My middle son is thirteen.
He is funny, he is silly, he is the physically strongest thirteen year old I have ever encountered. He loves to take movies on his I-pod Touch. He loves messing with the cats. He calls his friends way too early on Saturday so he can spend the day beating them at Godzilla on XBox.
He laughs easily and makes other's laugh easily. He can tell you in what movie he heard that song on the radio in about three seconds...it may take you a bit longer than that to realize what it was that he said, though. His speech is somewhat hard to understand, and he has only two volume levels: Whisper and Shout. We are working on that.
My son, my Charles, has Down syndrome. I won't say that it isn't a big part of his life, because it is. It's become cliche to say that it doesn't matter that much, but it does. Anyone who says differently is fooling themselves. Down syndrome makes him look a little different, learn a little (with some things; a lot with other's) slower and makes him the object of ridicule for those who "don't get it".
The word "retard" makes me cringe, as it does most other people who love someone with an obvious disability. My son's difference is painted on his face, in the hues of Down syndrome. He cannot escape it. He also cannot escape his tormentors. You might think he doesn't hear you when you laugh at him, but he does. You might think he does not notice that you exclude him, that you elbow your neighbor and smirk when you see him, that you are only nice when there are witnesses, but believe me, he does. You might think it doesn't bother him. You would be wrong about that.
You might think it is just a word. You might say that you have a right to be as cruel and hurtful as you want, after all, free speech is protected under the Constitution. You would be right about that. But, is it right? Really right as in okay? Would you feel okay if people called you the word that meant the weakest part of you, day in and day out? You probably wouldn't. Then again, you probably couldn't think of a word that was worse than retard.
I guess that's the point. You call your friend a retard as a joke, because it's the worst thing you can think of. You call your friend a retard because it is funny to make fun of those whom you perceive as helpless.
Let me tell you something: if you have any kind of humanity, one day you will have someone in your life that is affected by some kind of disability. Your mom might have a stroke and talk funny for awhile. Your dad might have a crippling injury and need to use a walker or a wheelchair. Your friend might be in a car accident. You might discover ( as I did with my oldest son) that your healthy, gorgeous, PERFECT three year old has autism.
Would you call any of them retard? Would you want other's to? Would you feel ashamed and sick that you had ever used that word casually, or otherwise?
As to the last, I hope so.