Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Can You Say?

Every now and then a story comes along that is so sickening, I truly wonder what's happening to the human race.

Terrified residents at a Corpus Christi, Texas state school for the mentally disabled were forced to be part of a brutal "fight club" operated by night shift employees, who made videos of the sessions with their cell phones, the newly released videos show.

On the videos employees can be seen and heard laughing and prodding the residents to fight. One resident is seen on the video trying to run away from his attacker and a large group of employees and residents tracking him through the halls. When cornered, he wails and moans and tells the employees, "I will behave."

The videos were discovered by police in March when one of the school employees left his phone at a hospital and it was turned over to police. In an effort to find its owner, officers saw the disturbing videos.
I've said it before and I'll scream it from the rooftops until people listen: The continued dehumanization of people with mental disabilities has to stop NOW. It starts with the end of the use of words like "retard" and "retarded" as pejoratives. This is where it leads, people.

Throughout history, people with mental disabilities have been targets for the worst kind of abuse. The church saw them as demon-possessed or not worthy of approaching God's altar (although the application of science and reason has caused them to re-interpret "God's never-changing word" to soften their stance somewhat)*. Hitler's only written order for human extermination was for the "mentally defective" (although he also signed an order permitting doctors to exercise their discretion to exterminate the terminally ill). And kids today throw around words like "retard" and "retarded" like they mean nothing.

Think it doesn't matter? Think again. Does anyone believe this kind of garbage represents an isolated incident? It doesn't. It's time to change attitudes NOW, people. When you pick on someone with a mental disability, you are attacking a person who would never attack you back. They are the very definition of innocence. If you use those words, if you hold those attitudes,if you stand by and let an entire group of people be denigrated simply because by accident of nature or circumstance they happen to have a lower IQ than you, then you are among the lowest form of life on this planet.

There is no punishment in this world or the next strong enough to provide justice for such heinous acts as the ones performed by the people in the story above. But these attitudes start when you "jokingly" refer to something or someone as "retarded". There is simply no excuse.

* The application of science and reason has forced the church to reinterpret "God's never-changing word", and they've softened their stance somewhat.
To be fair, the church has also been blamed for statements and acts that never happened, most notably Martin Luther, who has often been wrongly blamed for the Holocaust, when the blame belongs to Hitler and his willing executioners. Still, anyone who denies that there has been an evolution of church doctrine as it relates to people with disabilities is fooling him/herself. Hence my contention that God's "unchanging" word is anything but.


  1. Did you see way down at the bottom of page two where they reveal that 800 employees have been suspended for abusing residents in the facility since 2004? 800 employees in 5 years and no changes to hiring and screening practices (not to mention security) until these videos went public. Seems like whomever is running the place has about as much respect for the residents as the people they're hiring to "care" for them.

    I wonder sometimes whether the kids' use of hate words like "retard" and "gay" is just a generational backlash against the past few decades of sincere attempts to banish non-inclusive, hurtful language. Or whether, when it became not so okay to speak our hate openly, people just internalized it to the point where our kids are growing up with that hate inside them. OR if the use of those words has become completely decontextualized to such an extent that in fact they're thrown around casually without hate (which still doesn't make it okay to use those words, especially directed at people).

  2. Jodi: Good thoughts, all. Believe me, I've pondered this at length, and I finally concluded that there are very few "acceptable" groups that can be denigrated in the general population pretty much at will. They include (but aren't necessarily limited to) the mentally disabled, the overweight, the homosexual, and people of faith. And sometimes, the oppressed are the worst opressors.

    I'm not one for censoring speech, believe me. I do think that it's simply a matter of respect, and the language reveals the person inside.

  3. I think the article meant 800 employees in the state of Texas. Not that it makes it any better, because it doesn't. I'm just saying.

    I have been trying to think of what I want to write because you are so passionate about this I don't want to come across the wrong way and lose you as a blog-friend. And I mean that. So please keep that in mind when you read this.

    I believe what Jodi said, that the words have become completely de-contextualized and used without hate. (for the most part, anyhow. I'm sure there are some people out there who use them in a derogatory way) I do not believe one bit that the use of these words in a non-derogatory way is directly correlated to the dehumanization and abuse of people with mental disabilities. The dehumanization and abuse is directly related to the complete ignorance and utter disrespect for human beings.

    The reason why I don't feel that using these words is as bad as you, and others, make it out to be is because many other words are used along the same lines, and like you said in your last post, it's just a word. For example, people use the words stupid, dump, crazy, psycho, sick, etc. all without harmful meanings. Retard, retarded and gay have fallen into that category. When someone says, "That hair cut is retarded!" They're certainly not picturing a mentally challenged person. They're not putting down a mentally challenged person. And in reality, that statement has nothing to do with a mentally challenged person.

    By definition the word retard means to move more slowly or operate at a slower rate, lose velocity, the slow growth or development of. You have to add the word mental in front of that for it to be related to a human being. However, I know the history of the word has carried baggage with it that makes it, to some people, seem pejorative.

    But I truly believe it's the intent of the word being used that makes the difference of it being OK or not OK to say. If you say ANY word with malice, enmity or hatred then it's not good.

    So there, I said it. Please don't be mad at me for saying it. I really contemplated writing it, and honestly, it's been a couple of hours since I started typing the comment.

  4. Also, I think that what those people (if you can even call them people, more like monsters!) did in that story was absolutely horrible! It's completely immoral and I hope those assholes don't see the day of light outside of a prison for the rest of their lives!

  5. Just wondering... are you going to go back to the original blog just to post, "I told you so" about Mr. Eye Liner?

  6. April: Of course I totally disagree with you, but that's not enough to make me angry. I realize that my perspective comes from my experience, and yours comes from a different place. I've never witnessed any malice from you in this arena, so no worries!

    Anonymous: Well, duh! Do you think I'd miss the chance to gloat if I'm right? Which I will be, BTW. Read the original post again. In reality, my prediction has already been met.

  7. Shhhhhhhhhhheeew! I was genuinely worried that I would make you mad. Thank you for knowing that I'm not a mean, horrible person! You're the best! =)


  8. April: LMAO...I swear, I had nothing to do with it. Maybe God did it. ;-)

  9. You and I have violently agreed in the past on issues like this, that people have to stop dehumanizing the "other."

    When that "other" is someone who needs extra protection from bullies, it brings that desire into sharper focus.

    I would also vote for the immediate disuse of the term "short-bus."