The r word

The+r+word+

Photo by Amy McCoy

Story by Brianna Sellers, Co-Editor in Chief

I was in fifth grade at Wake Village Elementary school eating my usual pb&j in the always obnoxiously loud cafeteria and I could barely even hear the hot fifth grade gossip about so-and-so’s hideous dress she had worn to school that day. However, no matter how hard I tried not to listen, I couldn’t help or stop myself from hearing the words coming out of a cruel mouth across the lunchroom towards Jordan.

Jordan hurriedly ate his food by himself almost every day while trying to avoid the derogatory comments slurred by the so called social “its” of our class. Most of the time, I tried to ignore them, even when I knew I shouldn’t. But I couldn’t tune them out that day. It was the first time I had ever heard the dehumanizing slang, “retarded.”

According to a medical dictionary, it means slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development. According to urban dictionary, it means stupid, messed up, a waste of time, characterless, good-for-nothing, meaningless, worthless. But in reality, all the word is, is demeaning. The “r” word is just like every other minority slur, just a disability version, and should be treated that way. In fact, it’s more than just a slur, it’s a label, whether directed towards a person with a disability or not.

So what does it mean to be “retarded?” Well, I know what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean ignorant, meaningless, or any of those terms used to describe someone mentally or physically impeded.

In my household, it means other things.

Not ever being able to care for yourself, ever.

Not being able to understand why you are the way you are.

Never knowing how/why people view you the way they do.

But also, loving unconditionally.

People aren’t aware of how that one word impacts others. For one, it’s exclusive- makes those with a disability feel different and even alone. The “r” word equates intellectual disability with being stupid or worthless, whether meant to or not. It isn’t an appropriate way to describe people, with or without a disability. But more than anything, it’s hateful. Though people don’t realize it, it is a form of hate-speech. It’s dehumanizing, it’s a mockery of them, and absolutely hurtful not only to them, but to their loved ones as well.

There isn’t anything more offensive to me than hearing the “r” word casually thrown around when among my friends. Like, “Guys, stop acting like a retard.” which usually means, “Guys, stop acting so stupid.” My question is, does that mean someone with a disability is stupid? My reply to those that use it, and I always reply to those who do, is: “Imagine your brother/sister. Imagine them with some sort of speaking, physical or mental impairment. And imagine what society is known to label them as.  Now imagine hearing one of your friends loosely use the word without any consideration; without any conscience. Now, please imagine how that would make you feel- because I’m in those shoes as we speak.”

Do I take more offense to the word than most others do because I am faced with it every day? Probably. However, it has never been, nor will it ever be, okay to use this word; yet, justice will never be brought. While I know that when some people say “retarded,” they don’t mean it in such a derogatory way, and they don’t stop to think of the emotional damage it causes, this is the very reason disability awareness should be raised.  Or, as I call it, “ability awareness.”

People with disabilities have the “ability” to accomplish so many things as they leave an immense impact on the lives of those who spend much time around them. Raising ability awareness has hit home for me, considering my mother has worked with students with disabilities since before I was born, and I’ve lived with a child who has a disability for almost 8 years. Therefore, it’s have been a part of my life since the day I was born.

Raising awareness doesn’t just mean telling people not to say the “r” word; it’s much more than that. It’s giving people a reason not to say it, showing them how words affect everyone around them.  It’s accepting and including those with any sort of learning, speaking, mental, or motor impairment. It’s teaching them to understand the beauty in others’ differences.

Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, once said, “Everyone has a gift and the world would be better off if we recognized it.”  Tomorrow is not the time, and five years from now is not the time. Today is the time to end the “r” word and to give the word a new meaning- respect.