Put An End To The "R" Word

Put An End To The "R" Word

These are my reasons why saying "retard" makes you an "A" word.
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It is easy to spot the table at lunch occupied with the students who need aides to help them out with their classwork.

There are always the students that spend their school days in another classroom to learn daily activities such as tying their shoes or signing their names. You may walk by them in the halls and watch as they look down at the ground away from you.

They are the very few students who have access to the elevator key because the school isn’t wheelchair accessible. They leave class occasionally to take medications or deal with bodily functions.

You call them the “R” word.

They seem foreign to some. At universities, exposure is limited. When they are spotted being helped by workers in our facilities with jobs that are considered undesirable, it’s hard not to stare. At this age, transitional care is limited, and it’s difficult for parents to let them go into society. There are agencies that match them with staff to bring them to and from places and care for them throughout the day when their parents can no longer do so.

You call them the “R” word.

They greet you with a big smile on their face as they hand you the movie ticket you purchased. They optimistically clean up after you make a mess because they are proud of the job they have and the hard work they put into it. Some may live on their own, others still need daily supervision to help them achieve tasks that we take for granted. They have lived their entire lives knowing they are different.

You call them the “R” word.

Temple Grandin raised awareness of animal cruelty and used her own experience to alleviate anxiety for animals in slaughterhouses. She is the creator of multiple animal handling inventions that allow animals, especially cattle, to be treated as humanely as possible. There have been documentaries made about her and her research that is still in use today. She is a Professor of Animal Science, an author, and an advocate for people with disabilities similar to her own.

You call her the “R” word.

Frank Stephens testified on Capitol Hill about the importance of research on disabilities, especially Down Syndrome, and the recording of his opening statement went viral. He takes a stance on the beautiful capabilities that those with Down Syndrome have and argues how great his life is, regardless of the beliefs of others around him. He exaggerates the beauty of inclusion in society, and values the incredible source of happiness that comes from him and others with his disability.

I call them “R” words, too. Radiant. Refreshing. Remarkable. Real.

Every day, someone with a disability is chastised for being different, but they are crucial to our society at every stage in life. Without them, many of the revolutionary changes in our world similar to those made by Temple Grandin or Frank Stephens would have never happened. Contrary to common belief, they are capable of making our world a better place and they are driven to make an impact on society.

Hearing the “R” word thrown around breaks my heart, and knowing that so many people have become numb to the hurtful and degrading impact that it has is unacceptable. With the exception of one of my sorority sisters who inspired me to write this article, I have found that very few people even acknowledge the word's inappropriate usage. My mother has always taught me that people don’t choose to be that way, and that they have their own struggles every day without the judgement of others. It is our job to be kind and tolerant. Who are we to put down people who had no choice in the life they were given?

If you use the “R” word, however, you chose to be an asshole, so I use the “A” word.

Cover Image Credit: Sophie Rudloff

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9 Queer Pride Flags That You Probably Didn't Know About

The rainbow flag is certainly the most recognizable, but it isn't the only Pride Flag there is.
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It's Pride Month yet again and fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are celebrating. Normally around this time of year, we expect to see that all-too-familiar rainbow colored flag waving through the air, hanging from windows and sported on clothing of all types. Even when not strictly a flag, the colors of the rainbow are often displayed when showing support of the larger queer community. But what many people do not realize is that there are many, many pride flags for orientations of all kinds, so Natasha and I (Alana Stern) have created this handy guide to some others that you may not yet be familiar with:

1. L is for Lesbian and G is for Gay

The most recognizable letters of the entire acronym, L (Lesbian) and G (Gay), represent the homosexual people of the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is defined as being exclusively sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Again, although the rainbow Pride flag is easily the most iconic and recognizable, there is a Lesbian Pride Flag as well. Specifically for "Lipstick Lesbians," this flag was made to represent homosexual women who have a more feminine gender expression. Here are the Lesbian Pride Flag (left) and Gay Pride Flag with the meaning of each stripe (right).



2. B is for Bisexual

Bisexuality is defined as the romantic and/or sexual attraction towards both males and females. They often go unacknowledged by people who believe that they cannot possibly feel an attraction for both sexes and have been called greedy or shamed in many ways for being who they are, but not this month. This month we recognize everyone and their right to love. Here is the flag and symbol that represents the big B!


