Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Words Hit Like A Fist




Several years ago:

A man with Down Syndrome leaves a movie theatre in Manhattan, a group of young girls come out from a showing of 'Something About Mary' flinging the word 'retard' around. He freezes, terror crosses his face. They hit him. Hard. Like a fist. I still see his face in my mind.

A year ago:

Shopping at Longo's just north of the office the produce manager loudly calls one of his staff a retard. I blow up and create a scene. Everyone forgets what the man says and wonders why the fat guy in the wheelchair is being bothersome.

8 months ago:

Staff stops by my office and tells me that on an outing to a food court several teenagers get up and move from their table saying they "Won't sit next to retards." Staff is furious but doesn't know what to do. Creating a scene would embarass those they are there to support. They feel sick. Powerless. Angry.

3 months ago:

In conversation with our self advocate facilitators, I am told that the subject of the word 'Retard' came up ... a painful discussion follows. Each has been hit. Hard as a fist.

1 month ago:

Two clerks holler back and forth in a store, calling each other retards. I remember the failure at Longo's ... I say nothing. Don't know what to do.

Then, I thought, "Enough."

I hear that damned word everywhere. In the mouths of seemingly everyone. It's like people have forgotten that words have impact, that words can hurt, that words can bruise. It's like people have forgotten that what comes out of our mouths defines who we are. It's like people have forgotten that those with intellectual disabilities can feel pain, real pain.

That damned word leaves us helpless. Not knowing what to do or say, wanting to act but not knowing how. I cower at the size of the problem, at the casualness of the prejudice. And yet I have never really confronted it. Never really done anything except to assure that those around me never use the word. Never say it in my presence. But that is not enough, that protects only me.

I wanted to do something. Along with my agency, my executive director, I decided to do something. I sat down and crafted a business card. On one side it read: Words hit like a fist! On the other side it says:When you use words like “R#tard” or “R#tarded” it hurts people, I heard you and it hurt me. Many people with disabilities consider “R#tard” the most offensive word referring to disability. I agree. Bigots use negative terms for minorities. R#tard is the same, it’s hate speech used by bigots. Consider carefully your words in the future.Because…Words Hit, Hard As a Fist. So, JUST STOP IT.

I envisioned making these for each of our staff, for each of our members. I envisioned using them in place of loud and useless confrontation. A few words that outline that bigots use words like these, that people hear those words and are hurt by them, that this is hate speech, that people with disabilities are a legitimate minority - and deserve respect as such. A few words to confront. I envision these cards being ripped up and thrown away. But I hope. I hope that the words stick like words do. That the words rankle like words can. That the words prompt examination like words will.

Retard is just a word.

So is Enough.

Even if we fail at making change in even one person, I predict we will make change in ourselves. We will be emboldened by this action. We will know what the extent of our own courage is. We will know better our own minds. I predict that as we change ourselves we will discover that silence, once the comfortable option, is no longer acceptable. The change we discover will not be anything more than the tossing off of complacency.

Even before the news broke about the movie 'Tropic Thunder' I had had enough. Even before those who know better but don't care were outed as disphobic bigots. Even before ... I had had enough. Meeting with Manuela this morning we talked about this card, about using the card, about beginning to action. We agreed that Vita will give this design to anyone, give these words to anyone, we will not copyright what we have created. Because this is about only one thing.

Us.

Against them.

Finally.

56 comments:

yanub said...

Can you make a jpg to put up on web pages or to copy and make our own cards with? I think you have perfectly said what needs to be said.

Dave Hingsburger said...

yanub, I think I can do that but the art director who made this is away on vacation until the tenth. As soon as I can I will post that this is possible.

Anonymous said...

I think that is a fantastic idea, over here in the UK that word is not used so much i think, but when i was young the word "spastic" was used in exactly the same context and isuspect is still the most common form of hate lanaguage used here.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I agree, from my trips overseas that the word isn't used as often in the UK. However the BBC did a poll asking people to vote on which word they found the most offensive in reference to disability. Hundreds of people voted and 'Retard' was far and away considered the most offensive. This was a poll that was targetted at those with all kinds of disabilities ... and still, 'retard' was the one named the most hateful.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I take a different approach to such language, I think the only way we'll succeed is by not viewing this as and us and them battle, but by taking back such language and reclaiming it as our own in the way other minority communities have done before. Bendy Girl

goddess-amy said...

