The “R” word.

The word “retarded” is offensive. Period. It hurts. The word originated in the medical field to describe cognitive or emotional delays and has a literal meaning of slow or delayed. Today the most common and pejorative meaning associated with that word is an insult to insinuate that someone is stupid or foolish.

I can’t even bring myself to say it; it makes my chest tighten. I was raised to never call anyone that word even though I know I used it to describe situations and actions in my preteens and maybe even beyond. Once my mother heard me utter that word as a descriptor. Being the angel my mother is, she punished me severely.

I told myself that I’d never put too much stock into the utterly ignorant ways people talk. I told myself it wasn’t even worth a reaction. I told myself we were above the foul ways people talk and responding to any hate speech would just bring it more to light. I tried to convince myself of all of this before my son was born. Then there was Henry; he arrived in the world and is our world. Now that word, no matter how it’s used, stabs me right in the chest. It elicits a physical reaction and I can’t help it.

Everything I tried to tell myself about that word and how it’s used to try to minimize it was false. I realize it is hate speech. I see it for what it is now. Words affect how we perceive things; they can skew imagery and toy with how we think about things. Words are powerful and the way we emphasize them can change their impact. If I describe someone’s intellect as unconventionally brilliant in the workplace and mention they have autism you begin to immediately form an opinion and picture an individual in a very specific way. Now what if I describe the same person and said they were retarded but seemed to be high functioning in their job despite everything? Completely different opinions are formed.

Now I will be speaking up when I hear this word instead of ignoring it. Everyone deserves dignity.

I have just heard of two comedians using the “R” word in describing children and adults with Down Syndrome in their acts recently: Tom Segura and Chelsea Handler. People with Down Syndrome deserve respect. It is never acceptable to use the word “retarded” in any derogatory context (such as an insult) whether in a playful tone or not. Using this word is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent or are less than. You can be funny or get your point across without using that word. Language that demeans and insults people like that word makes it so much harder for parents who are fighting to ensure our children can grow up and live in normalcy. We just want our kids to live free from prejudice and stigma that is fueled by the word retarded. Please don’t use it and don’t condone it. Words can do so much damage.

James 3:5b-8

5 “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.”

Be kind. Please teach your children this lesson early and speak up when you hear injustice.

I try to be chill and low key, but the way Tom Segura responded to the mother who brought up the hateful way he described Down Syndrome has lit a fire in me.

Here is a link to rate his act.

Here is a link to sign a petition to take Tom Segura’s special off Netflix.

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