- By Keith Hosey -
“If you like me, you won’t discriminate against me.” – Cass Irvin
In case you missed it, March 2nd was Spread The Word To End The Word day (the r-word, “retard”). So what’s the big deal? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, right?
Wrong. I used to use words without regard. I’d call things I didn’t like “gay” or “retarded.” Here was my reasoning: I didn’t mean anything by it. I was calling a thing ‘retarded,’ not a person. What was the problem?
Nobody’s perfect and I’ve certainly learned my lessons, I have since cut much of it out of my language (and continue to strive toward that goal). Now, in life, I correct people when they don’t use appropriate language. This applies to it all bigotry-charged words; racial, sexual orientation, disability related, etc. With disability related words, I am sometimes scoffed or mocked, it doesn’t really matter to some, it’s “too politically correct.”
When you use the r-word as a cut down, it hurts real people - people who might be you neighbors, friends or coworkers who have a relative with an intellectual disability. People you have never met standing behind you at the store or sitting next to you in a restaurant. Still think it’s a victimless crime?
Words are indicative of attitudes and world views. I grew up with a disability. Crippled, gimp, retard are all words that have been used at one time or another as weapons against me. Verbal weapons aimed to hurt and bully me. They pierced me to the core, sharply cut my heart, spirit, confidence, my world view of myself. I’ve seen this pain in other people, too. I’ve seen the hurt a word can do to individuals, family members, and friends.
When you talk about “cripples”, when you say that something is “retarded”, I remember every time those words were used as weapons against me. I remember the pain they caused before I was strong enough, proud enough in myself and my differences to not let it hurt. I know it hurts many others like me and, as strong as I am, it still stings a little. It stings because, if you use those words, you don't accept my peers with disabilities as equals. If you accept me as equal, if you consider yourself as not being bigoted, you cannot use these words. I will not accept it. It’s not “too much political correctness”, its respect… for me and others with disability as your equal.
I’ve written about the r-word and ableism before and so has my co-blogger, Stephanie Hickey. As Writer Jeff Goins said, “Do yourself and the world a favor and stop using the word “retard.” Period. No questions. No excuses. Just stop. Stop calling your friends “retards”… When you open your mouth and words like “retard” come out, well, it makes you look dumb. And a bigot. And kind of a jerk.”
Most people in “polite society” will hesitate to use the n-word, the three letter f-word for gay people. They are no different than my words. Some people think they are different because they don’t think it hurts anyone. Me, they hurt me. I have been called crippled, gimp, retard. I have a congenital disability and deserve your respect, so please don’t use those words that have made people with disabilities feel inferior for centuries. It’s time to change. In 2011, I’m making it personal.