This is a great idea, especially for those of us who have trouble speaking up. I can't wait until you post the files on your website.

Sharon said...

Yes Dave! Oh but you're good. The wording on that card is perfect.
I know there is a website and a graphic called 'ban the R word' but I don't think we can or should try to ban a word. What you have done is much better, it is to try to educate people, to let them understand the damage and pain such a horrible word really does cause so many people. It will hopefully shake them out of their stupor and ignorance about this particular type of hate speech.
Well done.

Nicole said...

I have a friend who had a card made about T21 when our girls were younger, for those who stared or made ignorant comments. I LOVE this idea. Thanks!

Terri said...

This is beautiful!

Gaina said...

I think if someone says a word that hurts, you should cry if you want to. Right in front of them - just let the tears flow and say 'that hurts'.

Most of the people who throw around inappropriate words have no idea what impact they are actually having and they would feel awful to be confronted with the reality of that words' effect on someone.

Mind you, if you try standing up for yourself and setting boundaries when you feel words and actions demean you as a disabled person, you get called 'prickly' and you're made to feel that if you're in the wrong for asking for the basic courtesies afforded to the able-bodied.

Sometimes ya just can't win!

Terri said...

Does the no-copyright piece of this mean that I can post these pictures on my blog?

RusW said...

Bravo Dave!
I think one reason people use the R word in a demeaning way is because they don't have anyone getting up in their face. I can think of a few "incorrect words" that someone would not use on the playground, in the workplace or out in public for fear of some form of retaliation. Physical or otherwise.
I have blogged about this before and was trying to come up with a response to the controversy surrounding this new movie. I don’t need to now. You put the words out there for me. I’ll just link to your post. It says it all.
On two occasions I have seen Ben Stiller on TV lending his star status to support fund raising for Autism. I question his true commitment.
I look forward to handing out some cards. Great idea!

Dave Hingsburger said...

No Copyright means no copyright, we want these used by anyone, anywhere ... so if you want to reproduce these pictures on your blog, Terri, go ahead.

Sarah Heacox said...

Right on! I would suggest your org post the design of the business card on zazzle.com. That way anyone who wants to can order them for the price of the printed cards (pretty reasonable as I recall). That's even easier than posting the graphic itself on a web page.

raising joey said...

Wonderful post! Thank you Dave!
-Jessica

FAB said...

brilliant! thank you Dave.

maryanne in pgh said...

About the "R"-word: Glad to be part of it, glad to be able to print it out in an easy-to-distribute format.

About "Tropic Thunder": I'm in the dark and others must be - the website is the usual Hollywood garbage - what's the connection here?

andi said...

"8 months ago:

Staff stops by my office and tells me that on an outing to a food court several teenagers get up and move from their table saying they "Won't sit next to retards." Staff is furious but doesn't know what to do. Creating a scene would embarass those they are there to support. They feel sick. Powerless. Angry."

Tell them next time to look at these cretins and say " I guess you'll need three tables then." and let them figure it out.

Great post - can I link to it on my blog?

Melissa said...

I think that this is a BRILLIANT idea. I am one that has a very hard time speaking up for myself & now that I have a beautiful son w/DS, this would only give me more courage to do so! I'd love to hand this over to many, especially my ex husband!
Thank You!!

Tricia said...

I think it would be absolutely amazing if you could make a business card size JPG that we can print out on your site. We can pick up paper at the store, print them out, and start making a stand. Thank you thank you thank you!

Glee said...

"spaz" or "spastic" is one that is used a lot in Australia as well as retard.

I think the problem with the use of these words as insults to abloids is that when the word spastic is used they are inferring that the person is stupid. Now we all know that most people with spastic movements are just as smart as, if not smarter than the average abloid.

Use of spaz reinforces the incorrect idea that people with CP and then anyone else with a disability (specially wheelchair users) are intellectually (developmentally) disabled.

