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Sarah Palin Is Right: “Retard” Is Not OK

In the interest of full disclosure, I am inherently biased on this issue: I don’t like Sarah Palin.

But I really can’t argue with her on this one. Calling someone a “retard” or “retarded” is not OK.

This is where my other bias comes in: I have a 21-year-old Autistic sister.

I was 4 years old when my sister was diagnosed by the Yale Child Studies Center as one of the worst cases of Autism they had ever seen. The doctor told my mother to put her in an institution, and told my father to get my mother help when she refused to do so. My sister was 2 years old at the time.

As the older sister, I was very protective, and I still am. Even though she is doing very well, and is fully functional (she just got her drivers license!) I didn’t want anyone to ever hurt her. I can’t count the number of times she left teeth marks on my arms or slugged me in jaw, but I love her unconditionally.

When I was younger (and this continues today) my classmates would, in jest, call each other “retards.” I would — very kindly — ask them to please not use that term. I would explain that it was offensive, particularly to someone who had a disabled family member. Even in 4th grade, children remarkably understand, to the point where friends of mine would begin asking others in their social circles not to use the term.

Throughout our formative years we’re taught that slurs and bias of any kind are never OK. But the focuses of “diversity” conversations are almost always around a few topics: race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. You almost never hear people talk about mental illness and disability, which is why calling someone the “N” word is taboo and calling someone a “retard” is, frankly, not a big deal.

The pejorative connotations of “retard” have always upset me. Why is it bad to be disabled? I know a lot of children with diagnosed mental retardation who are the most loving and sweet people you will ever meet. They may not have the social graces garnered on playgrounds and in schoolyards, but no one with a family member who is disabled will tell you that they love them any less than they would had they been born “typical.”

When it comes down to it, It’s not about being “politically correct” it’s about consideration for a population that is constantly bombarded with negativity, which often creates a hostile, “other-ed” environment. Political correctness is not the issue. It’s about respect.

You go, Palin.

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