On the social stigma & prejudice of “retardation”

This is a slightly edited re-post from November 23rd 2014. It’s about social prejudice toward those with learning disabilities. I learned all this the hard way through a beloved younger brother tormented by being labeled “retarded.” When he committed suicide at the age of 40 I set out to understand why & looked to the disability rights movement for answers. That meant I had to confront the prevailing ideas about learning & disability which I had a head stuffed full of. I re-post it in commitment to my brother Paul.

One of the most class-based prejudices is about intelligence. The privileged hold it in highest esteem & learn to use it as a weapon. They use it to ridicule, put people in their place, impress. Any sign of smarts in a “lesser person”–like a janitor or a fast-food worker–is deemed precocious or an exception, especially if that person is a woman, Black, or Latino.

Unfortunately that vanity has led to the most massive prejudice, discrimination, & social hatred of those with learning disabilities. For decades they were warehoused in institutions, including in the most barbaric conditions. They were stigmatized as “village idiots” & treated as though invisible.

The Self Advocacy Movement of those with learning problems, part of the disability rights movement, erupted globally in the 1970s along with all the other social movements. Activists demanded human rights & denounced the use of the epithet “retard” as hateful. They demanded from parents, guardians, & institutions that they not be warehoused or moved around like furniture but be the most persuasive voice in decisions about their lives: “Nothing about me without me” was their mantra.

Their movement emerged along with scientific challenges to “IQ science” showing it to be nothing but a toxic concoction of prejudice & cruelty for purposes of social engineering. So it is always deeply regrettable–not to mention infuriating–that many progressive people are the last to catch on to all this & continue to flaunt IQ as if it meant a damn thing other than privilege.

A few years past, FB was awash with a Canadian study showing progressives have higher IQs than conservatives. Self-flattery is comforting even if self-delusion is pathetic at the expense of vulnerable people. There’s also a 14-year-old article circulating about a man refused employment as a policeman because his IQ was too high. This is all nothing but prejudicial hogwash.

The question is: when will the vanity & prejudice of privilege get caught up with science about intelligence? People, including geniuses, have learning disabilities of all kinds. That doesn’t render them stupid or without dignity, profound sensitivities, awareness, & intelligence. Social contempt toward people who struggle with learning or who can’t ace formulaic exams is about as stupid as one can get.