Buh-Bye, R-Word

Photo: (Love That Max Facebook)

“Personally, I prefer ‘butthead’,” says 9-year-old Max’s mom, Ellen Seidman. No, she’s not talking about Beavis’ better half. She’s talking about replacements for some vocab that’s about to get the boot.

Nearly 300,000 people have already signed the Special Olympics Spread the Word to End the Word pledge asking people to stop using “retard” and “retarded” as pejoratives. Step back. Think about it. When do you hear the r-word used in pop culture? Maybe after saying something embarrassing in front of a new crush, or to describe a movie that totally stunk … or as a synonym for “stupid” or “lame” or “worthless” or “ridiculous”?? Fine, it’s slang, we get it — except that it’s not that simple, because using a clinical term as an insult sends hurtful messages to people with cognitive disabilities.

Zach Galifianakis’ “Hangover” character does not get a free pass just for putting the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. The Black Eyed Peas do not get to slide just because they set it to a hook heard round the sports arena (circa 2003). From Hollywood to the playground, the r-word just doesn’t have a place in popular vernacular anymore. Max’s mom thought that maybe she could help get that point across by introducing us to her son, who has cerebral palsy and feelings. Her blog, Love That Max, and the video below show us why it’s time to nix the r-word for good. Here’s what she had to say about releasing her plea to YouTube.

What made you decide to make this video on your own rather than just joining another campaign? 

I wanted to put a face behind the word. I thought, if people could see how awesome my child is, and understand just how the word “retard” hurts him, perhaps they’d think twice about using the word again.

Before Max was born, did you ever use the word “retarded” as a pejorative? Did it bother you if other people did?

Yes, I occasionally used the word “retarded” before Max came along, and before I had an understanding of how offensive it is. But that’s what humans do: we learn. Now I have a kid with special needs and I’m acutely aware of how demeaning it is. And so I’m asking people to consider that the word has bigger implications.

In the video, news clippings reference Lady Gaga and Jennifer Aniston as pop culture icons who’ve carelessly spoken. Are there particular movies that stand out to you as offenders? 

Last summer, a lot of people were horrified by the scene in “The Change-Up” when Ryan Reynolds’ characters says to his friend, who just had twins, “Why can’t they talk yet? Are they retarded or something?” I didn’t see that, but I did see “The Descendants.” I was totally loving it until the part when Matt (George Clooney) calls a teen boy a retard, and then they riff on the word. Major buzzkill.

What can young people do to better understand their cognitively impaired peers?

Kids who are cognitively impaired enjoy the same stuff as their peers — music, TV, websites, French fries, giving their parents a hard time, whatever. Don’t treat kids or teens with special needs like they’re a whole other species of human being; treat them like you do other people. Be friendly, be real. Say “Hey.”

Finally, does Max have a comment on the matter?

Speaking as Max’s mom/spokesperson, Max would like the world to know that he rocks — and he deserves your respect.

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