3. T is for Transgender (Umbrella)

Gender identities are just as diverse as sexual orientations. Transgender people are people whose gender does not necessarily fall in line with their biological sex. That is to say, someone who is born male may not feel that calling oneself a man is the best way to describe who they are as a person; the same can go for someone who is born female or intersex (we'll get to that in a bit). Someone born female may feel that they prefer to be referred to as a man. Someone born male may feel that they don't mind being referred to as either a man or a woman. And someone may feel that neither term really fits. Identities can range from having no gender, to multiple genders, to having a gender that falls outside of the typical gender binary of man/woman, to anything in between. The colors of the flag are blue (the traditional color for boys), pink (the traditional color for girls) and white (to represent those who are intersex, transitioning, or have a gender that is undefined).


Okay! Here's where we get into the lesser-known letters of the acronym. You may have heard of some of these before but didn't quite know what they meant or how they fit into the larger queer community, or you may not have heard of them at all. Either way, we'll do our best to explain them!

4. I is for Intersex

Intersex people are people who are have a mix of characteristics (whether sexual, physical, strictly genetic or some combination thereof) that would classify them as both a male and a female. This can include but is not limited to having both XX and XY chromosomes, having neither, being born with genitalia that does not fit within the usual guidelines for determining sex and appearing as one sex on the outside but another internally. It is possible for intersex people to display the characteristics from birth, but many can go years without realizing it until examining themselves further later in life. Here is an older version of the intersex flag which utilizes purple, white, blue and pink (left) and a more recent one that puts an emphasis on more gender-neutral colors, purple and yellow (right).


5. A is for Aro-Ace Spectrum

The A in the acronym is usually only defined as Asexual, which is a term used to describe people who experience a lack of sexual attraction to any sex, gender, or otherwise. People who are asexual can still engage in healthy romantic relationships, they just don't always feel the need or have the desire to have sex and are not physically attracted to other people. If that's confusing, think of it this way: you are attracted women, but not men. You may see a man and think, "He's kind of cute" or "That's a pretty good-looking guy," but you still would not feel any desire towards that person, because that's not what you're into. Asexual people generally feel that way about everyone. That's the "Ace" half of "Aro-Ace."

"Aro," or Aromantic, is a term used to describe people who do not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic people still have healthy platonic relationships, but have no inclination towards romantic love. The reason Asexual and Aromantic are together is because they are very heavily entwined and oftentimes can overlap. Underneath that spectrum are also other variations of asexuality (including but not limited to people who still feel as though they are asexual but experience sexual attraction in very rare circumstances, or only after they have a romantic connection) and aromanticism (including but not limited to people who still feel as though they are aromantic but experience romantic attraction in very rare circumstances).

Below are two versions of the Aromantic Pride Flag (top and middle) and the Asexual Pride Flag (bottom).





6. P and O are for Panseuxal and Omnisexual

Pansexual and omnisexual people are not limited by gender preferences. They are capable of loving someone for who they are and being sexually attracted to people despite what gender their partner identifies as. The word pansexual comes from the Greek prefix "pan-", meaning all. Pansexuals or Omnisexuals will probably settle for whoever wins their heart regardless of that persons gender.


7. But what about the Q?!

The Q can be said to stand for Queer or Questioning, or both. "Queer" is more of a blanket term for people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community or who identify as something other than heterosexual or cisgender (a term that has come to describe people who feel that their gender does fall in line with their biological sex; i.e. someone born male feels that he is a man). It is also possible for someone to identify as queer, but avoid using it to refer to specific people unless you know they are okay with it; some people still consider it insulting. Questioning means exactly what it sounds like: it gives a nod to those who are unsure about their sexuality and/or gender identity or who are currently in the process of exploring it.

There's no one flag specifically for the letter Q, as all of the above sexualities and identities technically fall underneath this term.


This list is hardly comprehensive and there are a number of other flags, orientations and identities to explore. Pride Month is still going strong, and there's always more to learn about the ever-changing nature of sexuality as a whole and the way we understand it. It's a time for celebration, but also a time to educate and spread the word.

For a more in-depth description of different types of attraction and how they work, click here.

For more complete lists of gender identities throughout history, click here or here.

For a general list of commonly used words in the LGBTQ+ community and their definitions, click here.


Now go grab a flag and fly it high--you've got a ton to choose from!

Cover Image Credit: 6rang

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The Struggle of Having an Accented Name

Because typing my real name should not have to be a nuisance.
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I didn't know how to spell my name until my sophomore year of high school.

I had to find my birth certificate for some kind of appointment (Doctor's office? Learner's permit exam? Who knows at this point?) and when my mom pulled it out from a stash of papers at the bottom of a drawer, I was shocked to see my printed name: Kate Lý Johnston.

“You never told me I had an accent on my name!" I accused my poor mother, who simply said, “It's just the Vietnamese spelling."

