The intent behind the words
Q: Advocacy groups for people with intellectual disabilities are campaigning to end use of the word 'retard' or 'retarded.' What do you think of their initiative?
"Intrauterine growth retardation" is benign medical phraseology, but the suffix of mental to "retardation" is not. "Crippling disease" is an acceptable description, but calling one a "cripple" is not. I call myself "brown," but "black" is more than a concentration of melanin in the skin--it is a racist appellation. The son of immigrants, I have winced once too often hearing my parents fumble with words, context and innocent intentions. One can only feel but sympathy for those fluent in English but not schooled in the nuances of the English language: the language is a veritable minefield!
Words develop ownership and associations. They must be managed just as a brand is nurtured if they have particular value. One could argue that Hindus, for example, did not manage the meaning of two contributions of their faith: yoga and Ayurveda.
Yoga is now mostly delinked from Hinduism to the extent that most only see it as an ancient Indian exercise at best. That it was developed by Hindu saints as comprised of eight limbs of moral and ethical teachings propelling the aspirant to moksha, or salvation, is completely ignored in yoga studios everywhere.
Ayurveda, the art and science of healing, depicted in the Vedic scriptures, is now synonymous with commercial spas, bath lotions and creams. The word was not "owned" by Hindus, and its commercial appropriation is a tragic reminder that one must own their story, their narrative.
Valiant groups protecting the rights of the mentally disabled are right to agitate for the ownership of their appellation. The R-word has pejorative connotations--our society mangled the word, and we must let it die. Words matter, but intent matters even more.
Views expressed here are the personal views of Dr. Aseem Shukla, and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Minnesota or Hindu American Foundation.
Posted by: reformuscirf | February 19, 2010 7:56 PM
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