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PSA about the word “retard”

| Thursday, March 19, 2015

Everything in my life has been defined by my older brother’s condition: where we live, the foods we eat, the church service we attend and the places we go for vacation. As far back as I can remember, our world has revolved around what works best for him.

Why does my brother havr so much control over me? He has autism and I don’t.

I’m the lucky one. At the time, the odds of having a second autistic child were 25 percent. After I was born, I had big shoes to fill. Most people live their entire lives searching for a purpose, but mine was there for me on the day I was born.

Spread the Word to End the Word is a campaign to end the derogatory use of the word “retard.” Worldwide, the kickoff for the campaign was the first Wednesday of March, but with University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh’s passing, it was postponed on Notre Dame’s campus. As my brother’s protector and a voice for the underrepresented population of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I would like to bring awareness to this campaign by making a public service announcement about the offensive uses of the word “retard.”

“Retard” originated as a medical term used to describe individuals of below-average intelligence. Too many times in pop culture, social media and casual conversation, the word is used as an insult towards people without the medical condition. Imagine how it would feel if society started using your name or some other characteristic about you as a word synonymous to “stupid” and “unable.”

I’ll never forget the day my brother came home crying because some kids in his middle school mocked his movie trivia knowledge, called him a “retard” and slammed his locker in his face. He had never been self-conscious about having autism until that day. I was appalled at how his peers could use a medical condition that was no fault of my brother’s to disrespect him so. Calling my brother a “retard” implied he was worthless and incapable, when in reality he is anything but.

My brother is a second-year graphic design major at George Mason University who currently holds a better GPA than I do. Before that, he graduated with honors from high school and community college. He can create a masterpiece painting or an incredibly intricate cartoon on a computer. My brother also has an impressive memory. He is a calendar savant, which means he is able to name the day of the week of any date you give him whether it be future or past. Above all, he is kind, goodhearted and loving. These are all qualities that calling him a “retard” doesn’t show. I want my brother, as well as all others like him, to embrace their talents and quirks. In order to make this happen, we must promote a more accepting attitude in our community.

I always correct my friends if they say casual phrases like “that’s retarded” or “you’re a retard,” and undoubtedly, it’s not easy to stand up like this. My interruption is sometimes followed up by an awkward silence or an excuse that falls along the lines of “I didn’t mean to offend you.” It’s not a matter of offending me or my brother personally; Rather, it pertains to promoting a new r-word: respect.

So I ask students to put more thought into the things they say. Even a casual use of the “r-word” is contributing to the marginalization of amazing individuals like my brother. Please join the movement in creating a more inclusive, welcoming and respectful environment.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Johnny Whichard

    God bless you, your brother, and your whole family!