An Open Letter to ...
This is a response to a reader’s comment about my most recent column, “Attention All Bigots!” I have never responded this way to a critic. But I think that what I have to say here is worthy of an entire column, not simply a reply. I will first re-publish the original post. As always, I welcome your comments.
Hannah jacobs says:
February 6, 2010 at 2:18 pm
I have rarely been so disappointed in someone as intelligent and thoughtful as you. I’m the mom of a beautiful, charming daughter with intellectual disabilities. Someone you would prefer to call plain old retarded. Have you lost all semblance of simple compassion? If these people and their family members are now speaking up and explaining to you that it is hurtful to use the word, shouldn’t that be enough? Do you really need to rue the fact that it is no longer okay to use the word in polite company? You are too intelligent to hide behind the smoke screens of free speech and political correctness. This is just about common decency. Using words like midget, retard, or any ethnic slur is beneath you. You should have the courage to admit your mistake and call on people to listen to the better angels of their nature.
First, thanks for the compliments about my supposed intelligence and thoughtfulness -- right before you go on to mangle the meaning of what I wrote.
Why in the world would you say that “I would prefer to call [your daughter and others] plain old retarded”? What have I ever said or written to deserve that? When have I ever advocated the use of language that is aimed at hurting people? What I actually wrote (and said on Bill O’Reilly’s program) was that nowadays, “You’re a bigot if you use the word “retarded” – even though the word used to be used in polite company all the time, but now, like Negro, it’s been relegated to the junk heap of language.”
I stand by every word of that sentence because it happens to be true. And what you posted on my site only proves my point.
What I was saying in my column is that in our politically correct culture, you’re a bigot if you use the word Negro – as Harry Reid did – instead of African-American. And you’re a bigot if you use the word “midget” instead of “Little People.” And that NBC cook is insensitive because she served up soul food to honor Black History Month. Good thing she was black or they’d be calling her a bigot too. This, I said, is crazy.
Yes, the word “Negro” is outdated. But years ago when it was commonly used it was not a slur. The word “retarded” is also outdated, but when it was used it was not a slur, either. Despite what you may think, I am not bemoaning “the fact that it is no longer okay to use the word in polite company,” as you put it.
The fact is, I’m not advocating – in any way, shape or manner -- the use of these old, out-of-fashion words. I don’t refer to black people as Negroes. And I wouldn’t refer to your daughter as retarded. My point is that once upon a time “Negro” was a perfectly acceptable word – and if it were really a racial slur would The United Negro College Fund still use it. And it wasn’t that long ago when “retarded” was perfectly acceptable. It was even used in the title of organizations whose mission was to help people who are now called “developmentally challenged.” Have you ever heard of the American Association for Mental Retardation? Or the various Associations for Retarded Citizens? Do you think that members of those groups, folks who devoted their lives to helping people in need, were bigots?
There is simply a difference – and a very important one -- between awkward, old-fashioned words and words that are inherently insulting and demeaning.
You say that, “Using words like midget, retard, or any ethnic slur is beneath you.” Tell me, Ms. Jacobs, when did I ever use the word “retard”? When did I ever utter an “ethnic slur”? As for midget, if you want to put that in the same category of a racial slur that begins with the letter “n” be my guest – but I think any black person who was ever called that vile word would dismiss you as unserious.
You tell me that I “should have the courage to admit [my] mistake.” I don’t think I made one. I think you did.
And finally, I certainly understand why people in general and parents of special needs children in particular – people like you Ms. Jacobs -- would object to the word “retarded.” But you may not attribute to me things I never said. I’m sure you’re a loving parent – but you simply do not have that right.