Ben Carson is not retarded: The language of marginalization

February 23, 2016

When our daughter Cozette was on her way to us, we had all the usual concerns new parents have. Were we emotionally and financially ready? Would our lives become unrecognizable? And of course, would our daughter be born a healthy baby.

The statistics are daunting. One in 33 babies born in the U.S. has a birth-defect of some sort. Of course, you would love that child regardless but the issue adds another level of challenges to the already challenging task of parenting. Many of those disabilities are mental in nature. For example, 2.5 to 3% of Americans experience some form of mental retardation. That’s about 7 million people. Neither Andrea or I smoke tobacco or crack so we felt the odds were in our favor.

When Cozy when was born, we counted her fingers and her toes. After a year and a half, she seems to be perfectly healthy and mentally awesome. And we often stop to think about those parents that have the challenges we escaped, maybe just because of a roll of the cosmic dice.

All this is to make a case about the language we use to marginalize those with disabilities. When I was in high school we had (secret) nick-names for many of the kids with disabilities, to quietly bully them behind their backs and make ourselves feel normal. I carry a lot of guilt around about that. If you are going to high school in 1970s Georgia in a wheelchair, you deserve a fucking Nobel Prize, not ostracization from kids who were a little bit luckier than you.

When I started studying the world of hate, one of the fist lessons was that Hitler targeted Germans with disabilities before he went after the Jews. He wanted to create a genetically pure race and forcefully sterilized up to 400,000 Germans who suffered from mental retardation, schizophrenia, epilepsy and other disabilities. The treatment of the disabled by the Nazis is one of the under-told horror stories of the Holocaust. Of course, there were similar eugenic practices happening in the U.S. at the time.

So, when I teach about hate crimes and hate groups, I also talk about the language of hate. I talk about the dehumanizing effect of calling people (PEOPLE) fags, wetbacks, bitches and niggers. When I talk to high school students, I especially discuss the trend of calling people “retards,” or saying, “that’s so retarded.” It’s not to shame or punish those kids that do it, it’s to enlighten them to the fact that words can hurt people who are already hurting. Instead of “punching down,” find another word in your growing vocabulary.


The impetus for his blog post is because, being an imperfect being, I don’t always follow my own advice. I was watching the GOP debates and the Bizarro World candidacy of Ben Carson. This alleged brain surgeon who may be wandering on to stage near your has talked about the Egyptian pyramids being grain storage units, joked about poisoning gay wedding cakes and believes going to prison can turn you into a homosexual. In the debates he seems stoned, at best, and maybe a little touched in the head (as my mother was fond of saying).

So as I was tweeting my witty tweets, letting the impulsive thoughts go straight to 160 characters for the entire planet to read, I wondered aloud if Ben Carson might be “retarded.” At the time it seemed like a rational explanation for his behavior. Of course, that would make him the first mentally retarded brain surgeon in America and therefore deserving of some highest of high honors (besides the White House).


I was busted by a Trump follower who asked if that was an appropriate tweet from a PhD. I don’t often agree with Trumpies, but she was 100% correct. I finally deleted it and any other reference to Carson being “special,” that might be seen as disparaging to my mentally disabled friends and family in the past, present, or future. I suddenly saw teenage Randy and modern Randy (who complains about trolls) standing there in the same spot. So much for growth, right?

And this isn’t about “political correctness.” Donald Trump and his thugs complain about political correctness because they don’t want to have to think about the hurtful nature of their rhetoric. They don’t want to worry about whether or not they are being bigoted because they are already bigoted. Being challenged on it undermines their able bodied-straight-white-Christian-male privilege. My job as a privileged person is to dismantle that privilege.

People should be taken to tasks for the choices they make and the things they say. That’s still fair game in a free society. But we can also be kinder towards the people we disagree with and the people who have traditionally been the butt of the jokes. My Polish family members would appreciate that.

Some of my fondest memories of my time at Emory University were volunteering for the Special Olympics. Those kids have such great hearts. It’s hugely humbling. I have been a supporter ever since. So, when I got called out on my silly comments, I felt that same guilt that comes with anybody who is aware of their privilege. The history of people with mental challenges is full of great heroism and courage. As someone who has dealt with depression, I have a tiny, tiny window into those struggles.


I don’t think Ben Carson is retarded. I wish I had found a better word in my “PhD vocabulary” to express my concerns about this man’s mental state. Experts have diagnosed Trump as having a narcissistic personality disorder. Pundits have wondered about Carson but it’s not my place to make a claim. I just hope he goes away soon so we can focus on the real threat of fascism that Trump represents. As someone who gets called a “libtard,” on a daily basis, I’d like to elevate the level of discourse that, in a tweet, I lowered.

We don’t win hearts and minds by marginalizing human beings who are different from us. We evolve by developing empathy with them. The Anti-PC crowd fears that challenging task. I want to encourage people to embrace it. I want to encourage myself to embrace it.

We now live in a “Live by the tweet, die by the tweet,” society where people, at their impulsive worst, are not allowed to make mistakes. Someone has taken a screenshot of your little blurb so be prepared for it to haunt you. I just wanted to apologize for mine.


