Why Using the R-Word Says More About You Than A Person With Disabilities


Today is Spread the Word to End the Word day, an annual day of awareness to help folks understand that using the R-word (retard) as an insult is just as offensive as a racial slur. So we need to stop using it.

Let’s face it: A lot of people use the word and don’t think much of the fact that they are taking someone’s mental disability and using it as an insult. I’d wager that most of the people slinging around the R-word even consider themselves quite tolerant of and sensitive to people with special needs… Which is like using the N-word and saying you’re not a racist.

The irony is that the reaction I usually get to politely asking folks to stop using the R-word is anger or condescension. Yes, people actually get mad at me for asking them not to use the R-word. How dare I suggest that what they’re doing is wrong! How dare I be insensitive enough to suggest they’re being insensitive! Some have even suggested that it’s a free speech issue. Yes, we have freedom of speech, which is exactly why I’m free to point out how insensitive R-word abuse is. [You see, that free speech thing goes both ways; you don't get to drape yourself in the Bill of Rights and expect the other guy to shut up.] Other folks act like I’m making mountains out of molehills, because they don’t think the R-word is such a big deal. It might not be a big deal to you, but to someone who has mental disabilities or someone who loves someone with mental impairments, it’s certainly a big deal. [Besides, if it's not such a big deal, why not give it up? Why fight over your right to abuse it?] All we’re asking you to do is to respect our wishes. A patronizing attitude towards this issue really says where your heart is when it comes to disabilities.

I’m not a fan of political correctness [and, yes, it is political]. That’s not what this is about. This is about human dignity. This is about respect for others and their beliefs, even if you don’t see the issue as being as important as they do. This about doing for others what you’d have them do for you, even if you have the freedom to do otherwise. Have folks really lost the ability to put themselves into another’s shoes that they can’t see what using someone’s disability as an insult is degrading and offensive to folks with that disability?

When people get angry, offended or condescending with me for my stance on the R-word, they’re focusing on themselves. They don’t like the personal implication that they’re being offensive or intolerant. They don’t like people telling them that what they’re doing is wrong and that they need to stop. They don’t personally think it’s a big deal. What they’re not doing is thinking of the guy or gal with mental disabilities who’s listening to you or some actor on TV using his disability as an insult.

And for the Christians out there [the ones most likely to be offended by even my politest requests to stop abusing the R-word, btw], this self-centered focus is anathema to a Christian walk. More so than others on this planet, we are called to prefer one another over ourselves. That’s in your Book. Today, I’m making a special plea to my fellow believers to stop using the R-word. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that lust was the same thing as adultery. Most believers remember that one; we hear it a lot in sermons. What we don’t remember as much is that in the same breath Jesus said that if hate our brother without a cause or we call our brother a fool or worthless [raca], we’re guilty of murder. Think about that as you consider how Jesus would look at someone using the R-word as an insult; did you just abuse the R-word to call someone a fool?

Maybe this is the first time you’ve thought about it. No worries. Just ask God to forgive you and repent [change your ways]. If it’s a habit, it won’t be easy, but you can do anything with God’s help. And this is a habit that’s worth breaking.

Help Spread the Word to End the Word today. Learn more about what you can do at http://r-word.org.

2 thoughts on “Why Using the R-Word Says More About You Than A Person With Disabilities

  1. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand people who get on a soapbox about this kind of thing. You equate the word ‘retard’ to the word ‘nigger’, stating that “it’s like using the N-word and saying you’re not a racist” -I have news for you; every day thousands of people call others niggers and they aren’t racist. Others are called gay, crackers, cuz, bro, dummy, retard, and all kinds of other names.

    In my experience, people who take offense to the use of the word retard, typically have a loved one who has a mental disability. If you know that they are sensitive to the use of that word, and you choose to use it anyway, shame on you. However, we live in a culture where people are offended by everything. Come on, people are literally offended by almost anything, and the cultural response we are now trained to have is to immediately cease and desist all potentially offensive behavior.

    I believe people used to just move on, not take EVERYTHING personally, not force EVERYONE to change their vocabulary, actions, or habits because it MIGHT offend one person.

    I’m not an insensitive person, and I am careful about my word choices, no matter who is around, but I find it absurd to cater to the politically correct culture. GET OVER IT. If my friend does something flamboyant, I call him gay. If my friend does something particularly stupid, I call him a retard.

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