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Let’s talk about the R-Word. What’s the R-Word, you’d ask? Well, in the most non-offensive way possible, R-Word (or R-Slur), stands for terms like “retard”, “retarded”, and any other word ending in “-tard”. In the simplest of terms, it is a slur in the contemporary world, a bad word, a word that targets and attacks a certain group of people – people with intellectual disability, to be specific.
Every few days, I hear someone say statements like “he’s such a retard” or “don’t be retarded”, often said in a friendly context, and whenever I can, I do try to ask the speaker to use a different word. Mostly, I'm treated with an apologetic response along the lines of “Oh sorry, I meant stupid”. And then there are others who try and explain to me about how the R-Word is no longer associated with people with disabilities, but is not a mere synonym for terms stupid and therefore okay to use. Here’s the problem, the fact that many people fail to understand what this word stands for, and why it even is offensive in the first place.
“Mental Retardation” was originally coined as a medical term in 1961 referring to people with intellectual disabilities (ID), but has now been replaced with “Intellectual Disability” due to ID being more inclusive, accurate, and accepting. The R-Word, on the other hand, further strengthens the negative stereotypes. Today, it may be used in a friendly manner and may actually be a euphemism for casual words like stupid or psycho, which were also medical-related terms in the beginning, but it still holds a deeper, more offensive meaning behind it and is widely degrading even used in its original context as a medical term.
Over time, the word evolved and has come to be offensive to a whole community, and no matter what context you say it in, it is still in a morally gray area, to say the least. Repetitive use of the word even in a non-hostile environment gives back power to the word, and what it stands for in the modern world. Normalizing its usage means that sooner or later it will make its way into your informal and day-to-day vernacular, and once you’re there, it will only take one slip up to use it in front of a disabled person, as opposed to a friend, and once that line is crossed, the immediate damage is done and can have a severe impact on the person it was used for.
But using the word is only part of the problem, the way not using it is a part of the solution. People, who use it often, with whatever intention, are only able to do so because they do not get strong opposition for doing so. They do not get called out in an appropriate or fulfilling manner, and as a result, the word continues to be in circulation. So, the solution to this is simple. Not only is one supposed to quit using this term, they are expected to actively discourage its usage and spread the relevant information as to why it is so wrong. This is important because a majority of the time, people are under-informed about the connotations this word holds, and as a result, they fail to realize when and how they’re being offensive even without meaning to.
Despite whatever you may mean to say, there are always less-offensive substitutes for the R-Word with that exact meaning. We need to make our speech more inclusive and varied, and it will automatically become less hurtful. Therefore, whenever you see a child or an adult using the R-Word, consider a teachable moment to update them about why it is no longer an acceptable term.
Finally, the protests against the R-Word had started against its use in the movie Tropic Thunder and have now grown into a movement to remove these words from the regular speech. Consequently, the Special Olympics has started a campaign at https://www.spreadtheword.global/ that asks people to pledge to stop using the R-Word using the slogan “Spread the Word to End the Word.” For more information about the same, the link provided is a safe and resourceful place to start.
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