I am claiming the word "crip" to describe myself as I am not "a person with a disability" or a "disabled person". All I am is a person with different ways of operating and functioning to the average abloid. society disables me not my impairment. I can usually get around that eg wheelchair.

Homosexuals have reclaimed the word "gay" so I reclaim "crip".

Glee

Cynthia said...

Thank you! It means a lot to me that you write about this and that you are doing something about it too. This storm has been brewing for a while and to see good things come from it that will empower people to be able to do something about it is wonderful.

Marisa said...

Hey, I love the idea of your cards. I have a daughter with T21 and find the word quite offensive. Actually I have since High school when a friend gave me an education on the word.

Anyway, I was wondering if you would consider adding why this word is offensive. I usually tell people it is because it mocks my daughters acomplishments. this seems to carry a lot of weight.

Again, great cards, great idea:)

gracie1956 said...

I read your post to my daughter Amber and she wants to have some cards made. She said to tell you thank you, so THANK YOU! I can't tell you how many times she has been hurt by those words. She is 29 years old and is mentally challenged. I will never forget the day she came home from school in the first grade and asked, "what does tarded mean mom?" She was completely unfamiliar with that word and what it meant. My heart broke as I had to explain to my sweet little girl why people say mean things. That was only the first time with many more to come. I guess she quit crying about it when she was about 19 or 20 years old but I know it didn't quit hurting. Thanks again from Amber and from me.

MissFancyPants said...

This is awesome! Thank you for thinking of this!

Nikki~Down syndrome Storyteller said...

What a great idea! Another Mom asked me what we could do in a similar situation and I didn't have an answer for her. You just gave me one! I believe that a LOT of people don't understand the seriousness of the word and most don't think they are doing anything wrong. If they could be educated in a dignified way without embaressment it would go a long way towards having people join our team.

yanub said...

So, the 10th? If we could get this up on the 11th, when Tropic Thunder is supposed to debut, then we would be in place to make a strong statement against the hate and bullying that film is intended to profit from.

ckc said...

Mr. Hingsburger,

I love your blog and read it daily. I also love the idea of your business-sized cards. Please, though, first do an editing pass on it. As an English teacher, I would hate for such a strong statement to be marred by the misused commas that would possibly dilute the message. (Wish I could have written this to you privately.)

Dave Hingsburger said...

ckc, I don't have a problem with your comment at all, I just wish you had editted the words and attached them to your comment. I am hopeless, at, commas.

Cindy Sue Causey said...

Hi, Dave..

Just popping in.. Great post.. If you still need what ckc mentioned, I could help out with that, too.. You can email me through my profile page..

Just let me know.. :)

ckc said...

Between "it hurts people" and "I heard you" and then again between "is the same" and "it's hate speech," the commas should be periods and new sentences should be started.

Or is it too late?

Carolyn (not only an English teacher, but the mother of a charming, wonderful 19-year-old young man who just happens to have Down syndrome)

Sara said...

wow, thank you! where can we get some of these cards ?

storkdok@aol.com said...

How about t-shirts with this on it? I'd wear one and my husband would certainly wear one. I think a lot of moms on Cafemom in our autism groups would love them, too.

Maddy said...

Maybe , just maybe, we might move in the right direction, or at least I hope so.
Best wishes

Amanda said...

Spaz was very commonly used when I was growing up in the USA, too. I heard it directd at me at least as often as retard/tard/etc.

Anonymous said...

Please check www.parentsofdown.com

Randi said...

I agree. Words do hit like a fist. The first time my oldest child (who has Autism) heard that "word" was when he was 5 years old when he was called a "retard" at school. The look on his face when he came home from school made me want to cry (even today). The irony is that he is now in graduate school on full scholarship studying for his doctorate in Cancer Biology. Since that time (and even before that time), the "r" word has been forbidden from my household, and no one around me will use the word. Whn they do, all my children will tell them that is NOT a word that is EVER used in our presence!

michael ellermann said...

