It's Official: New Jersey No Longer "Retarded"

It's Official: New Jersey No Longer "Retarded"

New Jersey gets a bad rap as the "armpit of America," which goes without mentioning all the wonderful reference-points pop culture's recently yielded to represent The Garden State, like Bravo's The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Oxygen's Jersey Couture, and of course, MTV's ratings record-breaking Jersey Shore. So it might follow that now is as good a time as any for New Jersey to stop it with the whole "retarded" thing, via the legislative process.

Via VICE -- of course -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed off on a law that will scrub any kind of slander against or derogatory reference to mental disability in official state language, specifically, in laws or rules. Like "retarded."

The law mentions a few expressions specifically, like "mentally retarded," "physically handicapped," "feeble-minded,'' and "physically or mentally defective." As for language referring to people with mental illnesses, the law bans "the insane," the "mentally deficient," and "the mentally ill."

One of the law's advocates makes a point of noting that she'd "like New Jersey to get to a place where you can't use the 'R' word with it being inflammatory," which is essentially a direct assault on free speech, even if it is an inflammatory, not-great word. More importantly, however, is the core competence of New Jersey's state legislature on full display. Instead of not quietly eliminating the word from the language in their bills -- or, if that can't be done without noise, making some other concession, like say not using those terms in the future -- they're patting themselves on the back with a loud bill that makes for a funny blog post about how exceptionally blithe New Jersey legislatures are by reminding us that somehow, that language made it in there in the first place. Yes, New Jersey lawmakers have now certainly done the public a great service by 'banning' the word "retarded," but they have yet to eradicate the patently stupid or dumbassed, in public perception of their state or otherwise.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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