After the debate, Anne Coulter took to twitter to degrade president Obama and in the process was disableist.

People living with disabilities (PWD) have worked very hard to make it clear that the word retard is offensive because it is disableist.  Essentially, to use the word “retard” in this fashion is to take someone’s life and use it as a pejorative to attack neurologically typical people.  Even when confronted with the problematic nature of her chosen language, Ann Coulter — being Ann Coulter — decided to double down on her bigotry by saying, “the only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it.” Ann Coulter has built a career by touting the indefensible and by being as offensive as she possibly can be, so it’s not hard to understand why when pressed on the offensiveness of her speech, Coulter decided to up the ante.

There will be some people who will look at her tweet and say that it is irrelevant because of the source, but PWD cannot afford to take this stance.  John Franklin, who is a disabled Olympian, penned the following response to Coulter’s tweet.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics.  See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

I fall into the category of believing that Coulter does not have a heart.  Whether she truly believes all of the vile things she is on record as saying, or simply does it as a shtick to make a profit, it’s quite clear that as far as historically marginalized people are concerned, Coulter has a vested interest in insuring our continued oppression.

It was heartwarming to see that many people spoke out about Coulter’s choice to use the word retard pejoratively but it got me thinking about the everyday acts of disableism that have become so normalised in our culture. As a disabled woman, they are readily apparent to me because I have to negotiate them. I am well aware that the able-bodied sometimes have no idea of exactly how offensive their choice of language is, because there is no national conversation built around disrupting or eradicating disableist language, with the exception of the word “retard.”

The truth of the matter is that the word retard is not only ubiquitous, but there are plenty of other words in our discourse.  On a daily basis, language is peppered with the pejorative use of the words lamecrazymoron,idiotspecial, to name a few.  Little thought is given to how it affects us, dehumanizes us and others us. They’re just words right? No one means to be offensive right? The thing is, there is no shortage of adjectives in the English language which aren’t offensive and still yet these words are still spoken and PWD are silenced when we raise any opposition or erased altogether. Intent does not mean that harm has not been done.  I have a physical disability, and every time the word lame is uttered, it reminds me that my body is viewed as deficient and that I am perceived as less than.

The cynical part of me wonders how many people were actually upset that Anne Coulter used the word “retard” and how many people just saw this as an opportunity to attack one of Fox news’ bigoted talking heads?  The ease at which disableist language is used makes me believe the former.  The word “retard” is far from the only disableist word in common usage but you wouldn’t think that given the silence surrounding the various ways in which the able-bodied attack PWD. If Anne Coulter is guilty of being disableist, so are many people on both sides of the political spectrum.  Why aren’t we talking about that?  Why aren’t we having a discussion about how disableist language perpetuates the idea that PWD are “other” and that it leads to poverty and discrimination?  I highly suspect that if we were to get honest about disableist language that it would convict many. People would rather live the paternalistic lie that they are kind to PWD and that they don’t see us as an inconvenience, than challenging privilege. It is far easier to embrace power, than to realise that social power comes at the cost of those who are marginalized in some way.

31 Comments

  1. vonn fennicks

    I just can’t believe the disrespect this woman shows every time she opens her mouth. Only in America can you get away with disrespecting your leader. FREEDOM OF SPEECH!?!

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  2. ahimsa

    Thank you, not only for your comments on the word “retard” but also for pointing out the other slurs that people should be removing from their vocabulary. The word on that list that I hear way too often is “lame.” It’s even in kids movies! (e.g., Monsters vs. Aliens)

    This topic was mentioned by John Hockenberry, host of the radio show The Takeaway, not long ago. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4v81cRaJy0 (it’s in the second half of the clip)

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  3. Who cares what this airhead thinks. Obama isn’t my choice, but he’s certainly not an idiot. Now Bush…

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