End the Word

Today is Spread the Word to End the Word Day.

In short, I’m tired of people defending their use of the word. I’m tired of people thinking it’s ok. And I’m past the point of wanting to be nice about the whole thing, asking politely for people to stop. Using this word today, in this time, in 2015, is a conscious choice. You can’t claim ignorance anymore.

Some people seem to think it’s “overly PC” to ask others to stop using this word. Some people think we’re being overly sensitive, making mountains out of molehills, or looking for something to rage against. People try to explain it away as “well, it’s a medical term!” or “I don’t mean it that way!” or “I’m saying it about myself!” And my personal favorite: “The First Amendment gives me the right to say whatever I want!!!” (Actually, no. Quick civics lesson for you: the First Amendment says the government cannot persecute you for saying what you want; it does not give you full, unrestricted license to be a jerk without any consequences.)

Here’s the thing: you don’t get to decide if this word is offensive or not. You just don’t.

The people for whom it is a slur get to decide. 

That’s right, “retard” is a slur. Period. End of story.

Would you ever dream of telling the target of a religious, racial, or ethnic slur that they are being too sensitive? The fact that we think for even a second that we get to decide on behalf of people with cognitive disabilities that retard is not insulting is yet another sign of the infantilizing, patronizing way we treat people with disabilities in our society.

But you know what? I think sometimes us parents stall the discourse surrounding this word. We often say “that word hurts my kid.” So here’s my challenge to you: address it just as you would address someone using a racial slur. Instead of saying “that word hurts Rowenna,” try saying “that’s a slur and that is unacceptable.” Don’t open the door to “I didn’t mean it that way” or “I would never say that about your child!” What would you say if you heard someone say the n-word? Would you argue that it hurts the black community, or would you straight call the person on their hate speech?

It’s hard. It’s daunting. People may not understand. People will still choose to fight it. But we’ve got to nip “I didn’t mean it that way” in the bud.

People with intellectual/cognitive disabilities are the target of the word retard, no matter how people try to explain it away by saying “I didn’t mean it that way.” Plain and simple, no ifs ands or buts about it. When you say “Oh, I’m such a retard,” you are literally saying “my foolish behavior is exactly that of someone who has a cognitive disability.”

And that is a crappy thing to say.

Period.

If you are not the target of the slur, you don’t get to decide if it is offensive or not. People with cognitive disabilities are asking – and asking rather politely, I might add – for people to stop using it. I’m not nearly so polite. I’m telling you to knock it right off.

You can try to justify it, explain it away, attempt to lessen your guilt, but that doesn’t change what you said.

So stop saying it. It’s really that simple. Just stop saying it.

And if you don’t want to take my word for it, here are my three favorite pieces about the word.

Dave Hinsburger’s Excellent Piece about the R Word (and if you don’t read Dave’s blog, it’s fantastic and worth reading more)

Rob Rummel-Hudson’s Fantastic Piece about the R Word (another fabulous blog to follow)

John Franklin Stephens’ Open Letter to Ann Coulter about Her Use of the R Word

And if you’re up for an additional, albeit much more diplomatic challenge than the one I’ve posed here, I encourage you to read Courtney Heigele’s piece from last year’s Spread the Word to End the Word Day about doing more than just not saying retard. Her post can be found here, over at the Pudge and Biggie blog. If you aren’t already following her blog, please take the time to read – she is by far one of the best bloggers in the Ds community, artfully combining honesty and humor to talk about life with an extra chromosome.

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4 Responses to End the Word

  1. Stephanie March 4, 2015 at 8:30 am #

    Once again, you say everything I’d like to with so much more eloquence. I love reading your blog and your thoughts!

  2. Kurc March 4, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    Thoughtful and heartfelt posting. I can honestly say I do not ever recall using this word, even before the birth of my son, 26 years ago. I’ve always felt that words and language can and are used as weapons, and more indicative of the character, or more accurately the lack of character, of the dispenser of those words. Be that as it may, over the last several years I have met, coached and friended so many of my son’s peers in Special Olympics, that each time that word is used, whether a person with an intellectual challenge is in the vicinity or not, the pain I feel is sometimes just unbearable. I have respectfully, but firmly, made the attempt to educate the user of the word, and sadly, not always had a mature response. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to educate and transform society, does it, because it’s the right and respectful thing to do – and those r-words are worthy of the energy spent. Thanks for your blog, count me as a new fan.

  3. Judy March 4, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Melissa, as always your words are so meaningful and beautiful. Love your message, your girls and you!

    Judy

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