true.
the uttering "retard" embodies the even more prevalent thought "retard". i feel the same way and i also observe a sad tendency whether it is linguistic or has deeper roots. i play socalled massive multiplayer games online. lotsa ppl together sharing and exchanging views. i am in a swedish world even tho i am danish but i train the language. something happens when u dive into a culture and notice it's language. these, 14-20something year old mostly male, players use words like "cp" as for meaning something that doesn't work, i.e. "cp keyboard" and "damp" which is a nordic diagnosis for adhd plus motor difficulties. so when a person is damp he is hot-headed and uncool.
i fail not to get my view as well as info across when this happens - and the recipients are often shameful. it might have to do with that i have autism and i work with disability issues because i fail not to let them know that too.
i honestly believe that people now a days are left too much to themselves and their own judgment. this leads to people seeking answers randomly and locally and not building on a humanistic base that is established and readily availbale to those who get the opportunity. but today people are on their own. they have their project and they want to fit in. humanistic thinking is not a tradition that passes on as well as eating habits or political standpoint. i am willing to doubt and even let go of discussing the issue of man being evil or good, i really jsut want to find ways that humanistic thinking/reasoning can find a place in a society that apparently has a lot of different competing ways of thinking/reasoning theses days.

kayla said...

I love your blog my son was born with esophageal atresia and also down syndrome and alot of other problems.Thanks so much fro all your useful information.

Anonymous said...

First, I am struck by the intelligent comments posted. Compared to what I read in other 'comments' sections (i.e. news articles), this community appears to be much more articulate! Now here's my confession. When I was young I myself was guilty of using such derogatory words. It wasn't until someone taught me the meaning of them that I realized what I was saying. I stopped immediately. Your card, if given with a caring attitude, will help educate people who may have good hearts but are speaking without engaging their brains. They in turn can educate others. It's a good plan. Go for it!

Astrid said...

Thank you so much for this. My son does have Down Syndrome and I am astounded at how many epople think that this word is acceptable. My two young daughters on a day to day basis tell their friends how wrong this word is. How hurtful. Thank you so much for expressing alot of people's feelings.

Lisa said...

Hi Dave,

I met you last year when you facilitated a training that was hosted by the BC Self Advocacy Foundation in New Westminster, BC.

I'm wondering if you would mind if I read this entry at a poetry slam. I hear the R word used a lot at performance poetry shows, and you've articulated why it's not okay so beautifully and simply here. I'd love to share it, and credit you of course. Let me know.

Until then, keep doing the beautiful things you do.

Lisa

Amy V said...

I met some employees that work at your agency at the NADD conference and they spoke highly of this campaign. As well, I grabbed some cards from your informational table. Where can I either buy more cards or download the graphics/slogan for this campaign. Do you have any tshirts with this slogan on it? I would love to get them for my youngsters.

I am very supportive of this campaign and would like to forward it on to all the youngsters I work with, both without disabilities and with disabilities.

It is such an awesome idea!

Anonymous said...

many thanks ! very valuable submit!

Anonymous said...

The wealth of the mind is the only wealth.


--------------
University of Edinburgh

2011 wide Snowboard said...

good good�this post deserves nothing :( �hahaha just joking :P �nice post :P

Anonymous said...

Wow, pretty great topic. Where can I find your RSS?

Katherine Trider
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Micki Jenrette said...

Thank you for your help!

Micki Jenrette said...

Thank you for your help!

Maria said...

Hundreds of people voted and 'Retard' was far and away considered the most offensive. This was a poll that was targetted at those with all kinds of disabilities ... and still, 'retard' was the one named the most hateful.
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Anonymous said...

I am Glad i found this website.Added davehingsburger.blogspot.com to my bookmark!

holyflyingpiranha said...

Great idea!

You could actually sell these cards as a fundraiser. It's a powerful message and a very, very important campaign.
I think there are lots of people and organizations who would want these cards.
Hate speech is not okay.

Pam @writewrds

Careprost said...

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Anonymous said...

In 20 years will "developmentally disabled" become the next R-word? Once again we are being asked to change to spare someone hurt feelings. You know what, the world is a tough place and going through life with the expectation of never getting hurt is not realistic! Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Anonymous said...

I'm okay with changing my vocabulary every 20 years to spare someone's feelings. It's called being thoughtful and compassionate. Try it, it's free and it feels way better than defending hurting others.

parmanya said...

I posted a link to this article, *here*, and the other person GOT IT! Thought you would like to know :)