The R Word
A quick Google search will affirm that there are over one million words in the English language. One million words to choose from, and yet people still choose to use the word “retard” as an insult. Now, I feel I must preface the rest of this post by saying that I am a very vulgar person, and much of what you will hear me say at any given moment is riddled with profanity. However, you will never hear me using the “R word,” because it’s an insensitive, ignorant, and offensive choice of words. I can’t sit here and tell you that I have never used the word, because I have. I used it when I was much younger and uneducated – when I thought it would be the “cool” word to use. The R word is never “cool” and it is never going to be cool.
Since I stopped using the word, it’s always been one of those things where I am compelled to speak up if I ever hear it. They often disregard what I say as common knowledge, and that they didn’t mean it like that. In retrospect, my response should have been to ask them “Well, what did you mean?” because there is really no other way to interpret what they said. When people say that word, they take one aspect of people’s intellectual disability (which is the proper term) and use it to define them as a whole. By using the R word, you are making the connotation that being associated with a person who has an intellectual disability is a bad thing. No matter what the reason, and no matter how you mean to use the word, it is offensive to everyone around you, because the intent is to use it as an insult.
You may ask yourself: how is that offensive to me? I may not have an intellectual disability, or any relatives with one, but I can still recognize that the use of the word is wrong. Continuing to use the word perpetuates the idea that those with intellectual disabilities are somehow less important, and that is so far from the truth. All people are capable of being valuable members to their communities and to society as a whole. I recently attended a “Spread the Word to End the Word” event at my university. At this event, I had the opportunity to hear from individuals with intellectual disabilities. Almost all of them had jobs whether they be full or part time. All of them had activities in which they participated, and many of them enjoyed multiple activities such as sports and community outreach programs. They all had lives, and they all worked just as hard, if not harder, than you and me without disabilities, because that’s what they have to do. So, why strip them down to their medical conditions? They are so much than that.
I admit that I am ashamed that I had never heard of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” movement before I attended the event on my campus this month. The campaign was started at a national summit during the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2009, and I just heard about it 3 months into 2015. That is unacceptable, especially given that since this movement has started, many notable celebrities, sports figures, musicians, and political figures have been quoted using the R word. Politicians such as Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff, Martin Harty, a New Hampshire state legislator, and notable conservative Ann Coulter, have all been caught using the R word. Celebrities such as: Jennifer Aniston, Kirstie Alley, and Lady Gaga, have also used the R word. Sports superstar Lebron James used the R word in one of his postgame interviews. And most recently, in 2013, superstar rapper J-Cole used the R word in one his songs. While most of these people have apologized for their use of the word, I feel that the many of their apologies aren’t sincere. I feel that they only apologized in order to avoid alienating parts of their fan bases.
The fact remains that I have heard more about people in the news using the word than I have about the people who are actually trying to end the use of the word. That is a tragedy in my eyes. People with intellectual disabilities are no less of a human being than you or me. If you are someone who has used the word in the past, or continues to use the term, then I urge you to think about your word choice. You don’t know whom around you that may be offending. Whether it’s a mother, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, friend, or anyone else. The point is, there is no reason to use the word when it only serves to oppress and to offend.
Lastly, I would like to urge you all to go over to http://www.r-word.org/Default.aspx and make your pledge to stop the use of the R word. A simple and small way do your part to make a better world for everybody else.