Many of us grew up hearing the saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. You know what? Words can hurt. Hurtful words can chip away at a person’s self esteem until there is nothing left. Retarded is a word that marginalizes the special needs community. Retarded is a word that cuts and it cuts deep.
So what is the big deal? Why do we need a r-word campaign? Why do people in the special needs community get upset when someone is called retarded?
We get upset because the connotative meaning of retarded has taken an ugly turn over the years. We get upset because retarded has become a synonym for stupid, dumb, and lacking common sense. It is a slur. It is a hateful word. We all know it is because that is the way it is used.
It is used in a negative way and over the last few years I have noticed what I call the “R-Word Cycle.” First, a public figure calls someone or something retarded. Next, there is a public outcry. Then, this public figure either apologizes or defends their right to free speech. Finally, the offended group either moves on or they stay on the issue until they feel it has been resolved. Still I wonder if any real lesson was learned because a few weeks later we have another public figure calling someone else retarded and the cycle continues.
Public figures are not the only ones using the word retarded. I have heard it on the playground and in the pizza shop. I have also read it in the comments section of news articles and in song lyrics. I will admit to you that I probably called someone or something retarded when I was younger.
The point here is for all of us to learn, grow, and become more compassionate toward each other. If you were not aware that your use of the word retarded was considered a slur, now you know. Now stop using it. It is that simple.
Every time retarded is used to insult someone my heart sinks. My heart sinks because my son is on the autism spectrum. He has a developmental disability. His autism has affected his intellectual, academic, and emotional progress. So I take it personal when I hear people calling each other retarded as a way to put them down and make them feel less than. My son is just as valuable as anyone else. His being differently-abled does not make him less of a human being. My son and every other person with special needs deserves respect.
So what can you do now that you know how hurtful calling others retarded can be? You can become aware of the R-Word campaign to end the word. On March 5th, R-Word marked their annual National Spread the Word to End the Word Day. This awareness campaign is a collaboration between R-Word, the Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and over 200 organizations. Their main goal is to get people to take the pledge to stop using the word retarded.
Want to take the pledge? Go to the R-Word Web site to learn more. Let us all do our part to end hateful speech in our every day conversations.