Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Don't Be A Retard"

It was a popular phrase of my childhood: "You retard." "That's so retarded." "Don't be a retard."

Of course, on the streets of the Mission Hill projects, in Boston, it sounded like this: "Don't be a reetahd," or "That's retahdid."

It was a horrible phrase about which we never thought twice. There was even a mentally handicapped kid in our crowd who was "retarded" and we never thought twice about using the phrase around him. I have a cousin with cerebral palsy and it never occurred to me that I might be denigrating her when I used the term.

Over time, as Americans became more educated and more socially aware (that is, before the socially-retarded Republicans took over) mental retardation began to be defined in more polite terms. This discussion of the causes of mental retardation is from wikipedia.org:


Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and Fragile X syndrome are the three most common inborn causes. However, doctors have found many other causes. The most common are:

Genetic conditions. Sometimes disability is caused by abnormal genes inherited from parents, errors when genes combine, or other reasons. Examples of genetic conditions include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome (22q13del), Mowat-Wilson syndrome, genetic ciliopathy and phenylketonuria (PKU).

Problems during pregnancy. Mental disability can result when the fetus does not develop inside the mother properly. For example, there may be a problem with the way the fetus's cells divide as it grows. A woman who drinks alcohol (see fetal alcohol syndrome) or gets an infection like rubella during pregnancy may also have a baby with mental disability.

Problems at birth. If a baby has problems during labor and birth, such as not getting enough oxygen, he or she may have developmental disability due to brain damage.

Health problems. Diseases like whooping cough, measles, or meningitis can cause mental disability. It can also be caused by not getting enough medical care, or by being exposed to poisons like lead or mercury.

Iodine deficiency, affecting approximately 2 billion people worldwide, is the leading preventable cause of mental disability in areas of the developing world where iodine deficiency is endemic. Iodine deficiency also causes goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland. More common than full-fledged cretinism, as retardation caused by severe iodine deficiency is called, is mild impairment of intelligence. Certain areas of the world due to natural deficiency and governmental inaction are severely affected. India is the most outstanding, with 500 million suffering from deficiency, 54 million from goiter, and 2 million from cretinism. Among other nations affected by iodine deficiency, China and Kazakhstan have begun taking action, whereas Russia has not.

Malnutrition is a common cause of reduced intelligence in parts of the world affected by famine, such as Ethiopia.

Very rare conditions that are X/Y linked. In girls it can be 48, XXXX (only affecting 100 women worldwide), 49, XXXXX (only affecting 25 women worldwide) syndrome's. In boys it can be 46, XYY, 49, XXXXY, or 49, XYYYY.

You see, there is more to mental retardation than we might think.

And as time has passed, we as a civilization (and I am talking about Western Civilization here) have worked hard to understand the mentally handicapped and the causes of what was once called only "retardation."

As a teenager, I met a family with a daughter who suffered from Down's Syndrome. She was severely retarded and would require care for her entire life.

During the Reagan Administration, funding was eliminated for programs benefiting the mentally retarded. Group homes that had been established as assisted living for the retarded were shuttered and the mildly retarded became today's homeless while the severely retarded were locked away in municipal wards and prisons with little or no care. Reagan's policies for the mentally retarded catapulted us from being a progressive society to being a Dickensian society.

And from the Reagan Reaction came the lie of Compassionate Conservatism; the notion that we could be selfish, heartless pricks and still care about those in need. It has been a popular movement that has allowed people of privilege to rationalize their greed and hatred of those different from them while giving lip-service to the notion that they care about the world. Every compassionate conservative is a liar, and that is all they are. Well, perhaps there are some thieves thrown in there, too; but, certainly they are all liars.

A mouthpiece for the compassionate conservative movement shared his compassionate enlightenment about autistic Americans recently on his nationally syndicated radio show:

I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot.' "

That compassionate conservative is Michael Savage, and his compassionate conservative vitriol is broadcast coast-to-coast.

Media Matters is promoting a campaign for people to let his broadcast outlets know what we think of his remarks. Click here to go to Media Matters and get the contact information of the radio station in your area that broadcasts this crap. Let your local broadcast outlet know that people like Savage have no place on the American airwaves.

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