I'd love to say I've been MIA for a reason other than grief, but I can't.
Again this morning, as with every morning since last Wednesday, I woke up with an aching, burning pit in my stomach. It is a fire born of heartbreak, grief, rage, worry, and disgust. It is a sudsing discomfort that sits with me all day, sometimes in the background, sometimes more prominently.
A few days ago, I awoke before the sun. Inexplicably, circling my mind was the word retarded. Years ago, that word, as part of an expression, often fit the bill of perfectly describing flabbergastingly silly things. Silly, largely inconsequential things. Things like Daylight Savings, most of Pepco’s decisions, and dry clean-only t-shirts were "so (fucking) retarded."
I never meant my use of retarded to insult or harm. I grew up with it used as a common expression. I didn’t know, didn’t think about the deeper implications of incorporating it into my own language. I'd simply come to think of it a slang conveyance of superficially irritating grievances. This was a failing, and I am deeply sorry.
Only as an adult did I learn that many consider it an offensive and hurtful term. Only as an adult did I stop to think “what might it feel like to hear this?” At that moment, it was a no-brainer to stop saying it, not least so that my children would never hear and therefore inscribe “retarded” as a phrase in their own handbooks.
“Retarded” doesn’t directly hurt me, but it directly hurts many. It directly offends many. Were I to continue using the term, potentially passing it on to my children as acceptable and also demonstrating to others that I found it acceptable, would be to say to every person out there, who I know and don’t, with any sort of disability or challenge to which ‘retarded’ might refer or dismiss or mock, “your hurt, your discomfort, your sadness isn’t important to me. I don’t care. I like my word so you deal with your feelings when I use it.”
That is not respect, it’s not empathy, it’s not any showing of humanity. It’s an ugly display of privilege, even if it first came from unknowing. I couldn’t look at myself if I didn’t excise that expression from my repertoire.
In the days since the election, I’ve seen and heard about a shocking number of heinous racist acts: cars egged, swastikas drawn, children told to “go back to Africa” and “you’re getting sent back to Mexico now.” I’ve seen signs hung above water fountains in a public school: “whites only,” “colored.”
As awful, I have read and heard about, both first- and secondhand, people who voted for Trump saying things like, “I’m not a racist.” “Don’t blame me for X; I only voted for Trump because of Y.” “Trump is a great man.”
While I believe that most Trump voters knew exactly what they were voting for (see above) and either supported that or decided other things were more important (like guns), I desperately hope that for some he answered another longing. I don't understand that, but I would like to try and imagine that some of his voters will now stand up and say, "I voted for you but I don't support your bigotry. I don't support you seating a white nationalist, anti-semite, wife-beater as your chief strategist. I don't support swastikas being drawn on school walls."
Without such protestations, we who didn't consider Trump good for our country know even more surely where we stand: in a deeply divided country in which much of the populace refuses to reckon with the utter, absolute wrongness of racism, sexism, and bigotry of all kind.
Silence in the face of injustice is assent and approval of it. There is no middle ground. It's knowing you simply can't call something retarded anymore and so you don't, except it's that much worse.
For a moment of peace, listen to this.