I recently came across a website whose cause is near and dear to my heart. Their tagline, which I’ve now heard on tv and on the radio, is “Spread the word to end the word.” And of course, the word we’re talking about is retarded.
I will be the first to admit that I was an r-word abuser for a long time. In high school and even college it was one of the more satisfying insults I could sling at someone (don’t get me wrong, I swear like a sailor, but that one is just, I don’t know, harsher). But as as I’ve aged, I’ve realized that maybe the reason that insult felt so affective is because, well, it’s horribly offensive.
I don’t have a bigger agenda here. I’m blessed to have a family of healthy individuals free from physical and mental handicap. But this word has become such a permanent part of our vernacular that we don’t even realize it anymore. And it’s time to do something because the abuse of the r-word is out of control.
Calling someone retarded is to say that they’re not smart enough, good enough or whatever adjective enough of something for you. Whether you intend it to or not, the r-word is promoting a stereotype that those with mental or physical handicaps aren’t enough.
Disability does not equal inability and disability certainly doesn’t mean ignorable, which is what we’re doing. We don’t use horrible words like the n-word because it is offensive to a specific set of people. We don’t use most vulgar words because they’re offensive to a group. And the r-word is no different. It promotes a stereotype and it takes a medical diagnosis and makes it into an insult.
Into something derogatory.
This isn’t about walking on egg shells, it’s about respect. It’s about respecting those who may not be able to stand up for themselves to tell you that this isn’t cool. It’s about understanding that your words have an impact, even if you’re just talking to your friends or family. It’s about not passing on this really tragic habit to the next generation.
Even before I read about the r-word campaign that’s been launched, I’ve been enforcing this as a rule in my classroom. The use of the word retarded is an automatic demerit for disrespect. And you know what? I’ve given out probably nearly 20 of them. And do you know what else? Parents are mad. But they’re not mad at their children, they’re mad at me.
Something has happened to us. We don’t value this group of people enough to recognize when we’re being jerks. We don’t even think that our language is wrong or that it is disrespectful. Well, newsflash kids, it is.
There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t irradicate this word. Why we shouldn’t. I know it’s become ingrained in your vocabulary, so here’s my suggestion. The next time you’re tempted to say the r-word, try ridiculous instead. Same sound, same general concept, and yet, not offensive. You can even say re-donk-ulous if that’s more fun.
I know some of you will click away from this post and never think about it again, but try and consider for a moment the damage we’re doing and how easy it would be to un-do. Imagine a generation of kids who respect those who are disabled or are differently-abled. Imagine a place where our favorite insult isn’t insulting to a group of people who are working to be respected just like you and me.
Sure, maybe it’s silly. Maybe it’s not high on your priority list. But maybe it should be.
Spread the word to change the word. Pass it on.