The Dundalk Eagle

Why ‘lib­tard’ is lazy and of­fen­sive

- By LAURA FIN­LEY So­ci­ol­ogy and Crim­i­nol­ogy Pro­fes­sor Barry Uni­ver­sity Society · Ableism · Discrimination · Human Rights · Facebook · Special Olympics · United States of America

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

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