"The r-word is hate speech that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that face people with intellectual disabilities every day. Yet, its use continues to gain in popularity."
Yesterday a fellow blogger tipped me off to a train wreck of a thread over at Idaho Falls Today that has had me in a state of teeth-grinding irritation since. Ironically, the post itself was about civility in commenting on such threads, specifically political posts. It took a horrible turn when one reader felt the need to post this link and then respond to those who were offended by saying he's tired of everyone being ultra-sensitive to political correctness on the web.
I've heard the argument that political correctness has gone overboard of late; I hear it daily out of the mouths of shock jocks like Zeb Bell, who happens to be offended by being called a shock jock, but I've never heard it applied to the use of words as damaging as the N-word and now the R-word. Unbelievably, readers defended the use of this particular image and one even admitted that he "[felt] horribly guilty laughing at that picture… but couldn’t help it." The initial response to such a horrifically offensive image was as insensitive as the image itself before turning into personal attacks on those defending and condoning it.
All of this despite the community commenting policy at Idaho Falls Today that states: No personal attacks, name-calls, put-downs, or baiting other guests, races, genders, or religions.
The ever-brilliant Sisyphus weighed in rightfully pointing out the perspective of one who has personally experienced how damaging the R-word can be:
If you don’t get why “retard” is the new n-word then I can’t help you. Try reading the article again from someone who explains why it hurts. Your stance does clearly indicate that you have little association with the disabled. And that certainly would make you ignorant. I had hoped my home town had evolved a little. But that picture certainly can’t be defended by the victim’s cry of political correctness out of control. You bring shame to the state that is hosting the Special Olympics. With demeaning negative stereotyping like that, I don’t blame them if they never return. Can’t you see the value of people?Sisyphus makes a good point about Idaho hosting the Special Olympics World Winter Games--we will in fact be the host of athletes from around the world in February. Since it was announced that the gem state would host the games, I've wondered about the reception these athletes will receive in my home state.
Having been involved with both the developmentally disabled community and Special Olympics much of my life, my awareness of how this particular population is received is heightened. I've been walking through the grocery store with my developmentally disabled brother and have had people stare at him. There isn't a feeling in the world quite like realizing that someone you love is being looked at like a freak or monster. Granted, my brother doesn't have Down Syndrome, a disability with more noticeable physical characteristics, but he is a six foot, two hundred and fifty pound thirty-one year old with a large scar on his head, the result of brain surgery at a young age, his face is asymmetrical, his tongue is slightly bigger than his mouth which means he slobbers a bit, his left side doesn't quite operate as well as his right side, and once he starts talking you quickly realize that he's just a kid trapped in a grown-up body. Yet, in my eyes he is adorable.
My brother doesn't comprehend the meaning or hurt behind the word "retard," but he is one of the few in the developmentally disabled community that isn't hurt daily by the word's use. I remember when I was a teenager, my brother's roommate, a young Down Syndrome man with a tough exterior, crying one evening after work because some kids were laughing at him and called him a retard on the bus. I can't remember ever being so angry and hurt by something that didn't happen to me. This young man, he has since passed away, was the sweetest man I have ever known. Underneath that tough exterior, he was afraid of Big Bird, loved Batman, took me on my first date, and would have done anything for anyone. Seeing him breakdown in tears over insensitive and cruel comments uttered in ignorance left an impression on me that I will never be without.
I could tell you story after story of developmentally disabled adults as well as kids dealing with the pain of the insulting use of the R-word. I have two siblings, fourteen housemates, and hundreds of friends (I say hundreds because all of them consider you a friend from day one and will be your friend as long as they know you) who are developmentally disabled and deserve nothing less than complete respect and acceptance.
I have never in my life said the R-word. When I hear it I am instantly sick to my stomach. I've had friends who use it in regular conversation as a synonym for stupidity--I've asked them not to. My younger brother, despite our background, uses the word because all of his friends do. He is careful not to say it around me because of the lecture that will ensue. I will shut a movie off immediately if the R-word is being used and cringe when I hear it just as much as I cringe when I hear the N-word. It's a disgusting word that has no place in conversation, yesterday's thread at Idaho Falls Today included.
After posting the image that caused such a stir, participating in its defense much of yesterday, and evidently paying no attention to conscience, the IFT reader responds this morning to another reader offended by the image:
I think you need to learn by the child in that picture’s example. Judging by the expression on his face, he knows what life is all about, which puts him a step above just about everyone here, myself included.If the child in the picture knows what life is all about, why did you stoop to the level of insulting him and others like him for a disability they did not choose? This reader used this image and its caption in an entirely insulting manner--there is no disputing it--and he has absolutely no right to then turn it around saying those who were offended by it need to be more like the boy in the picture. Like many of the readers noted in this thread, if that image was shown to the young man in the picture or the young man's family, undoubtedly both would be completely devastated. Used purposely as an insult or not, it is offensive to use the R-word in any circumstance.
Special Olympics and a number of other organizations have created a pledge to take the R-word out of daily conversation. Will you sign the pledge? It's simple:
I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
I signed the pledge, my friends and family will sign the pledge, will you?