13 thoughts on “Ben Carson is not retarded: The language of marginalization

  1. Randy,
    In this, you have earned my respect. I have responded, at length, to some of your posts because I found them to be insensitive, hurtful, damaging and personally offensive.
    I have continued to follow your blog and Facebook because we grew up in the same town, went to the same high-school and share some common interests. I also continue to follow you because someone needs to speak out and challenge some of the things that you say or allow to be said in your threads.
    I’m sure my approval, or lack of approval, doesn’t make any moor difference in your life as yours does in mine. But, for the record, I don’t disagree with everything you deliver either.
    I’m simply heartened by your humility. You are human. For you to respond, as opposed to react, in this humble way, and to use this opportunity to bring an amazing and effective message, has revealed to me that you indeed care about the rest of our race. I applaud you for not making excuses. I applaud you for owning what’s yours.
    I look forward to reading your future posts and blogs as well as your book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Robin. That means a lot. Sometimes I try to provoke folks for a reason but a lot of time I’m my own worst enemy. It is a challenge to evolve as a person, but as long as you’re heading in that direction you probably are gonna be OK.


  3. i cringe at the way so many people causally toss out the word retarded. oh don’t bother about him “he is just retarded. or ” she is so retarded” words hurt even if just heard by chance by someone that is mentally challenged. thank you for realizing that. actually one shouldn’t comment on their condition at all. mind your own business. lots of parents of these children have enough of a challenge just trying to cope with helping their child be as “normal” as they can. plus they are brokenhearted by their daily battle. be kind to each and everyone you meet. doesn’t cost you a nickel but makes the world a better place.


  4. Privileged White Man means White man did what you wanted to do. Slavery was wrong. If Africans had better weapons in 1500s, then instead of Whites enslaving Blacks, Blacks would have enslaved Whites as people same everywhere.

    Tobacco is so gay or so fag. Gay/lesbianism is bad for health so it’s right to call gays fags-to compare gays & lesbians to tobacco. Drugs & tobacco are gay or fag. White gay pedophile Dan K. Savage sexually harassing Black man Dr. Ben S. Carson who made comments against homosexuality which offend gays as gay pedophile Dan K. Savage uses F word against Black men.


  5. Having grown up with a sister born with Downs Syndrome I can only say thank you. My sister was the oldest in our family. She was caretaker because of her wonderful and loving heart. She thrived in a family who loved her. For those who are not privileged to know these wonderful people up close and personal it is always easy to fall back on foolish misconceptions.


  6. You’ve achieved a near impossibility it would seem. I stumbled across your recent post, and enjoyed it so much I just kept on going, reading post after post of yours. That’s a first for me.
    Admittedly, just reading the title of this one nearly made it my last. I’m glad I gave you the benefit of the doubt.
    I have a handicap brother and yet I have even caught myself in the double standard of my own making. Aka, my spewing of hurtful rhetoric about others while despising it in regards to my mentally handicap brother.
    You have done what many wise people do, and learned something about yourself, and sought to better that something.
    You might enjoy a post I wrote about my brother, where I experienced the affects of hurtful rhetoric and vile actions directed at my brother. All the while I had to battle my own selfish thoughts and insecurities in being a brother to a mentally handicap person.


  7. The article at “Pundits have wondered about Carson” is filled with an obvious majority of negative comments. And I might even find Carson a little different, too. But that author has just simple “spew” based on what he regards as negatives and which, it turns out, he’s just twisted & spun.

    What you appear to have in common with that author, and what I call The Great American Sheep, is an obsessive “latching” syndrome, where anything that perturbs the PC UberLib concept of reality and right / wrong instantly is processed, classified and stored away as just that, an irritant and therefore “bad”. It’s basal lizard brain functioning, not rationality. And it must always and forever be spewed back up within that classification (bigoted, retarded, racist, … blah blah). Actual, complete content of speeches by Trump, for example, and his supporters (all races) is anathema to the automaton.

    The alternative is too frightening. Especially in your case, I have not a hope in the world that you shall return over the wall of your “education” and all your baggage. One can see you freely admit that baggage is your lens. But, I continue to be entertained.


  8. narcissistic personality disorder ……………
    “an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

    We await validation of your claim, as it lacks any citation or validation. One could, if biased enough, apply it to anybody running for office. oops… but you’re not biased I’m sure.

    Likewise, the link at “Pundits have wondered about Carson” has what seems 90+% negative comments. He’s even worse.

    Your whole article tries to be a disclaimer on marginalization you’ve done, while simultaneously maintaining any and all extant, where you provide no convincing evidence. Just your emotions and claims. If you investigated, which one should expect – given your “education”, then one could read some balance in your blog.

    The reason screamingly obvious is that you’re terrified. You doth protest too much. Something’s going on that you _cannot_ understand, doesn’t spark real depth of inquiry, just pique and terror. And no backup.

    You have a PhD in Advanced Sophistry in defense of all that baggage you’re dedicating your life to burying. And anyone who disturbs your belly button lint fondling with messages about reality gets labeled in the predictable way. Ha, it’s like watching a lizard react.


  9. If you had any credibility you’d know that the NPD diagnosis has been removed from the latest NIH Handbook 5 due to “lack of validity”. In any case, such psychiatric diagnoses must be performed by personal interview & investigation of the subject’s total environment on a personal level, family, etc.

    Your education has afforded you not insight but the opposite. A huge wall of ignorance, required for the protection of your cocoon.


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