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The Reality Of The “R” Word.



The R-word? This is in reference to the word “retarded.” I hear people say it all the time, jokingly to their friends, but I have always felt uncomfortable using this word so lightly. It’s not a “light” word, it’s actually extremely hurtful and targets those with autism and special needs. To those people that have a sibling with a mental disability, or have worked with those that have special needs in the past, you know that this word is extremely wrong, and if you didn’t, you should know that it is.

As a story to go along with the use of the r-word, I have a 32 year-old brother that has autism, and was diagnosed with it since he was born. Even though he is physically normal-looking on the outside, he occupies the thoughts in his head most of the time, and it’s sometimes hard to communicate with him with little verbal reciprocation. One day, before I was born, my brother attended grade school and at this school he was made fun of for being different and was called retarded repeatedly until he left the scene crying and ran out into a road, almost getting hit by several cars. My Mom came to pick him up from school and could see how distraught he was. Ever since my Mom told me that story, I’ve felt so strongly against that word, regardless of the situation. It was then that I fully realized that the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was total BS. “Retard” is not a word I associate in my vocabulary, or one that anyone should use.

I know that certain scientific journals use “mental-retardation” as a descriptive term, however, even though its intentions are not meant to offend, it still stems back to the same way of describing someone with special needs, even if it isn’t used as a way of name-calling. It’s a synonym of stupid, it is exclusive and focuses on a particular group of people to make them feel like less of a connected group and an outcast. When objectified with the term, people that are different feel like society is just full of a bunch of heartless human beings. According to science and medical journals are eliminating the diagnostic term because of its derogatory association.

There are different campaigns that promote inclusion of all people, regardless of physical or mental disability. Those are the “I am Norm” and “R-Word: Spread the word to end the word” campaigns. At the end of the day, there shouldn’t be certain words to pit others against one another, or words that separate a person from a group of people. It’s bullying, it’s insensitive, and it’s not necessary. There are other ways to joke around, but the r-word is something that promotes loneliness and is categorized as a form of hate speech. Regardless of this awareness, these words will always exist, but I think it’s important to spread around the ways in which they can negatively affect people.

Even though this brings up a topic that has been discussed in past years, I find that people constantly forget how hurtful it is, because I still see friends using it all the time. That’s why I want to talk about it.  Having focused on the r-word in particular, this further extends to other phrases and words that people may call others based on their race, gender, or sexuality. I think it’s important to be aware that the words that we speak to others, even if it’s in a joking manner, can have a much greater impact than you might think – whether it allows them to think that it’s okay to say it, or impacts them in a negative way. I mean, there are other ways of saying things without being crude. Maybe it’s just me being some radical social justice warrior, but I believe in treating people with respect.

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Teresa Johnson
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Teresa is a junior journalism major at the University of Maryland, College Park. Being a part of the DMV, she enjoys writing about events in the D.C. area, reporting for a Pop-Culture radio station at her University, and going to concerts. You may occasionally catch her improvising songs about her cats.

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