My daughter is not a ret*rd: Sephora’s Celebut*rd, Miami Dolphins’ N-word, & 12 Years a Slave

kat von d celebutard lipstickHow a lipstick label, hazing in the NFL, and an Oscar-favorite film inform how we view other people:Celebut*rd

Some of you may have seen the mini-boomlet that happened this week on social media over Sephora’s shade of lipstick from Kat Von D. It was called “Celebut*rd” (with an “a” replacing the asterisk). That term has become a common enough insult to garner its own entry in the Urban Dictionary: a famous stupid person. Well, in this case, it was Sephora who was famously stupid.

Despite no doubt having multiple meetings, involving multiple people, to work on developing the actual shade of the lipstick, then the graphic design for the labeling, then the marketing, it apparently never dawned on anyone involved that the term was a play on a slur for individuals with intellectual disability. The expressed acceptance by Sephora of using a form of the R-word to seem hip and ironic to sell a product was also lost on those involved in making the shade of lipstick.

A petition was started, numerous complaints were filed, Lauren Potter of Glee spoke out against it, and within days, Sephora realized the error of its ways, announcing it would no longer sell that product.

NFL hazing using the “N-word”

At the same time as the Sephora uproar occurred, on a larger, national scale was the news story that a Stanford-educated, physically-imposing, offensive line rookie for the Miami Dolphins had left the team over hazing by a senior O-lineman, Ricki Incognito. That account alone I thought was noteworthy because it showed how anyone can be bullied, even huge, elite-university trained professional athletes.

Initially, though, based on just those circumstances being reported, most commentators wondered why the bullied O-line man didn’t stand up to the bully. But then voicemails were released where the bully also called the O-lineman, who had a Black parent, a N****r, or, as is reported in most news outlets, the “N-word.”

Here is the use of a slur where there is a social consensus that the word crosses the line and subjects the user to condemnation. Quite a contrast when compared to the slur of ret*rd being used to market a lipstick to women (and future moms) without anyone in the chain of its development second-guess, “hey, guys, maybe we shouldn’t use that term?”

12 Years a Slave

Finally, in this confluence of social examples of slurs being used, comes the film “12 Years a Slave.” Based on the true story of a Black man kidnapped from the Northeast and taken into slavery in the deep south, the movie is already an odds-on favorite for multiple Oscars. While I have yet to see it, the trailer caused me to think of something:

The last lines are:

I was a free man. I’m not a slave.

For whatever reason, though I had learned and read of slavery since elementary school, it dawned on me the fact that none of those men and women who were enslaved where “slaves.” They were all free people, who through a horrible injustice had been enslaved. But they were not “slaves.” They were men and women.

My daughter is not a ret*rd

Each of these examples speaks to the powers of words, of labels, of slurs. Humanity has a regrettable bent towards some trying to label others as something less than human so they can treat them as less than human: nigger, slave, retard. But just because some ignorant, or worse, bigoted people choose to use those labels against other people, that does not make them less human.

No person is a slave, though they may be enslaved. No person is a “N-word,” even if someone calls them that. And my daughter, though she may test on certain scales designed to measure intelligence as being intellectually disabled, or, in the outdated phrase, mentally retarded, that does not make her a ret*rd.

My daughter is a person and should be treated the same as any other human being.

And, so should yours if you receive a diagnosis that your child has Down syndrome.


  1. We’ll articulated Mark, thank you.

    This type of thing just goes to show how far discrimination against our children is deeply ingrained in our culture. We have a similar situation with a large mothers blog in Australia doing the same type of thing, and they won’t even acknowledge the discrimination.

    We just need to keep on chipping away. Unlike the negro population though, we don’t have a critical mass, so, it’s very easy for the discriminatory to get away with it.

  2. Hello Mark,
    Thank you so much for your candid article, that puts a face on these horrible, derogatory terms. My son is 26, has Down Syndrome and is also multiracial, so a couple of these type of slurs have been used towards him. Thank goodness he is able to understand that these terms are used by ignorant, hate mongering, mean spirited people. (He is very much loved by our small community, though, and we feel very fortunate!) But, it is people like you and I, and SO many others, who are driven to spread the word to not use those words!!!

    Best wishes,
    Deb Spotser


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