Michael Gerson: “Defending the word ‘retard’ is not heroic”

Former George W. Bush presidential speech writer Michael Gerson has come out strongly in a recent op-ed against the use of the “r-word” in our commonly used dialectic.

The media is least attractive when it offers the pretense of fairness to cover a desire for self-serving controversy.

Professor Christopher Fairman of Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University takes to The Post today to defend the word “retard” against taboo, censorship and other forms of social repression. He argues that the r-word must be rescued from the terrible fate of the f-word. Even the n-word has “varied and evolving uses.”

Defending the r-word is not the protection of free expression; it is the defense of bullies.

There is a long tradition of religious and and moral reflection on the words we choose to speak. According to the Hebrew scriptures, “Death and life are in power of the tongue.” Jesus of Nazareth argued, “It is not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

Epithets gain and lose currency. Which means that standards of morality, respect and tact must be constantly reapplied in new circumstances — not that all standards should be abandoned entirely.

What the Special Olympics is proposing is not government censorship, it is social stigma. In this case, such stigma is a sign of moral maturity.

I have signed the pledge at www.r-word.org. I hope you do as well.

I also encourage you to sign the Special Olympics pledge against using the derogatory label “retard” against any person for any reason.

I would also challenge any person of any variety of partisan politics, which includes myself as well, to try and refrain from personal attacks and all statements that most people would honestly agree is a simple lack of “standards of morality, respect and tact” as Gerson describes it.

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