An Open Letter to Chuck Klosterman, The New York Times, Ethicist

Dear Mr. Klosterman,

Words like “that’s so gay” or “homo” were used regularly and with impunity in our society. Often to elicit a cheap laugh. Those words came to denote something or someone that is stupid, peculiar or undesirable. As gay rights flourished the majority of society realized they were not just using words – they were using words that hurt people. Words that devastated people.

Today people with cognitive disabilities and their allies are asking members of society to refrain from using the word “retarded” (along with all mutations of the word) for the same exact reasons. My question to you:

Is it ethical to contribute to the denigration of the vulnerable?

I am particularly interested because you, Chuck Klosterman, are The Ethicist for the New York Times and the author of the following:

“Well, okay…not everyone. Not boring people and not the profoundly retarded. But whenever I meet dynamic, non-retarded Americans I notice they all seem to share a single unifying characteristics…” (Chuck Klosterman on Film and TV: A Collection of Previously Published Essays, 2010)

“You used to be able to tell the difference between hipsters and homeless people. Now, it’s between hipsters and retards. I mean, either that guy in the corner in orange safety pants holding a protest sign and wearing a top hat is mentally disabled or he is the coolest fucking guy you will ever know.” (New York Magazine, 2008)

“I don’t want to come across as insensitive, but show me a person whose intelligence equates to that of a dolphin and I will show you a fucking retard.” (Fargo Rock City: An Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, 2002)

Mr. Klosterman, you appear to be an unrepentant hater of people with cognitive disabilities. You are not using the word in an “I don’t mean it like that way…” sort of ignorance which I think would be much easier to redress. You are using the word in a “Those people are exactly who I am talking about” way.

Please enlighten me: What are the ethics of using the R-word?

I am the mother of a seven-year-old son who has Down syndrome.  I believe your response to my question could make all the difference in the world.


Kari Wagner-Peck

Portland, Maine