Today I’d like to discuss a word. It’s an awful word, one that sprouted from an even more awful word, and it’s often slung about with reckless abandon by people annoyed by anyone expressing a liberal point of view.
The word, in full, for clarity — is “libtard.”
You can likely guess the roots of that word. Per the Urban Dictionary, “it stands for ‘liberal retard.’ ”
Readers direct that term at me constantly. It comes vie email, tweet and Facebook comment, and it seems to pervade all manner of online political arguments.
Receiving insults and harsh critiques comes with this job, and I’m fine being called virtually any name in the book. But not that one.
The word “retard” or “retarded” — which I’ll refer to from here on as the r-word — is horribly offensive to people with intellectual disabilities. I hate the word, and I regret there was a time in my life when I ignorantly used it as slang to insult people.
My understanding of the hurtful power of that word came years ago when I had the opportunity to spend more than a year reporting on people with intellectual disabilities. What I found, quickly, was some of the most amazing, capable, kindhearted souls I’ve ever known, and when I asked the people I got to know about the r-word, they patiently explained that it makes them feel like something less than everyone else.
And that’s unacceptable to me. It’s degrading. It’s dehumanizing. It’s wrong.
Here’s an explanation from a campaign started by the Special Olympics called “Spread the Word to End the Word”:
“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.”
Taking the r-word and adding “lib” to it doesn’t make it any less offensive. And what bothers me is that those who combine “liberal” with that word are not insulting their intended targets — they’re insulting an entire group of people who have done nothing wrong.
If you want to insult me, have at it, by all means. You can call me a libturd, a lib-coward dirtbag clown diaper, stupid, lazy, lazy and stupid, a liberal idiot, a joke, a puke, a liberal puke, a stupid and lazy liberal puke, a loser, a mess of a human being, a waste of space, a sweaty liberal piece of clown poo. I don’t care.
But if you refuse to accept that words cause harm, I’ll gladly help you meet some of the fine people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the years.
If you still don’t care and you want to hurl the r-word around like a fool or mash that word together with “lib” and try to tear me or anybody else down, that’s between you and your god.
But if you have it in you to test your own beliefs, if you’re curious enough to learn something, I’ll make sure you meet some people who will open your heart and change the way you view the world. You will be better for it. And you will never, ever hear the r-word, in any form, the same way again.
©2016 Chicago Tribune