The Retard

Every joke stems from truth and every laugh hides the pain. How we treat those who are less fortunate than us needs to change.

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The Retard

People use those with mental disabilities for laughter. But beneath the jokes are pure discrimination.

People use those with mental disabilities for laughter. But beneath the jokes are pure discrimination.

Illustration by Corinne Vorderstrasse

People use those with mental disabilities for laughter. But beneath the jokes are pure discrimination.

Illustration by Corinne Vorderstrasse

Illustration by Corinne Vorderstrasse

People use those with mental disabilities for laughter. But beneath the jokes are pure discrimination.

By Natalie Walsh, Francis Howell Central High School

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“Who do you think you are?” I said to the boy, bristling with pure anger. It had only been our first time speaking, but I already knew everything I needed to know about him.

“What do you mean?” he laughed. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

“What makes you think it’s okay to mess with him like that?”

“What, that retard? I didn’t do anything to him,” he said with a smirk. “He’s the one who drank all the alcohol last night. And he’s the one who chose to juul.”

“But who gave him the juul?”

For an instant, I saw him hesitate. A flinch in his eyes and a twitch of his jaw; he knew what he did was wrong. But instead of responding to me, he laughed and shook his head as he walked away. He knows it was wrong, but it was worth the laugh. It was worth the Snapchat he got out of it, as well as all the attention that followed.

He had a status above others in our school. He had power over people and knew how to manipulate others to get what he wanted. This included “the retard” who looked up to him with nothing but admiration of just how powerful he was.

And “the retard” has a name. He, like clockwork, says hello to me every day with a grin from cheek to cheek and works incredibly hard in school to accomplish what he wants. He is a human being, yet he has been labeled as a retard.

Retard, despite its everyday usage, was crafted for a medicinal environment. Yet it has evolved over time to become the most hateful and derogatory word in the English language.

Discrimination against the mentally handicapped happens in more ways than through the word “retard”. It’s seen in the looks people give them in our hallways as well as the comments uttered under people’s breaths in the lunchroom. We see it when the girl who mocks the way disabled individuals holds the iPad’s that they use to communicate, as well as when the group of girls laugh when a young boy falls while ice skating.

Unfortunately, this discrimination also happens at all ages. Over the summer, I worked for the St. Peters Rec-Plex summer camp program, which included working with children of all types. This inclusive camp involved children on the autism spectrum, with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and with learning disabilities such as ADD and ADHD. The camp was known for bringing all children together.

The kids who are fortunate enough to not suffer from any learning disabilities or disorders often approached the children with disabilities in one of two ways. The first way was accepting. The children would include children in games even if they were affected by some form of disability/disorder. The second way wasn’t ideal. Some of the kids didn’t know how to approach the affected children and would ignore them or even bully them for their differences.

Witnessing such bullying was one of the most heartbreaking experiences. Seeing a kid verbally attack another who is incapable of defending themself is purely unacceptable.

Of course, discipline was put in place and was effective enough to end the bullying at our summer camp. I would walk out of work every day with a smile on my face after seeing children of all sorts working together and appreciating their differences.

But in the grown-up world where this discrimination happens on the daily, who is setting the discipline?

It is impossible to set discipline in the bathrooms of our high school, the desks of our workforce, and the lines in our fast-food chains. As we get older, the discipline evaporates into thin air and is replaced with morals. Because without morals in place, these individuals are on their own.

If you have these morals, you have only done half your job. Being kind to all people of all disabilities is only part of the pie. The other half is standing up for these individuals when our moral lacking counterparts infringe on their natural human rights. This includes sticking up for the boy being bullied for his appearance due to his disorder, as well as the girl who is mocked for the way she holds her iPad, and is not restricted to speaking up when someone says the word retard.

When was the last time you spoke up against the word retard? When was the last time our administration spoke up against the word retard? Children, teenagers and adults alike let it slide too much and every time we do, it becomes more and more powerful, hurting more and more individuals.

When that guy had called a sweet, innocent boy a retard, every trigger had been pulled inside of me.

All I’m saying is that the people in this world who see things with only pure optimism and treat people with undeniable love should be given love in return. We can gain so much from these individuals if we just give them the attention and care they deserve.

And to the boy who gave the retard a juul, and the girl who mocks disabled kids’ iPads, and the teacher who lets retard have a place in the classroom; consider changing your outlook on life to be more like the outlook of those you’re belittling.

This story was originally published on FHC Today on October 7, 2019.