An Open Letter To Anyone Who Still Uses The R-Word

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Still Uses The R-Word

It's time to change.
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I'm amazed by the amount of times I hear the words “retard" or “retarded" leave the mouths of the people around me. Each time, I actually cringe, as if it physically hurts my ears to hear. In a sense, it does. My surprised and often pained expression incites some colorful excuses from the verbalizer. “Oh, I didn't mean it like that," and “Well, I'd never actually say that to someone with special needs," are just a few of the justifications people give to their derogatory use of the R-word. It makes my skin crawl to even type it.

The first use of the words "retard/retarded" was in the late 1890s, in relation to describing an individual with intellectual or developmental impairments. At first, the word had scientific implications. When the public began to use it as a derogatory term to refer to others is when it took on its offensive tone. Originally, the words "retard" and "retarded" meant no harm. After a while, it began to be thrown around as an insult. When somebody's friend did something stupid, they were called a "retard." If someone's teacher gave them a heavy workload, the class was "retarded." Purposefully or not, the once scientific term has been turned into a dehumanizing insult.

If you are one of the many who still, unfortunately, use the R-word in your everyday language, it's time you get with the times and educate yourself as to how your words affect others. I have been fortunate enough as a young adult to have had copious experience as a mentor, coworker, and most importantly, as a friend to numerous individuals with varying levels of intellectual disabilities. I'm even lucky enough to be a big cousin to an amazing young man with autism. These individuals have touched my life in ways I never will be able to fully explain to people who do not know them. To the world, their limitations are a disability. To me, and anyone else lucky enough to know them, their limitations give them a unique ability. I have learned more from my friends with intellectual impairments than from anybody else. They taught me how to love freely, without limitation. They taught me the ability of compassion. Without a judgmental bone in their bodies, they taught me the importance of choosing to see the best in people. They taught me the virtue of patience and how to smile through my toughest days. They taught me how to be a friend.

Because of this, I will never understand why the outdated scientific terms "retard" and "retarded" are still used for offensive purposes. Not only is it mean, it makes you sound simpleminded and uneducated. Regardless of whom you say it to or how you mean (or don't mean) it, calling somebody a retard and/or retarded is extremely ignorant and offensive. The implications behind the R-word are derogatory and insulting. By using the r-word in your everyday language, you are hurting individuals with intellectual disabilities whether you intend to or not. You are hurting my friends and making it OK for others to do so as well. What do you usually do when others are mean to your friends? Do you get mad? Sad? Plan revenge? Your use of the words "retard" and "retarded" hurts each individual with intellectual disabilities, not to mention their friends and families. This includes my friends and myself. All we ask is for you to change the way you speak.

It's time to remove the R-word from your vocabulary. The English language has a vast arsenal of words to describe things that are stupid or unpleasant. Use another word to describe how you feel about something. Replace the words "retard" and "retarded" with my personal favorite R-word: respect. Learn to respect others for their differences. Eliminate the R-word from your everyday speech. Foster an accepting and inclusive environment for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Educate yourself. Stop hurting my friends.

Spread The Word To End The Word is a national campaign that educates the world on the harmful effects of the use of the R-word. They have created a pledge for others to encourage the elimination of the words "retard/retarded" from everyday speech. Pledge your support below and join us in celebrating national Spread The Word To End The Word Day of Awareness:

www.r-word.org

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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.
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Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

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When Words Are Not Enough

Sometimes you just need to be.

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Life is a roller-coaster of ups and downs. We all desire easy fruitful lives where no one ever dies and no one ever leaves. Instead, we suffer through hardships and great trials that test our faith. These conflicts often leave us worn down and feeling helpless. This is the time when words become a languid breeze, going through one ear and out the other. This is what you should do when words are not enough to satiate the pain you hold in trembling hands.

Focus all your energy into just being. No one expects you to get over the tragedy that occurred in your life, so don't force yourself. Just eat, breathe, and sleep until you feel up to doing normal tasks. Whatever circumstance that has stolen your breath and turned your life upside down won't go a week in a couple of days or a week. Wounds like yours don't go away instantly; instead, they take time and nurturing. Sometimes it's best to keep a sore covered but in some circumstances, know that seeing someone is okay.

These tragedies you face are real, and they try to break down the very substances that make you who you are. Counselors and therapists can help you make sense of the burden you carry. There are many reasons why you might be hesitant to see a therapist, but if the burden you carry becomes too much, a therapist can help you lighten that load.

Know that what you are going through is real and it is tough, but you will make it out on top. You are a survivor and a success story. Every single bad thing that has tried to tear you down hasn't succeeded, and this will be no different. Trust me, your story is not over.

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