Having spent some time perusing social media in the last few weeks, I am appalled at the words some will haphazardly sling at those with whom they disagree. There are many racist, sexist and homophobic terms that should simple be removed from our vocabularies.
Here, I wish to discuss a variation of an insult that is hurled at those who have a liberal point of view. “Libtard.” Clearly derived from “retard” and intended to imply that liberals are mentally deficient.
I have seen this term used from “friends” on Facebook and been called one often on that platform. I’ve seen it in public commentary on news articles. I’ve even seen people who have children that suffer from an intellectual disability use the term, which is particularly befuddling.
The word “retard” or “retarded” is deeply offensive to people with intellectual disabilities. It is degrading and dehumanizing, just like many of its predecessors, “moron,” imbecile,” and feeble-minded,” to name a few.
The Special Olympics, which started a campaign called “Spread the Word to End the Word,” explained “"When they were originally introduced, the terms 'mental retardation' or 'mentally retarded' were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms 'retard' and 'retarded' have been used widely in today's society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities.
Additionally, when 'retard' and 'retarded' are used as synonyms for 'dumb' or 'stupid' by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity." I’m sure some will read this and argue that it’s too politically correct. Far from it. These stereotypes have resulted in horrific policies, such as the U.S. eugenics movement that allowed the forced sterilization of 70,000 women.
This is deeply personal to me. I had a brother who passed away at age 16. He not only had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, but he also struggled with some learning disability that was never fully diagnosed. He was incredibly intelligent yet never learned to read. People frequently referred to him as retarded, and in my school, the R-word was often used as an insult. My twin and I both got into arguments with classmates who saw no problem with it until we explained how it made us feel and how it affected our brother.
Combining the R-word with liberal makes it no less offensive.
In fact, the lack of creativity in identifying a way to disagree with someone politically is sad. It is a lazy term that does not express anything but hate. I guess that’s the point for many who use it, but it really reflects a great deal about that individual.
Words matter. We can use them carefully to express how we feel and then we might actually find ways to understand each other’s positions, perhaps even advance our own perspectives. But when we rely on antiquated epithets, we do nothing of the sort.
To support the Special Olympics campaign to end the R-word, visit https://www.spreadtheword.global/pledge
Laura Finley, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology.