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© 2019 THE INCLUSION BLOG. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Why Using the Word “Retard” is a Big Deal

The scandal raised by Sephora’s choice to name an innocent shade of pink lipstick ‘celebutard’ has stayed with me this week.   On November 6th the retailer made apologies and recalled the controversial product.  Social media for the win!  I’m happy to say IBEX joined the tweeting fray. The fervent media campaign to recall that tube of pink discrimination was a success.

messy lipstick
Photo by Natalie Barratt

Casually, I brought the debate to the attention of a friend in conversation.  An educated professional that I’ve known for years.  His response?

“I thought ‘retard’ just meant you were slow.  It’s no big deal… It’s descriptive, not a slur.  Why the big deal?”

Recovering from my slack jawed indignation, I educated him as to the contrary.

“‘The insulation in my house is fire retardant,’ is an acceptable use of ‘retard’ in modern vernacular.” I growled melodramatically. “Anything else,” I told him, “I’ll get angry and unleash what my father fondly refers to as the ‘howling kilty’ temper I inherited from my Scottish ancestors.”  Envision something akin to Mel Gibson playing William Wallace.

This word stubbornly clings, like the pasty residue of a price sticker label, as an acceptable way to label a person.  What is it about the r-word that some people continue to dismiss it, discounting it as harmless, inoffensive, or even an accurate descriptor?

In my junior high years, the phrase ‘that’s so retarded’ was bandied about continuously without censor.  When I graduated from high school and made the leap to university I had a friend whose pet fish was named ‘the ‘tard’ for its sad habit of fighting its own reflection.  The word is pervasive, and continues to be, as Sephora demonstrated so spectacularly last week.

Calling a person a “retard” is to label them as less than a person; as a something, not a someone.  An abusive term for a person who is worthy only of contempt and disrespect because they are assumed to be different.

That’s a big deal to me folks. A really, really, big deal.

I have a lot of friends who happen to live with a disability.  I respect them all.  I hold none of them in contempt.  They are people and I don’t label them as anything else.  It’s not okay to sweep the word “retard” under the rug.  It’s not even remotely okay.  It’s hurtful, dismissive, and much more damaging than many people realize.

Glee star, Lauren Potter, champions Spread the Word to End the Word.  It’s an online pledge to actively eliminate the derogatory use of the r-word.  I made a pledge of conscience many years ago, but it was nice to digitally join the 400,000+ others who felt the same way on the site.

Once you know someone as a person and not a label it’s difficult to see how anybody else can.  It’s not okay and people need to know why.  Especially the unrepentant Kat Von D who designed the lipstick in the first place. We can’t let her words, “At the end of the day, it’s just a (word omitted) lipstick,” be the last on this subject.


Inclusion Blog Post

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  1. Well said and it’s nice not to have to explain why we don’t use the “r” word to the writer of this blog. I am certain Kat Von D and Sephora would not dream of naming any product using other slurs related to race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. And yes it is even a bigger deal when teams of well paid and influential people decide to use a word like this with full knowledge.

  2. Also, what saddened me was Kat Von D’s response herself. She firstly responded to the controversy with a now deleted tweet “At the end of the day, it’s just a f–king lipstick” but in later days has now released the statement of “Even though I made a mistake in naming a lipstick, ‘Celebutard’ I know what my real intentions were. It’s actually the opposite of what your perception portrays,” she explained. “Of course, it doesn’t make it right, and in all honesty I have no problem admitting when I’ve made a mistake. In fact, it was my idea to pull the product from the shelves as quickly as possible”
    I find her responses to be both flippant and insincere.

    • At least she finally responded. Her acknowledgement means that the media pressure from people like us is working. We might not change her mind but we’ve reached a large audience and given them something to think about.

  3. It’s a very abusive term that somehow we still hear come up in our Society. Words are very powerful, its very important to question peoples word choice. Likely Kat Von D does not realize the power of her word choice. Let’s hope she learns form this & doesn’t let her ego override her learning opportunity…Maybe she should have choose the word CelebCorallyPink or something like that.