It used to be when a child was having difficulty learning and was taken to an expert to figure out why, the child could be determined to be normal, an idiot, an imbecile or a moron. You might think I am making this up, but I am not. These were the labels used to describe people who were “slow learners.”
The problem was soon these scientific terms came to insult “slow learners.” If Ralph was a “slow learner,” it meant Ralph could not just be Ralph, that it was an impossibility that Ralph might need some extra help to learn and perform at his best. Before the time of diagnostic labels, people who knew Ralph were stuck when they tried to have Ralph guide them as to his unique needs for support. You couldn’t look up Ralph’s category in a book to know how to help him out.
When some people who didn’t like themselves, as much as they should, stated calling Ralph a idiot or on a good day, a moron, professionals knew they had better do something to protect Ralph. So they came up with new categories. They decided Ralph was mentally retarded. Instead of being an idiot, imbecile or moron, he was profoundly retarded, severely retarded,moderately retarded, or mildly retarded.
Thanks to intelligence testing, you could now measure Ralph like you could a table. You could uses these measurements to put Ralph in the correct class. Ralph could now be educable trainable, shit out of luck, or fucked.
If he was educable, he could be taught how to tell the Men’s Room from the Women’s Room (most of the time.) If trainable, be could learn how to set a table. If severely retarded, his job was to sit home and do nothing. If he was profoundly mentally retarded, he would go to a large institution to live the rest of his life. These institutions looked great on the outside, but they were hell holes and snake pits on the inside.
When the hell holes lost their cover. Retards became patients. “Patient” means passive, as in knowing how to wait patiently until someone shows up to help you.
Everything changed when enlightened professionals refused to call the people in their care patients. They called them “clients.” Clients you see, can hire and fire. Problem was, most guys like Ralph, couldn’t. They were still lucky to get anything.
Clients got what professionals thought they should get. Professionals had all kinds of crazy ideas that didn’t work out to well. So they decided that it would be better to call their clients consumers.
Ralph Nader gets much of the blame for this. Mr. Nader (no relation to Ralph), thought that in a consumer-oriented culture, people should be informed as to what was available and supported in deciding what it was good for them to want.
Consumer, is a good idea, but trying to convince people in power that they don’t know what’s best for Ralph is a tough sell.
Some professionals got the bright idea of stopping the name change game by just going back to calling Ralph, Ralph instead of consumer, client, patient , educable, mildly retarded, or moron. In so doing, Ralph was catapulted back to the days before labeling.
For this latest idea to work, you still had to give a shit about Ralph. If you determined Ralph was not getting the help he needed due to lack of funds, it is hard to call for passage of a Go Fund Ralph bill in Congress.
Now, with crowd funding it is somewhat easier to raise money to help Ralph, but not every Ralph is on Facebook.
One solution is to keep writing about what to call people who need extra help, developing training seminars on how to do it and to be sure that people are referring to the Ralph’s of the world with the correct terms. Knowing the current correct terms to use, help makes those in the know, feel good about using the right terms when calling on others to do something to help Ralph.
When they are done with Ralph, they can pick some other oppressed group to feel good about, and they can use the proper terminology when referring to them.
The terms I like the best are terms used by disability rights activists who have a disability themselves. Many activists with physical disabilities refer to themselves as “Gimps.” I knew an executive director of an Independent Living advocacy program whose name was Edward. If he liked you, you could call him “Special Ed.”
There is a long line of oppressed people who gained power once they started calling themselves by names that were used as insults against them, like those who continue to shout, “We’re here. We’re Queer. Get used to it.”
Well meaning people often put oppressed people into categories, not to intentionally oppress them further, but to show how compassionate they are, to sell them pharmaceutics, to explain to them how science has determined they need to be treated. Some people who could use unique help and who have unique contributions to make to communities at large, don’t usually like being put into some box that they didn’t decide they wanted to be put into.
I may be guilty of stereotyping when I offer my opinion that many people who have been disempowered because of limitations in how they can think, are slow in seeing the merit in called themselves a “retard.” They may be a little slow in seeing what this can do for self-esteem and coordinated action toward reducing their oppression, but this is starting to happen.
Hopefully were are moving closer to a culture of “I’m a freak. I’m unique, so are you. Let’s get over it and help each other out.”
I am writing this for the goodmenproject.com website. The Good Men Project is devoted to helping men better understand their uniqueness while wearing the label, male. I don’t think it will catch on, but perhaps a chant of “I‘m a man, yes I am and I can’t help but love you so,” might be a good one. That might make for a good song lyric as well. The goodmenproject.com is about helping men develop their ability to appreciate their unique needs and resources in order to better comprehend the unique needs and resources of others. That’s what it’s all about, “man.”
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