Oh how it hurts my heart when I hear the word "retarded" being thrown around in casual conversation or jokes. While I can't pretend to know what it's really like, here are a few ways that I think it is harmful. Many people don't realize the implications but if you use the word, I hope that you might take these reasons to heart.
1. The word retarded, as many musicians will know, means slow. It is supposed to refer to someone with an intellectual disability that causes them to have more difficulty processing information.
2. It associates those who have this disability with being stupid, incompetent, or many other hateful things. I'm here to tell you... it's not true. Despite their disability, people with mental disabilities achieve as much (or more) as everyone else.
3. It makes people THINK that people with intellectual disabilities are stupid. Because the word is used in a derogatory way, people often make assumptions that people with mental retardation are stupid. As I've said before, we should never judge people by what we expect them to be like.
4. It is isolating. Imagine how someone with mental disabilities feels when they hear a "retarded" joke.. on TV, on the bus, at school. I imagine it makes them feel very lonely and unimportant. They KNOW that they are not stupid, but when others carelessly use this word, it probably makes them feel as if they are social outcasts.
5. It is degrading. Let's be honest, it's a plain hate word. Now I recognize that many people use this word without realizing the implications, but that needs to stop. It is hurtful and compares someone with mental disabilities to someone stupid. It confines them to being something that they are not.
What more can I say? I urge you to consider that while you may not mean it in a degrading way, it can isolating, degrading, hurtful, and just plain untrue. Read a very powerful piece written by a man with intellectual disabilities here.
It's no joke.