“Obama: ‘Stage 3 Romneysia’ – because cancer references are HILARIOUS. If he’s ‘the smartest guy in the room’ it must be one retarded room,” was the Oct. 23 tweet offered by Conservative loudmouth Ann Coulter. She completely missed the Romneysia jab as a play on amnesia, that is, Romney routinely “forgets” what he has articulated about certain topics in the past. More pressing, however, is her unabashed and provocative use of the word “retarded” to insult President Barack Obama.
Coulter has never been one to shy away from conflict, but this latest intransigent stand is grounded not in political ideology, but rather blatant bigotry. Consistent with her standard stubbornness, Coulter is not backing down from her offensive remarks. The Huffington Post of Oct. 26 reported, “Ann Coulter defended calling President Obama a ‘retard,’ saying ‘screw them’ to critics of her tweet … Coulter said she had no regret over using the word.”
Let me be unequivocal: “Retard” is not a word that should be used. It is not an insult, a word that can be hurled like everyday mud in the grime of politics. It is a stick of dynamite that, when used, harms those with whom Coulter (and others like her) has no quarrel. The word, when used pejoratively, references intellectual disabilities as a means of insulting the person who is ascribed with it.
In the same way faggot frames homosexuality as shameful, so retard does intellectual disabilities. Coulter attempted to defend her use of the term by weakly explaining that she was using the term to describe someone who actually has an intellectual disability.
Either Coulter is shortsighted or astoundingly ignorant of how her words perpetuate the stereotypes she draws on to pack her political punch. In a CNN article from Oct. 24, Ellen Seidman, a parent of a child with an intellectual disability succinctly rejected Coulter’s argument that by not actually referring to someone with an intellectual disability, her use of the word is authorized.
“What people don’t understand is that every time someone uses the word ‘retard,’ they perpetuate the idea that people with intellectual disability, like my son, Max, are stupid or losers,” Seidman said.
Very fittingly, few, if any, offered a better response to Coulter’s remarks than John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger.
“After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the president by linking him to people like me … Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much,” Stephens said in an open letter to Coulter.
The last defense of this word I can possibly foresee is the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I am reminded of the words offered to us by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan, in the poem “To This Day,” “Surrounded by people who used to say that rhyme about sticks and stones, as if broken bones hurt more than names we got called … don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone.”
We must wield our words wisely and with deliberation. It is with that in mind that we can indict Coulter’s remarks as nefarious, childish, vacuous, inane and so on – descriptors Coulter could have used to describe Obama in the first place.
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