My middle name, as it turns out, is Lý. I had been writing “Ly" for about 15 years, so you can probably imagine my surprise. My sister, too, was shocked at the news, as she shares the same middle name (a tradition taken from Vietnamese “family names"). Our whole lives, we had been misspelling our own middle name!

It made sense, though. When you google “Lý," the result is an array of Vietnamese history: the Lý Dynasty, the famous Vietnamese tennis player, the Lý Sơn district of central Vietnam. Not that I'm an expert at any of those things, but what I mean is, there is a clear connection between the name and the culture, whereas, if you just google “Ly" without the accent aigu, all you get is some Musical.ly hyperlinks and lists of adverbs that end with “-ly." Not too interesting or significant.

The cultural aspect of my name became important to me. As a mixed-race girl who, to most people, looks predominantly white, I constantly feel as if I have to prove that aspect of my race to others. People find out I'm half Vietnamese and constantly say, “Oh, really? I thought you were just a tan white girl!" or “But aren't you Hispanic or something?" Some people won't even believe that I'm Asian until I show them a picture of my mother. As far as racial struggles go in America, I recognize that I hold an immense privilege that comes with being white-passing, but it's still very frustrating when, as a result, people invalidate my thoughts on racial issues, or I feel isolated from other Vietnamese people who do not believe I have as much claim to the culture as they do.

So, when I meet people, I don't want them to have to play an easily-offensive guessing game –– I want them to know I'm Vietnamese. I want my connection to the culture that has shaped so many parts of my life to feel visible, and not something I have to prove. I want people to read it, and then not have to be shocked when they find out I am not fully white.

I never used to include my middle name in things, but after that day, I began to write it everywhere: receipts, emails, school documents, social media. While everyone still called me Kate in person (I swear, I'm not so pretentious that I make people actually call me by my middle name), online and on paper, I was Kate Lý Johnston. Writing just “Kate Johnston" started feeling so small, so insignificant. “Lý" became not only a symbol of my culture, but of my individuality. Sure, I'd met tons of Kates before, but never another Kate Lý.

Having an accent on your name, though, comes with its nuisances. First, there is the fact that nobody ever knows how to pronounce it. As far as difficult words go, “Lý" honestly isn't very hard, as there are only really two options: “Lee" and “Lie." Before I started writing the accent, people at least picked one of those, and often it was so insignificant that I wouldn't even correct them. But, it turns out, accents look so intimidating to white people that they won't even try to pronounce your name if it has one! Pro tip: Don't ignore or leave out parts of a name you don't know how to pronounce. I won't be offended if you get it wrong, but you at least have to try.

There is also the fact that the “ý" is pretty much impossible to type on an American keyboard, without copy and pasting. Even I have to copy and paste it each time I have to type my name. I have it saved on my desktop to make it easier, and I also set my phone so that it automatically autocorrect “Ly" to the correct spelling, but it's still an extra step that most people are not willing to take. If they simply wrote “Ly," I wouldn't even be salty. But, more often than not, they just resort to leaving my middle name out entirely. Though, of course, this is not the greatest struggle people of color in this country face, it still makes me a little sad –– my middle name is an important part of my identity, and, as I've mentioned, “Kate Johnston" just doesn't feel the same to me.

The most annoying struggle of having an accented name, though, is the fact that my name is difficult to search on the internet. This may not seem like a big deal, but in the future, once I'm trying to build a career as a professional, it may be difficult for employers and others to search up my work, or find relevant information on me through Google. I realized this rather recently, and since then have started to convert my name on social media and other publications to “Kate Ly Johnston," which is far easier to search. It makes me sad to see the accent go, as it is an important cultural marker to me, but in a white-washed technological landscape where more “ethnic" or unusual names are constantly being unrecognized or autocorrected, white-washing my name becomes almost necessary.

The intersection of race and technology is difficult, as this is isn't the only example of a racially-charged technological failure –– people with darker skin sometimes have trouble being recognized by facial recognition software, and there was that infamous time where Google Photos accidentally tagged two African Americans as gorillas. While technology does a plethora of amazing and productive things for race relations and social justice, it also needs to do a better job of facilitating the use of accents.

To start, American keyboards need to make it easier for people to type accented letters. There are already some easy ways to type accented letters like “é" and “â" –– for Mac users, it is as simple as holding down “option" before typing the letter. But the accent aigu can only be applied to a few letters (none of which is “y"), and for other types of accents, no shortcut exists at all.

Names are not a nuisance –– they are a symbol of heritage, culture, individuality, and choice. It's time we all start being a little more mindful of that.
Cover Image Credit: Kate Lý Johnston

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