Let’s talk about the r-word.
For those unaware, the r-word is the word “retard”. I hate the way people use this word, it makes both my head and my heart hurt.
I have spoken out about the misuse and abuse of the word for more than 18 years now, since my youngest son was born. My youngest has Down syndrome. I didn’t use the r-word before he was born, because it’s wrong. I was raised to be kind, and using the word in the way so many use it is unkind, disrespectful and offensive.
For the record, the definition of the word retard is to hold back or slow down. It doesn’t mean stupid, dumb, idiot, moron or anything else demeaning someone’s level of intelligence. It also doesn’t mean absurd, annoying, asinine, crazy, foolish, goofy, idiotic, irritating, ludicrous, nonsensical, pointless, ridiculous, senseless, or silly.
So, why do I hate the misuse and abuse of the r-word? I could go on about this for quite some time.
Basically, the r-word has a really negative connotation. You don’t hear it used in a positive light.
There are people that use the r-word with purpose, in a mean way. “Look at that retard”, said when looking at or pointing to someone with Down syndrome or perhaps another developmental delay. When someone uses the r-word in reference to someone with a condition, they are defining a person with that condition. We are not our abilities or our disabilities. By this I mean, my son is not Down syndrome. He has Down syndrome but he isn’t Down syndrome. We are people and should be considered such. Person first language should always be used. My son is not a Down syndrome boy, he is a boy with Down syndrome. See the difference?
Then there are people who use the word when they mean something else entirely, and believe that’s ok to use the word because they “didn’t mean it that way”. Have you ever heard someone say “oh my god you won the lottery, that’s so retarded!” Of course you haven’t. You’ve probably heard it used in a negative way. I’d actually bet money that you have. Perhaps you’ve heard a student say “that assignment was retarded”. So the assignment was delayed? Of course not.
When someone uses the r-word to mean something else entirely, such as ridiculous, they’re using the word with a negative view. To say someone’s behavior was “retarded” associates the word with something bad. When you give the word a bad connotation, you’re also passing on that same negative connotation to an entire group of people that includes my son.
Along with “retard” and “retarded”, there are other words used in their place or in a similar fashion. Some of those are “downie”, “fucktard” and “libtard” and other words where people attached “tard” to the end, “mongoloid”, “mong”, “short bus”, “special” when said with a sarcastic tone or inflection, “sped” (a shortened version of special ed), “tart” and “window-licker”.
Why can’t we all say what we mean, instead of reaching for words that hurt others and aren’t even used correctly. Why can’t we just be kind? Why can’t we be accepting that people have differences?
Someone with a child that has Down syndrome recently told me they didn’t push back when they heard people using the r-word because they felt they had to pick their battles. Well, seeing my children being treated respectfully is my battle. It’s what I signed up for when I chose to get pregnant. If I don’t speak out then people saying it think it’s ok and continue on disrespecting my child and others like him. If I don’t speak out for my children, who will? Calling someone a “retard” is no less offensive than calling someone with Jewish heritage a “kike” or a person of color a “nigger”.
Using the r-word to demean someone is never ok. Never. (My personal opinion is that at times it is a form of bullying.)
When I hear someone saying the r-word I don’t have respect for them. Often times I will try and talk to the person and explain why I find it offensive. Sometimes people listen. I know a woman that when we first met she said it all the time. She listened to me and stopped saying it and is now one of my son’s biggest cheerleaders and a good friend that I am very fortunate and grateful to have. Sometimes people don’t listen. When they don’t listen and continue using the word despite knowing it’s offensive, you better believe I lose respect for them. Truth be told I have a sibling that still says the word. I love him but don’t have respect for him.
If you don’t use the r-word or any of the other words mentioned used in the same way, thank you.
If you do, instead of defending yourself by saying “what I meant was”, why not just find the accurate and correct words for what you want to say. It’s that easy. If you really need to use an r-word, try the word respect. You’d like to receive respect so you need to show it to others.
What are your thoughts on the r-word? Feel free to share them, just be sure they are civil and respectful.