It's a word used in daily discourse without thought. We want to express how backwards, messed up, dumb, hairbrained, or ridiculous something is, and it pops right out. It's too easy. Our youth use it nearly every other sentence, I kid you not. It slips off their tongue, devoid of any awareness that it refers to individuals with intellectual disabilities, that it stigmatizes these individuals, lessens them. And it's just as easy to understand how they can not get it; they aren't talking about people who are disabled, they're talking about people who do dumb things but shouldn't, not them, not the real people who aren't....well, you know...they weren't even thinking about them. So, what's our problem? It's just a word, you know? No big deal. And when it thoughtlessly slips off our own tongues, too late to call it back, and we cringe because we weren't meaning to say it, we don't mean any harm, well we can either self-justify it or own it. We screwed up. We've got to change. We've got to stop using that word in casual coversation. We've got to stop thinking it's okay to laugh at.
Comedians have made their careers on it, dee-dee-dee. And we've laughed, because we know they're both not talking about those people and talking about those people, you know? And, the truth is, it cuts to a truth. People do stupid things, so it's become a short hand, but it should make your upper lip curl with disgust if you think it through, dwell on it, think of someone you know with a cognitive impairment and how you feel at the thought of someone mocking or ridiculing them, or of someone using them to mock or ridicule someone without an impairment who's been a dumbass.
It's time to look close, deeply at ourselves, our prejudices, and acknowledge that we all have them, that there's a group of folks we disparage. We need to question why. We need to challenge ourselves on our language, and acknowledge our slips and that we all have a ways to go towards accepting others who are different, with different challenges. We need to experience that dissonance, hold ourselves up to examination, and accept that we've got some dark sides that we need to bring out to the light.
I've got two decades worth of experience in parenting a special needs child, and I've watched the language on how we describe them change, watched the shift from mental retardation to intellectual disability as the first term has taken on the same stigma, same onus as the original three terms that we use with every bit the frequency of the "r" word. Watched as worked to find terminology that wouldn't take on such negative overtones, and tried to keep up with the name changes and shifts in perception.
I'm not roundly condemning the people who use the "r" word thoughtlessly; I don't think they are bad, evil people. I'm acknowledging that it's far too easy for any of us, all of us, to thoughtlessly use a word that disparages intellectual disability. And I'm not sure where dumbass fits in there, either, to be honest. I'm really not.
I'm asking for people to think when they hear that word, especially when it slips off their own tongue, or they act in a way that mocks the disabled: Do you realize what you just did? Did you intend to do that? Do you understand that it demeans a group of people? I'm asking all of us to own it when we do it, to reflect on it, to feel the damage it does, and to work actively to change that, to work towards eradicating that word, and the other three (the two "i" words and and the "m" word) when discussing people, whomever they might be. Let's find a better way to address the less than ideal decisions people make. Let's find another way to talk to people we disagree with. And, maybe, just, maybe, let's examine dumbass, too.