Sunday, May 1, 2011

The R-Word

This isn't what I intended to write about when I sat down this evening. I intended to write about our week vacation, Easter weekend, or the weekend we just had with my BFF and her family, but an incident this week with someone involved closely with Maddie's day-to-day life has me pretty upset. I'm more upset that I didn't say anything when it happened, but I will be talking to this person this week and needed the chance to gather my thoughts.

Words are powerful. They are meaningful. They set a scene, describe emotions, and tell a story. They can sweep someone off their feet or completely bring them to their knees. Words can be beautiful (opulent), ugly (pustule), or funny-sounding (onomatopoeia).

However, I believe there are some words used in the English language that should not be repeated. They are derogatory, demeaning, and hurtful. I believe in freedom of speech and the right to use words to express yourself, but words that shun a whole group of people to make yourself appear to be better than that group are unacceptable. The N-word, the F-word (and it's probably not the first f-word that comes to mind), and the R-word are all words on this list. 

The use of the R-word is particularly important to me, but it hasn't always been. In high school I frequently used the word. During college, someone brought to my attention how offensive the word was. I had never thought of it that way, but when it was explained to me, I began to understand and removed it from my vocabulary. But, it wasn't until Maddie was born that I truly became aware of how unjustifiable and reprehensible this word is. 

I have tried to explain to myself why I hate this word so much and why it is so hurtful for me to hear people use it. This is the best way to describe it that I can think of: When you use the word retard or retarded, in ANY context, you are essentially saying that you, or whomever you are speaking about, are SO dumb/stupid/idiotic/etc. that you are like my daughter, who will most likely have some sort of delay in her intellectual development. As if being like her would be so detestable, so deplorable, that you can't think of any other insult to describe that person or thing.

Most people will say something to the effect of, "But I would never say that word to, or in reference to, someone who had intellectual disabilities". "I was only referring to myself, so it's no big deal". Let me be clear, it does not matter what context you are using it in. You are sending a message to my daughter, by using that word, that you think she is somehow beneath you, that you are better than her, and therefore she is unworthy of the same respect that you should receive. You are telling her that the only worthy quality of a person is how smart they are and that none of her other qualities are important.

I don't know what Madelyn's intellectual abilities will be. However, what I do know is that she is a smart girl. She wants to learn and learns things she's excited about very quickly. She also has many wonderful qualities. She is funny, loving, beautiful, loves music, singing and dancing, and is a joy to be around. She enriches my life every single day and has taught me so much that I otherwise would have missed out on had she not come into my life. She is worthy of every possibility life has to offer her and does not deserve for ignorant people to flippantly demean her. When you know better, you do better. Think before you speak, words do hurt. If you hear someone use the word, let them know the word hurts. Do your part to help Spread the Word to End the Word. Choose to make Maddie's world a little less harsh, a little less hurtful. If she could talk, I know she'd do the same for you.