My mother always told me there's a fine line between love and hate. There's also a fine line between hate and ignorance. There's a fine line between lots of things.
This point was driven home to me recently. One of my daughters said that an educator at school had used the term "retarded" to speak about someone who did something stupid. My daughter immediately corrected him. "That's not an appropriate word to use!" He immediately apologized and thanked her for correcting him. She came home and told me about it. I was proud of her for many reasons. I was proud that she felt comfortable enough to correct a teacher and that she knew to do it. I was sad because it knocked him off the pedestal on which she had him placed. I was surprised that someone in that profession would use that term.
While observing at school today, I decided to talk to this instructor about his choice in vocabulary. It was an interesting discussion. He explained why he used that word, why it was wrong and apologized again for it. I left with the feeling that it was not said out of hatred but rather out of ignorance. It's not an excuse but it does make a difference.
I discussed this with someone else who kind of chastised me for defending a person who uses hate filled words. Normally, I wouldn't defend that behavior. But this one was different. After speaking with the teacher, I didn't get a sense of hatred at all. Just ignorance. Education seems to be what's needed here. I'm proud that my 11 year old was the one to do the educating.
It lead me to think about other words that have become inappropriate to use and why I feel this is different. Everyone knows not to use racial slurs. More than one generation has passed since it was established that discriminatory words weren't appropriate and I'm thrilled that my kids have never heard most of those words. It's not in their world so it's not in their vocabulary. Success there. I almost never hear people use words that are anti-gay or centered on people's sexual orientation. Success again but that's taken a while.
The only words I could come up with to compare to this situation are "deaf and dumb" and "hearing impaired". I think most folks know better than to use the D and D term. It's been a long time since I've heard that. Hearing Impaired still comes up quite frequently but when I politely say "the proper term is Deaf", that's the end of it. No one argues. Change happens, just slowly.
My children have someone important in their lives who has Down Syndrome. Between that fact and knowing what I do for a living, they have a keen awareness of appropriate vocabulary used in the disability community. Hate words are not used in their world. It's interesting to think that their children will not have racial slurs, homophobic or discriminatory vocabulary in their worlds. Or at least I can hope......