, no cute old-fashioned lady illustration required to send it over the top. YES, I wanted to yell, I KNOW THAT WHEN SOMEONE ISN’T OF AVERAGE OR ABOVE AVERAGE INTELLIGENCE, THEY MIGHT NOT REALIZE IT. NO-FUCKING-DUH.

Here’s the thing. No one is going to “take back” the word retarded like queer, bitch and even nigger have been reclaimed, because there really isn’t the same kind of community around developmental disabilities. Not on a widespread basis, anyway.

By the very nature of the disability, a person with Down syndrome or another intellectual disability is bound to miss a slur, a slight, a nasty word. Like how dead people don’t know they are dead.

That is why parents like Jisun Lee take this kind of thing so seriously, and it’s probably why the word retard is the last big dig making the rounds in high schools and bars. This isn’t a community equipped to defend itself. Hence, what some consider an overreaction to the use of all related terminology.

I don’t like censorship. As a friend and I discussed the other day, I don’t want people to be afraid to talk around me, to cringe if they use the word dumb. I’m not sure I want to give it up, either. Words are powerful and we are their stewards and the best thing we can do is try to use them with care — acknowledging that in the heat of the moment, we all say things we later regret. As I like to say, it’s all a work in progress.

The best thing we can do is talk about it.

As usual, the person with the clearest vision on all of it is none other than Sophie.

Not long ago, she came home and reported to me that someone at school had used the S word.

“Oh dear,” I said. “That’s pretty strong.”

And then I had a feeling that Sophie wasn’t talking about the word shit.

“Can you say the word?” I asked.

“I can whisper it,” she said. “It’s a pretty bad one.”

I put my ear next to her mouth and she whispered.

“Stupid.” She looked a little ashamed, and shook her head like she couldn’t believe it.

Smart kid.


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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome by Amysilverman

3 Responses to “The S Word”

  1. Ok, two things:

    One of my daughters struggles with mental health issues in a fairly serious way. From the time she was bitty, I’ve rehearsed a nightmarish movie plot starring her young adult self and a completely-helpless-to-help mother played by yours truly. We deal with really shitty things sometimes and the only way to keep that stupid flame of hope alive is to believe it will all work out in the end. It just will.

    We watched the movie together last month and all of my girls (I have three) said it was their very favorite. Ever.

    Pixar made a movie about the crazy, wild, mixed up world we live in in a bite-size, metaphor-laden package. In our family, we have to navigate some pretty serious territory and that dumb movie reminded us, like all good stories can, no one is evertruly alone.

    Second Point
    In my world, I craft spaces (mental and literal) where people feel safe to be their own version of awesome. I protect that space with everything I have. I teach middle school and when kids walk into my room, they can feel the difference.

    When someone uses language aimed at undermining someone else’s awesome, the solution is simple (but not always easy): name it plainly and open a dialogue about it.

    I don’t get all bent out of shape, I don’t make anyone feel horrible. No one gets publically shamed. When we name what seeks to threaten our safety, it stops being so threatening. The conversation is the most important thing, anyway, right?

    I tell my students they will be a happier human if they stop using language that takes away from someone else’s awesome, even if the word isn’t a traditional no-no. Intent is everything.

    :) Jesse

  2. I believe creepy and possibly stalker should be added to the list of suspect as slurs

  3. I have an adult foster home where I care for people with schizophrenia. I just heard your story about your daughter on TAL( BEAUTIFUL btw) and started looking over your blog and found this. We hear the word whack-o, nut job and I’m sure you can guess a few others. What I tell my people is that there is a difference between a whack-o (etc.) and what they have which is a Mental Illness. We all can be a little “whack-o” but it has nothing to do with them. This seems to help. My husband also works in a group home for Developmentally Disabled (or Delayed) adults and when we talk to our daughter that’s the terminology we use, and we’ve banned the word ‘retard ‘from our house. Sometimes the PC word can be useful. I always hated those slurs too. It’s just like other forms of hate speech, and like Jesse’s point, it helps to dehumanize a group that has very little power. Thanks for bringing the subject up. I hope my example gives you some ideas on how to help Sofie when she encounters those “idiots”!

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